10 Landscaping Mistakes to Avoid

From pruning to plant selection, avoid these no-nos

Backyard landscape with trimmed hedges
irina88w / Getty Images

No one has ever said landscaping was easy. Well, no one with any sense, anyhow. Many common landscaping mistakes are made by green thumb, experienced gardeners and newbies alike. We're here to describe the ten of the most commonly seen landscaping errors so that you can avoid them.

  • 01 of 10

    Failing to Prune a Shrub

    forsythia shrubs
    David Beaulieu

    Imagine you had a row of forsythia bushes in your home landscape. Wouldn't you hate to miss out―even for a single spring―on the yellow splendor they provide in April? Well, you easily could. Beginners often make a mistake with their shrubs: they prune them at the wrong time. Failing to prune flowering shrubs such as rhododendron, azalea, forsythia or flowering quince at the correct time could remove the very buds that produce those fabulous blooms. The general rule of thumb is to prune flowering shrubs right after they finish blooming.

  • 02 of 10

    Neglecting Hedge Trimming

    Hedge leaves
    Robert Kneschke / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Done properly, growing a hedge can be a great way to set boundaries with your neighbors or to partition off one portion of your landscape from another. That being said, neglecting hedge trimming is never a good idea; you must be vigilant so that the hedge doesn't grow out of control. The individual bushes that comprise a hedge can become unwieldy if left to their own devices for too long. The solution is to trim or "shear" the hedge.

    Make the job of shearing easier, if you wish, by using a power hedge trimmer, preferably a cordless hedge trimmer so that you don't have to drag around an electrical cord.

    While trimming your hedges, inspect between the individual plants 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 young saplings become established in your hedgerow. For example, maple tree samaras might blow into your hedge, fall through to the ground, germinate, and take root. Before you know it, maple trees are growing through the hedge, marring its appearance. Once they gain a toehold, they can be hard to remove; you might damage hedge roots in the process of pulling out the unwanted trees.  

  • 03 of 10

    Girdling Your Trees

    Oriental bittersweet girdles trees
    David Beaulieu

    The term, "girdling your trees" is applied to tree care in two different ways. The first is 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 a lot of harm, strangling tree 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 established.

    Humans, too, can cause tree girdling. A common mistake is leaving the label on a tree for too long. The label's string will eventually dig deeply into the branch it has been tied to, choking off the flow of nutrients.

  • 04 of 10

    Arranging Shrubs and Trees Symmetrically

    spiral shrubs next to house entrance
    David Beaulieu

    Symmetrically-arranged elements can bring a sense of elegance to your landscape. It's an approach commonly used in foundation plantings, but when those elements are living plants, 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. It's not uncommon to find examples of shrubs growing on either side of a house entrance where the homeowner's intention was obviously to achieve symmetry. Unfortunately, one shrub in the pair was allowed to get bigger than the other, thus foiling the homeowner's plan.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Overwhelming Your Yard With Too Many Garden Ornaments

    Metal gong
    David Beaulieu

    There's a place for garden ornaments in your landscape, but avoid overwhelming your yard with too many. A tipping point is eventually reached, after which point the ornaments detract from, rather than enhance your landscape. A smarter way to use garden ornamentation is to use it sparingly, which will succeed in attracting attention to it.

    It's always a good practice to purchase the best quality, unique garden ornaments you can afford to create well-thought-out focal points. A general rule of thumb is to avoid scattering inexpensive plastic garden ornaments throughout your grounds because they distract from your overall landscape design.

  • 06 of 10

    Using Tire Planters in the Front Yard

    Potato seedlings growing in recycled tyre
    Kylie Townsend / Getty Images

    Speaking of decorations, one of the first decisions you'll have to make in choosing between one garden ornament over another is whether you intend to landscape for yourself or for other people.

    If your answer is "for myself," that effectively ends the discussion, because what constitutes a garden 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 feel about your choice of decoration.

    Consider tire planters, for example; some of you might love them, as 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. It doesn't belong in your front-yard design, whether it be located at the entrance of your driveway or as part of your mailbox planting. And if you're trying to sell your home, we don't recommend using tire planters in the front yard or back yard.

  • 07 of 10

    Scalping Your Grass

    David Beaulieu

    How tall or short you cut your lawn might, at first glance, seem rather arbitrary. A new home owner might labor under the misconception that, if you mow so that your yard "looks neat," you've done the job right.

    If only it was that simple. Lawncare experts 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. Cutting grass too short, is a big no-no. Lawncare experts have defined how high to cut grass to reduce weed seed germination and conserve soil moisture. Also, be sure to keep your mower blade sharp, because dull mower blades create a ragged cut instead of slicing through grass blades cleanly. Ragged cuts cause brown tips on grass blades and provide an entry point for disease.

  • 08 of 10

    Not Hiding Eyesores

    Evergreen hedge
    David Beaulieu

    When you hear the word hedge, you probably think of a long row of clipped hedges running along a property border, yet that describes only one type of hedge. A shorter hedge can also be planted to hide an eyesore. For example, an arborvitae hedge can hide a utility box from public view, while still leaving access to the box via appropriate spacing. Eyesores such as utility boxes, raised septic systems, and even trash barrels can be unwanted focal points. Not hiding eyesores is a mistake, unless you have absolutely no choice.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Installing a Fence Too Quickly

    A fence broken up with shrubs
    David Beaulieu

    Homeowners are sometimes impetuous. Excited with a new property purchase, they'll quickly hire a contractor to have a fence installed immediately. 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 the wrong kind of fence that doesn't work for their needs.

    If, while you're mulling over your fence choices, and you need to erect some kind of fencing along your property line in the meantime, consider a solution in which your fence sections are interspersed with shrubs. In the photo, the homeowners have installed inexpensive fence panels with shrubs planted between the individual panels. At a later date, they can remove the temporary panels and shrubs and erect a more permanent fencing solution.

  • 10 of 10

    Not Knowing Mature Plant Size Before Purchasing

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

    A common landscaping mistake is to select a plant without knowing its mature size. The ill-fated choice can soon outgrow its allotted space and cause maintenance headaches. If planted next to your foundation, a large shrub might block a window or its roots could invade the foundation. If planted in or near a flower border, the mature plant can cast unwanted shade on other plants.  To prevent making this expensive mistake, do your homework in advance to select the right-sized plants for your home landscape.

    If you realize that you made bad decisions about plant selection, you have a few options:

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

    To learn more about a wide variety of plants, look through our A-Z database of plants by scientific name to find plants whose mature size perfectly fits your landscape.