How NOT to landscape your yard: various errors to avoid

by: Julie Barnes

Here we are again getting ready for another gardening year. I offer a variety of landscape mistakes common to many a gardener according to design landscaping expert, David Beaulieu, to reflect upon along with my interpretations, as well. Becoming aware of certain shortcomings can always improve our gardening skills. None of the errors here are catastrophic but, an unsettled landscape design can result when a number of flaws are combined together.

Installing Plants that Quickly Outgrow Their Space - Many foundation plantings look great when installed but then disappoint later when plants outgrow their allotted space. A common reason is a failure to research the mature dimensions of the plants that are used. Not only should eventual height of a plant be considered but width matters, too.

Using Overambitious Ground Covers - When selecting an optimal ground cover always be wary of words such as "vigorous," or "fast-growing ground cover" to describe a plant. For instance, English Ivy can do its job so well that it actually becomes a weed. Ground covers that thrive in the shade are often considered to be the worst offenders since they have to be vigorous to compete in such conditions.

Failure to Position Plants for Optimal Display - We are often seduced into buying the irresistible new cultivar at the garden center. But, buyer, please beware of the specter of "one-of-each-itis" or the "onesie syndrome." Heed the advice often repeated by a landscape designer: It is best to buy-and plant- in groups of three to allow plants to grow naturally in mass. A bigger impact will be achieved by grouping plants together and not a hodge-podge by planting one here or there. Steer clear of placing sun-loving plants in shaded areas or trying to grow plants in soil that is too poor to support them. Also, when locating a focal plant consider its overall effect when viewed from different angles deemed to be most pleasurable to you.

Pruning a Shrub before Knowing the Proper Time - Some landscape maintenance novices pride themselves on being fastidious as they run outside with pruners to "stay ahead" of their shrubs, pruning them more accordingly to whim rather than to research. Then with sadness, they wonder, "Why, for instance, didn't my flowering quince bloom this year?" The answer could lie in when you pruned it.

Disregarding Winter Maintenance around a Driveway - Shrubs can add a nice touch around a driveway, especially when they're in bloom. But, for a Northern Landscaper, seasonal change must always be kept in mind. What might be a perfectly acceptable planting for May could turn into a gross miscalculation next February when snow has to be cleared from the driveway. Those shovels-full of snow will have to be tossed somewhere. Evergreen shrubs that are buried under snow will lose their meaning in a winter landscape. Conclusion: there are simply better places to locate such shrubs.

Planting Messy Trees - This one is subjective. What's a "nuisance" to one person is "just nature" to another. The only kind of tree that is totally mess-free is an artificial one. Realize then that there will always be some "litter" in a landscape as a result of having trees. With that said, there can nonetheless, be different levels of messiness. For example, the relatively mess-free Sunburst Honey Locust has tiny leaves that are not so noticeable when they drop, so this "clean" tree is often used along city streets or in parks. Some samples of dirty trees include the female of Ginkgo biloba that drops its fruit so in this case plant a male tree. A Sweetgum drops untidy gum balls therefore; a non- fruiting variety can be used as an alternative. The large cones of an Eastern White Pine can drop sticky sap on vehicles and is also susceptible to winter damage. Hence, dwarf pines can cause fewer headaches.

So, to the garden preparer may your errors become rarer!