We all make mistakes – we’re human – but we can learn from others’ mistakes to greatly reduce our own. These common landscape design mistakes can be found in almost every neighborhood. Learn from them to avoid unnecessary expense and headache.
The most common landscape design mistakes are related to the placement of plant material…plants are often placed too close to structures or to each other. You need to consider carefully the mature size of each shrub or tree as specified in a reputable plant database. Discrepancies exist among sources, so go with the larger estimate to be sure.
Exposure can also affect size…some plants, when placed in a shadier than preferred site, will grow less dense, but much lankier than usual. Your pruning style will also affect mature size and thus spacing; for instance, the boxwood can be sheared tightly to occupy an area as small as one foot, or loosely in a natural form to occupy a two feet diameter space.
When placing plants near a structure, think of future maintenance and repair work that may need to be done. In my experience, painters and other tradesmen are not especially cautious around plants – give them plenty of room to work! Though plants may be used to hide gas, electric and other utilities, be sure to leave plenty of room for access.
Don’t forget to consider mature height also…many arborists keep quite busy just topping or removing trees that shouldn’t have been planted in a particular location – especially under or near utility lines.
Another common mistake related to placement is not considering the primary views of the landscape – we can design the most aesthetically pleasing beds, but if they’re not visible from main viewing areas, what’s the point? For “curb appeal”, design with a view from the street – this will raise your property value if done well.
Equally, if not more, important, consider how and where you will enjoy the landscape. View your proposed design areas from the patio, deck or other outdoor area – remember, you’ll probably be seated when relaxing outdoors. Even in the best of climates, we spend much of our time indoors – so be sure to create your landscapes to be viewed from your most used indoor areas.
Consider hardscape placement also. For instance, a pond and waterfall should be located so the soothing sound can be enjoyed from the living area, and oriented for the best possible view of the falls.
Another of the most common landscape design mistakes is neglecting to consider the maintenance of the landscape. Will you be using a riding mower or walk-behind? Are your beds and lawn areas designed for ease of mowing? The random placement of plants in the lawn can cause a real headache in the mowing and trimming processes. Think about how your maintenance chores will be affected by the design.
Shade trees have a definite use in the lawn, but design for ease of mowing – a large mulched basin around the tree will not only make mowing easier and safer for the tree, but will also contribute to the health of the tree by providing better moisture and fertility. Ideally, the mulched basin should extend to the drip line of the tree.
In an effort to provide an “exciting” landscape, some novice designers will use colorful perennials and flowering shrubs to excess. It’s important to consider all the principles of design when composing a landscape. It’s fine to include color, but also insure a pleasing, unified landscape by the proper use of form, texture, scale and other elements of design.
Especially in the northern half of the country, it’s important to include evergreens in the design…though not “colorful”, they will provide the structure and interest for the long, gray winter months. Evergreens should comprise roughly one third of the total plant count.
An understanding of the above ideas will help you avoid the most common landscape design mistakes. Some of this is plain common sense. Gather all your facts and figures together before you actually undertake the design. Remember to: PLAN TWICE…PLANT ONCE. See our complete list of garden how-to articles here.
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About Dan Eskelson
Dan has had his hands in the soil for most of his adult life as a gardener, landscaping contractor, golf course superintendent and landscape designer. When the ground freezes, he builds websites, produces video and plays the hammered dulcimer. Full bio here.