The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Avoiding the top four landscape mistakes

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

One mammal causes more landscape problems than any other; more problems than rabbits and rodents, moles and voles, dogs and deer. As the great philosopher Pogo possum once said, "We have met the enemy and he is us." Yes many well-meaning humans spawn time-consuming landscape lycanthropes.

I've never heard anyone proclaim, "Gee I wish I had a high maintenance landscape." Everybody wants a low maintenance yard. A lot of us love working in the yard, but even I don't want to dread the drudgery of my yard tasks. Some may dream of a no maintenance yard; however, even parking lots have weeds infiltrating cracks in the concrete fortress. Landscapes can become monsters due to our errors in planting and plant selection.

The number one mistake in landscape plantings is over-planting; in other words, too many plants that are planted too close together. A properly planned landscape should appear sparse after planting. If we allow for the mature size of the plant, there can easily be three feet or more between shrubs. Perhaps an upcoming wedding or graduation yard party or a pending house sale might be good reasons to overplant, but generally we are better off filling space between the shrubs with annual flowers or ground covers.

Mistake number two is underestimating a plant's size. The plant labels and garden books give a range of possible plant heights, for example 12-20 feet tall. If I really really really want that plant but I don't have the space, I automatically delude myself into thinking it will grow to only 12 feet tall. The 20-foot tall part of the description is wiped from my consciousness. With our great soil and plenty of moisture, assume plants will reach the high end of their height range.

The number three mistake is a landscape legacy from number two mistake. We wait until shrubs are engulfing the garage before starting a pruning regime. If we pay attention to the mature size of plants when we select and place them, hopefully we won't have to do a lot of pruning. However since we know we will commit mistake number two, we should maintain a wary eye to detect the plants outgrowing their bounds. If you are not sure how to take care of them we can help. Check out our UI Extension videos

Mistake number four is mentally the toughest one in my estimation. Sometimes, evergreen shrubs in particular, get way too large for the area. Evergreen shrubs such as junipers, yews and arborvitae can be pruned each year to keep them smaller if needed. Once they are more than 2 feet or more too large it is very difficult to recover the size you want. If you have to prune into the brown zone of the evergreen, you might as well prune at ground level and start over with a new shrub. Evergreen branches generally don't recover if all the green needles are pruned off.

Initially beginning a landscape or refurbishing an existing one may seem overwhelming, physically and financially. First evaluate any existing plants to determine if they should or can be salvaged then avoid overplanting and plan for the plant's maximum mature size.

If you would love to learn more about gardening and want to share your newly acquired knowledge, then the Master Gardener program may be for you. Training for Master Gardeners in Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties starts the end of January 2014 in three locations; Champaign, Danville and Onarga, but applications are due December 6, 2013. Check out our web site for more information and to apply Questions? Our great horticulture team is here to help. Phone our offices: Champaign (217-333-7672); Danville (217-442-8615); or Onarga (815-268-4051).

Check your local UI Extension for their opportunities.

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