Home Landscaping: How to Avoid the 5 Biggest Mistakes
If you are a homeowner, you have most likely encountered a landscaping mistake. It might be a mature tree or shrub that sits too close to the foundation or plants that overlap walkways and have to be cut in ways that ruin their natural shape. It's an all too common problem that most of us have been guilty of creating. A basic plan and some easy research is enough to get you started.
Start With a Basic Plan
A home builder wouldn't think to build a house one room at a time, and the same considerations apply to landscape design. This might include the most important elements like patios, walkways, irrigation and foundation plant selections. The actual planting doesn't have to be completed all at one time. Working in stages is far easier on the budget, and isn't as overwhelming. There are easy-to-use landscape design programs for the home computer. The important thing is to stick to a plan in order to ensure the continuity of a theme or an existing layout.
Know Your Plant's Attributes and Drawbacks
Complaints after an expensive landscaping job usually come the following season when plants begin to reach mature size. The beautiful lavenders that framed the rose garden after the completion are now obstructing it. Perhaps a dwarf variety or a smaller catmint would have been a better choice. It is important to know both the growth habit and the dimensions of a mature plant before making selections.
While browsing the grounds of a nursery, you might be drawn to a 2' blooming shrub in a 5-gallon container and think it perfect for that bare spot under the bedroom window. That same plant, however, would eventually grow to a height of 15 ft. and obstruct the view completely.
The lovely scented jasmine in its spring glory would be a lovely and fragrant welcome in the entryway, but it is an ugly tangled mess when the short-lived blooms are gone. Planting it in a container with an attractive obelisk support would allow it to be moved seasonally.
Take special care when choosing plants with thorns and irritating fibers. Many specimens can grow quite large and overrun planters and sidewalks. It is difficult to trim these without ruining the shape and integrity of the plant. There is the added problem of a passerby being injured. Agaves, ornamental grasses, cycads, and palms fall into this category.
Attracting pollinators is wonderful, but choosing a shrub full of bees in the entryway, by the pool, or near a child's play area would be poor planning. The same is true for having trees which produce sticky flowers, rain sap, and drop leaf litter and over-ripe fruits as choices for patios, outdoor rooms, driveways, and carports.
Other considerations might be odors, allergies, toxic threats to pets and children, and the pros or cons of attracting wildlife. Do some easy research and ask questions before buying.
Avoid Unsuitable Plants for Your Region
As garden lovers, we can't help but admire the unusual variety of plants we see when visiting out of state. We want to bring them home to cultivate in our own gardens. Aside from the fact that some species are invasive to non-native areas, they may actually introduce problem pests and diseases. Plants which are not listed for a particular region will always struggle for survival.
If a nursery in your area can't get a plant for you, it's usually a pretty good bet that it's a poor choice for your garden. Choose plants that will flourish. Sickly plants threaten the overall health of your garden.
Avoid plants that are invasive. These choices go way beyond your own garden and threaten the environment at large. Each state has a published list of these plants that can easily be found online.
Use Proper Spacing Between Plants, Structures, and Hardscape
It is understandable to want to fulfill that vision of a thick green privacy screen, but don't expect instant gratification on a shoestring budget. If you want a tall, tight hedge to keep out a nosy neighbor, be willing to pay more for mature shrubs. Another option is to choose fast growers that are well suited for your landscape Avoid making rash decisions during a plant sale then jamming several small shrubs too close together.
Proper spacing between plants and structures is critical for specimens of all sizes. All plants need good air circulation for healthy growth. Fungal infections, insect infestation, and burned foliage from radiated heat are common plant problems associated with poor spatial planning. Walls and foundations also need air movement to properly dry out after rain and snow. No one wants mold, rot, and termites.
Large trees near foundations are noisy during winds, dangerous during fires, and cause premature damage to shingles, eaves, and fascia. Overhanging branches become pathways for roof rats and squirrels while tall ones interfere with power lines and cables. Other trees such as willows are notorious for damaging plumbing and septic systems. It is also important to properly prune on a yearly basis to save headaches down the line.
Install Efficient Irrigation
Older homes often come with sprinkler systems designed for large lawn irrigation. Watering methods work best when adapted to the individual needs of drought-tolerant gardens, flower beds, shrubs, and trees. Grouping plants with similar water needs is good planning.
Water applications are only as effective as their percolation through the soil. This is usually achieved with longer, less frequent irrigation. Roots will grow where the water is, so minimal penetration encourages surface rooting of trees and shrubs. This can result in poor tree stability, cracked foundations, and buckled driveways and sidewalks.
Consider areas where water could collect near foundations and cause seepage and structural damage. French drains may need to be installed to prevent this situation. Also, think about run-off from slopes. These areas may benefit from cycle watering to allow better absorption of irrigation. Evaluate the situation before installations.
Final Thoughts: Have a Vision and Be Patient
Often houses come with long-established trees and shrubs, so not everyone will have the luxury of starting with a blank slate. Removal of mature plants is difficult, expensive, and shocking to the creatures that depend on them for food and shelter. It is still very rewarding to work on customizing your garden areas, but it takes time to narrow down the vast number of choices.
Think about whether you want a formal look with neatly clipped shrubs and roses, a minimalist contemporary look with flowing grasses and succulents, or something in between. Be creative! Work with the design elements of your home, but combine and vary shapes for more interest: tall and straight, tight and round, open and branching, loose and feathery, for example. Consider layering for seasonal color and bloom. Group for similar water needs and sun exposure.
Have a vision but be patient since it will take a few years for your garden to really reach its full potential. It is understandable to want instant gratification, especially when spending thousands on a professional job. However, a good designer will be able to give you a vision without making these common mistakes. If you remember these guidelines on how to avoid planning errors, you can feel confident that your landscape design will be an enjoyable success.
© 2011 Catherine Tally