10 Silly Landscaping Mistakes to Avoid

From Pruning to Plant Selection, Don't Let These No-Nos Screw Up Your Yard

Potato seedlings growing in recycled tyre
Kylie Townsend / Getty Images

Nobody ever said landscaping was easy. Well, no one with any sense, anyhow. There are all kinds of dumb landscaping mistakes that even green thumbs can make. I'm here to tell you what ten of the most common errors are, so that you can avoid them.

  • 01 of 10
    Do you let forsythia shrubs grow naturally or shear them (image) into formal hedges?
    David Beaulieu

    Imagine you had a row of forsythia bushes like the one in the picture in your landscaping. Wouldn't you hate to miss out -- even for a single spring -- on the splendor they provide in April? Well you easily could. Beginners often make a dumb mistake with their shrubs: they prune them at the wrong time. Failing to prune a shrub such as forsythia or flowering quince at the correct time could remove the very buds that produce those fabulous blooms.

  • 02 of 10
    Privet hedge photo.
    David Beaulieu

    Done properly, growing a hedge can be a great way to set your property off from your neighbor's or even to partition off one portion of your landscaping from another. But you must keep after a hedge, so that it doesn't get away from you. The individual bushes that comprise a hedge may get out of whack if left to their own devices for too long. The solution is to trim or "shear" the hedge. I show you how in my tutorial.

    Make the job of shearing easier, if you wish, by using a power...MORE hedger.  I prefer a cordless hedge trimmer, because I dislike having to drag a cord around.

    While trimming your hedge shrubs, also inspect between them to check for weeds. For a hedge to look its best and grow optimally, it must be kept weed-free. Even more critically, be sure not to let any baby trees become established in your hedgerow. For example, maple samaras may blow into your hedge, fall through to the ground, germinate and take root. Before you know it, you have maple trees pushing up through your hedge, marring its appearance. Once they gain a toehold, they can be hard to remove (you may even end up damaging your shrubs' roots in the process of pulling out the unwanted trees).   

  • 03 of 10
    Oriental bittersweet girdles trees (image). The vine is also invasive.
    David Beaulieu

    The term, "girdling" is applied to tree care in two different ways. An example of one of those ways is pictured at left, where you see that an Oriental bittersweet has wrapped itself so tightly around a tree that it has become embedded in the trunk. This invasive vine can cause trees a lot of harm, strangling their trunks and casting excessive shade in their canopies; be sure to check for its presence when you walk your property so that you can kill Oriental bittersweet before it becomes...MORE established.

    Humans, too, can cause this kind of girdling. I made the dumb mistake once of leaving the label on a Crimson Queen maple for too long (more specifically, a plant label that the nursery had tied on with string). The label's string eventually dug deeply into the branch it had been tied to, choking off the flow of nutrients. I finally had to prune the branch off. Lesson learned.

  • 04 of 10
    Keeping tall spiral shrubs (image) the same height for symmetry is tough. It's also time-consuming.
    Maintaining spiral shrubs that grow this tall -- including keeping them at the same height for purposes of symmetry -- is a challenging proposition. David Beaulieu

    Symmetrically arranged elements can bring a sense of elegance to your landscaping. It's an approach commonly used in foundation plantings. But when those elements are living plants, employing symmetry can mean extra work for you in the form of maintenance.

    Shrubs and trees arranged symmetrically will have to be kept pruned, so that the pairs remain matched. I sometimes come across examples of shrubs growing on either side of a house entrance where the homeowner's intention was obviously...MORE to achieve symmetry, but one shrub in the pair, unhappily, was allowed to get bigger than the other, thus foiling the homeowner's plan.

    Click the picture to enter my photo gallery and see another example where the homeowner tried (with somewhat more success) to achieve symmetry around the front door.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10
    Picture of a gong. This gong is used as a landscape ornament.
    David Beaulieu

    There's a place for ornaments in your landscaping, but avoid dotting your yard with too many tchotchkes. A tipping point is eventually reached, after which point these decorations detract from, rather enhancing your landscape. A smarter way to employ ornamentation is to use it sparingly, which will succeed in attracting attention to it.

    Conversely, the impact is minimized through dilution when a myriad of decorations sprawls across a property. Worse yet, if they are low-quality, they...MORE stigmatize your yard with labels such as "cheap," "cluttered" and "tacky." Such a landscape is far inferior, from a design perspective, to one in which plant material is used exclusively, sans tchotchkes.

    Instead, search for a unique piece (such as the one in the photo) and establish it as a focal point.

  • 06 of 10
    Potato seedlings growing in recycled tyre
    Kylie Townsend / Getty Images

    Speaking of the use of decorations, one of the first decisions you'll have to make in choosing between this or that ornament is whether you intend to landscape for yourself or for other people. If your answer is "for myself," that effectively ends the discussion, since what constitutes a good ornament is ultimately subjective. But if you're landscaping for real estate value or to impress the neighbors or your in-laws, you'll have to take into account how others may feel about...MORE your choice of decorations.

    Take tire planters such as the one shown in the image, for example. Some of you may love these. They certainly say "country" -- which is not at all a bad thing -- but they do not say "upscale country." If you live in suburbia and care about the impression you're creating, carve out a spot in the backyard for your tire planter (if you absolutely must have one). It doesn't belong in your front-yard design, whether it be at the entrance of your driveway landscaping or as part of your mailbox planting. Moreover, if you're trying to sell your home, I don't recommend installing a tire planter anywhere, front or back.

  • 07 of 10
    Don't scalp your lawn if you want to have healthy grass (image).
    David Beaulieu

    How tall or short you cut your lawn may, at first glance, seem rather arbitrary. The beginner may labor under the misconception that, as long as you mow so that your yard "looks neat," you've done the job right.

    Would that it were that simple. The experts, however, will quickly and vehemently set you straight in this matter, pointing out that lawn mowing is not just about keeping up appearances: it's about grass health, too. And scalping is a big no-no. They'll throw numbers...MORE at you specifying, with exactitude, just how high you should cut your grass. Leave it to those darn experts to force us into a calculation, right?

  • 08 of 10
    Evergreen hedge (image) hides an eyesore. Access to the utility box is provided by a hole.
    An evergreen hedge can hide what would otherwise be a landscaping eyesore. David Beaulieu

    When you hear "hedge," you probably think of a long row of clipped hedges running along a property border. But that describes only one type of hedge. A shorter hedge can also be planted so as to hide an eyesore. For example, in this photo, an arborvitae hedge is hiding a utility box from public view, while still leaving access to the box via a "hole." Eyesores such as utility boxes, raised septic systems and even trash barrels can uglify a yard unnecessarily. It's a faux pas...MORE to leave them undisguised, unless you have absolutely no choice.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10
    A fence can be broken up with shrubs, as this picture indicates.
    Here's a case where the homeowner chose a fence line in which shrubs and hardscape are alternated. David Beaulieu

    Homeowners are sometimes impetuous. Excited with a new property purchase, they'll run out and hire a contractor to have a fence thrown up. Only later -- after they've had a chance to live with their choice for a while -- do they come to the realization that they've chosen a fence style that doesn't "work" for them.

    To avoid that dumb mistake, click the image and browse my photo gallery of fence styles. And if, after viewing my pictures, you're still uncertain as to...MORE which style would be right for you, don't rush into anything big, costly and permanent. If, while you're mulling over your choices, you need to erect some kind of fencing along your border, consider a solution such as the one presented in the photo at left. Here the homeowners have installed inexpensive fence panels, breaking them up with plantings of colorful shrubs. At a later date, they could remove the temporary panels and shrubs and erect a more permanent fence.

  • 10 of 10
    Planting a tree sapling
    Lisa J. Goodman/ Photographer's Choice/ Getty Images

    A dumb landscaping mistake commonly made is to select a plant without first researching its mature size. The ill-fated choice may soon outgrow its space and cause you headaches. If installed near your home, it may block a window, for example. If planted in or near a flower border, it may cast unwanted shade on other plants. 

    After realizing your dumb mistake, you have a few options. You can:

    • Live with the bad situation
    • Trim the plant
    • Transplant it to another location

    But you would have been better...MORE off to have done your homework in the first place and selected a plant whose mature dimensions matched the located allotted to it. So take a gander at my List of Plants in Alphabetical Order  to browse plants via their common names and research their characteristics and growing requirements before buying. Or if you prefer dealing with the botanical names, see my A-Z Database by Scientific Name.

    You may also wish to consult my Common Mistakes in Landscape Design and How Not to Landscape for warnings about other dumb landscaping mistakes.