7 Common Landscape Mistakes to Avoid
For a Go Green Landscape


Facts at a glance 

  • Always plan
  • Find utilities before digging
  • Keep plants in scale
  • Properly prepare soil
  • Don’t crowd your plantings
  • Keep plantings away from the house
  • Group plants by water requirements

To be sustainable a landscape has to be beautiful, healthy, low maintenance, cost effective and make a positive contribution to the surrounding environment. 


Here are seven common mistakes and some sustainable solutions to help you make the right decisions.  Avoiding these mistakes will help you meet those important green goals for landscaping your yard and insurea beautiful landscape for years to come  and the satisfaction of a job well done. 


Mistake #1        
Skipping the Plan

Landscape Plan

How often do you hear the motto ‘When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.’  Nothing could be more accurate when it comes to landscapes. 

Being in a hurry does not make for a sustainable long term landscape for your yard.  There is essential information that will prove vital to a successful landscape installation.

You will need to know:

Drawing a plan to scale in advance is the best way to insure overall unity in your landscape. Visual reference will keep your goals in mind and avoid impulse buying, overspending and lackluster results. Spending the time to plan will pay off handsomely in reduced costs, less maintenance and more curb appeal. There is nothing like planning to give you that green and sustainable landscape you are working toward.


Mistake #2        
Forgetting to Find the Utilities

Marked UtilityLocating utilities is not only required by law, it can save your life.

Photo Credit: WaloonJoan/Photobucket

Do you know exactly where your underground utilities are?  It is essential to know for sure. 

Digging before identification can cause you more headaches than the little time it takes to have the site marked.  You can avoid interrupting your electricity, telephone, cable services, water, sewer, and natural gas.  If you sever fiber optic lines, the fines are quite substantial.  Even more importantly your safety is protected.  Striking utilities can cause injury and even loss of life!

Most states require that you contact your local utilities prior to digging.  There is sometimes a centralized service such as 1Call or Miss Utility, but your utility company will be able to assist you in finding the proper services.  

You need to allow at least 2 full business days’ notice prior to when you need the utilities located.


Mistake #3        
Forgetting About Scale

House with Oversized Bushes

Photo Credit: Lnocera54/Photbucket

When you buy that cute little shrub at the nursery, be sure to know just how high and wide it will be at maturity. 

Plants that look small now rarely stay that way.   Planting a shrub or tree that will grow too large for the space will spoil the overall look of the house.  Even pruning will not keep a large tree or shrub small forever without constant maintenance.

Another consideration in proper scale is having enough variety in the heights and widths of the individual plantings.  When every shrub or tree is the same height, the look is bland uniformity.  Plantings that vary in size and shape will provide interest and improve the overall appearance.

Plantings are supposed to enhance the look of the house, not overshadow the building.  The rule of thirds applies.  Near the house keep shrubs 1/3 to 2/3 the height of the largest feature  at ground level, ie, door or window.  Larger plants at the foundation corners should be 1/3 or 2/3 the height of the roof at maturity and not placed under windows.  Trees or larger shrubs  in the immediate vicinity of the house should be either 2/3 or 1 1/3 the height of the roof for an eye pleasing scale.  See our article on Right Tree in the Right Place.


Mistake #4
Poor Soil Preparation

Construction Debris

Photo Credit: jancaron/Photobucket

Soil preparation is one of the most essential steps in a sustainable landscape.  The role of proper soil cannot be overemphasized. 

You will save time, money and produce healthy plants with some up front soil care – all goals of a go green yard.

Soil is living and dynamic, but not always healthy or balanced.  Soil near the foundation can be especially poor, since it is often backfilled with construction wastes and clay.

Testing your soil is a small investment and if you did not take care of this during your planning stages, it is important to do it before planting. 

Healthy soil holds water, stores nutrients, filters toxins, provides air to the plant and a habitat for beneficial soil organisms.  The right blend of organic and inorganic material will insure your plant’s roots will grow strong and healthy, be more drought resistant and less disease prone.

Soil prep is an easy step to take every time you are doing plantings.  You can till in mulch or compost, add a little organic fertilizer if you soil test shows a need, put in some lime for acid soils and aerate the soil properly.  These steps will insure your plants get the best start possible.


Mistake #5        
Too Much of a Good Thing –
Over-planting Your Landscape

Plants Too Close

Photo Credit: mytrinhp/Photobucket

Many people, including professional landscapers (if you insist on it), will over-plant an area in an effort to provide an instant landscape. 

The mature size of a plant is important to consider unless you like the overcrowded look, or plan on moving the plants, and spoiling the symmetry of your design as they get too crowded.

Crowding plants is not a sustainable practice.  The plants are forced to compete for light, air circulation and nutrients.  They become stressed and are more disease and insect pest prone.  They require more maintenance, fertilizer and constant pruning than properly placed plants. 

Follow the spacing suggestions from a certified nursery or in reference guides.  Another excellent resource is your local cooperative extension agency.  Plant spacing is measured from the center.  This is designated ‘OC’ for on center.  For example spacing for a group of foundation planting shrubs that will be mature at 10’ around, the instructions would be for 6’ OC.  This will leave some room between shrubs and accounts for natural variation in size.

If you give each plant its own space your design will shine over time, since each individual contributes to the look of the whole.  You may feel that properly spaced plantings look too bare at the beginning, but resist the urge to over-plant.  You will be happier in the long run.  You can fill in your newly landscaped area with annuals and perennials to provide color and texture while your plantings mature.  This may take 5 – 10 years for shrubs and 10+ years for trees, depending on the growth rate.


Mistake #6        
Hugging the Foundation –
Planting too Close to the House

Too Close to Foundation

Photo Credit: kkapinos/Photobucket

Few landscape mistakes are uglier than plants that are up against the foundation.

All the beauty of the plant is destroyed since only 50% will be visible.  Your shrubs and trees end up looking more like a wall sconces that a living plants. 

Hugging the foundation makes your plantings look cheap and your design then looks amateurish.  The general impression is of someone didn’t think, or get informed before installing the planting.

More importantly, side from aesthetics, most of the shrub or tree has to be pruned away to prevent moisture from seeping in, ruining the siding or entering the basement.  Plantings too close to the house invite roots to crack the foundation and access to the house is limited when repairs are needed.

You plants are also likely to have more disease and pest problems because of lack of air circulation and foliage that does not dry properly.  Mold on the foundation can also result from this wet and stuffy condition.

Again, the spacing rule above applies.  You need at least one ft. plus half the diameter of the mature plant.  A mature shrub 6’ around will need to be planted 4’ from the foundation. 


Mistake #7         
Grouping Plants that Have
Different Water Requirements

Yellow Garden Flowers

Photo Credit: SpringfieldMissouriCVB

If the plants in your landscape are properly grouped there will be less waste of water and much healthier plants.  The moisture loving plants can receive just the right amount of water, while the ones that prefer a drier soil will stay dry.  Rotting roots or crispy and wilting foliage will be the results of over or under watering. 

Landscape plantings are too expensive to abuse this way.  Green practice in water conservation also is served by proper grouping since you only have to water the plants as they need it, not on a schedule. 

Planting native species will have a positive effect here, because in general they require less water once established.  This will make a difference in your underplantings, since the exotic perennials often require far more water than the shrubs or trees above.

Consider xeriscaping as a way to not only conserve water,  but also to keep watering requirements the same.

Related Articles

Selecting Garden & Landscape Plants
Do-It-Yourself Design for a Greener Landscape & Garden
Why Xeriscape?


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