Landscaping mistakes can be surprisingly easy to make but will result in a yard that's uninviting, impractical, or eye-wateringly expensive. So, if you're about to plan a garden makeover, it's well worth knowing the features to stay clear of.
Each and every one of your landscaping ideas should be weighed up with a good deal of consideration before being put into place. For instance, a paved area might seem like an obvious choice. But, if it's too small, poorly positioned and a nightmare to keep clean, then you may want to reconsider your options. Mistakes don't just revolve around hardscaping either – they can span to soft landscaping too. For example, choosing the wrong plants can lead to an ongoing struggle to keep them alive. At the more extreme end, it can lead to more pressing problems. Think structural damage or uncontrollable invasiveness. We doubt either equate to the relaxed, easy-care gardening experience you had in mind.
But, if you know which landscaping mistakes to watch out for in the first place, you're likely to avoid any unwelcome surprises or moments of hindsight down the line. And that's where this guide will come in handy...
Landscaping mistakes: 8 things to look out for
As Chris Bonnett of Gardening Express says, 'Landscaping is a great way to make your current garden space more attractive and appealing in its design, but there are a few common mistakes that you'll want to avoid.' We've rounded up the key points to remember below to ensure your garden makeover is a success rather than a shambles.
1. Proceeding without a plan
The number one top tip for any sort of design – interior or exterior – is to plan. In fact, when it comes to landscaping, 'The biggest mistake that people make is not planning,' says Chris Bonnett of Gardening Express.
'It's important to think about what you want and where before you go off and buy things that may not end up fitting in your garden,' he says. So, sit down with a nice cuppa and carefully consider what you want to use your plot for – whether it be entertaining, growing flowers or veggies, working out, or something else (or all of the above!). Prioritize features that will enable you to carry out these activities in your space to ensure it functions for you and your needs. If you wish to create separate 'zones' for activities, then think about how you can divide one space from the next (our garden divider ideas feature has plenty to inspire).
Consider what your color palette is going to be, too, as suggests Chris. 'The more you plan, the easier it will be to bring your vision to life.' Think about potential themes and get creative with mood boards until you have a clear idea in your mind (and on paper) of what you are trying to achieve. Then, whether you are hiring a pro to come in and take care of the actual build, or are doing it yourself, there will be a good solid plan to work from.
And speaking of hiring a pro, don't forget to consider any additional costs – planning your budget is always important. You can find more info on how much does landscaping cost in our dedicated guide.
2. Creating a patio area that's too small
So you've got your eye on some of the best garden furniture and you need a stable patio or deck to place it on. But, as Claire Belderbos of Belderbos Landscapes suggests, creating one that is insufficient in size can be a common mistake.
You'll need it to be large enough for your dining table and chairs of choice, so take measurements into account. You'll then need to add plenty of room around the edges, so people can move freely around the space without feeling cramped.
Factor in one of the best BBQs and the potential for extra guests needing extra chairs at times, and you'll start to realize that in most cases, the more patio space, the better. After all, the patio is likely to be the social hub of your yard, so it may well be worth sacrificing a few more inches of lawn or border for a comfortable and functional result.
3. Making a path a centerpoint
There are so many gorgeous garden path ideas, so why stick to a boring straight one that splits your yard right down the middle? This will draw the eye (and not in a good way), make the whole space feel smaller, and in most cases, will reduce your landscaping options for the rest of the plot drastically.
Instead, introduce a gentle curve, try some stepping stones, think about integrating steps, or open up a lawn whilst making maintenance easier by positioning a walkway to line a border.
4. Forgetting about drainage
If you live in a region where it tends to rain a lot, forgetting about drainage is one of those landscaping mistakes that is crucial to avoid. As Claire Belderbos of Belderbos Landscapes says, not taking drainage requirements into account can cause raised beds and planters to become waterlogged, which makes it tricky for plants to survive.
What's more, if your paving is installed with incorrect falls (which refers to the gradient), puddles of water are created, Claire adds. Not only is this a slip hazard, but it can result in flooding and additional damage to your home and garden structures.
Luckily, there are plenty of savvy ways to incorporate drainage into a plot, whether it's with pretty rain garden features, installing a water butt to collect rainwater run-off from roofs, or by opting for permeable paving or garden gravel ideas.
5. Not improving the soil before planting up borders
So you've checked out our flowerbed ideas and you're ready to add a gorgeous new border to your plot. But don't be tempted to skip the first important step – preparing the soil.
To do so, you'll need to turn the soil using a garden fork, removing any weeds and large stones, and then dig in plenty of compost and some organic fertilizer.
Clay soils can be especially problematic as are prone to waterlogging, are very difficult to dig, and easily become compacted. Although some plants can grow happily in these conditions (fruit trees and roses, for instance), in most cases you'll want to improve the structure of the soil before creating a flowerbed. Installing raised beds or digging in plenty of organic matter such as manure will help, or, for smaller areas, you can try adding in large volumes of grit.
You can find out more tips in our guide to soil types.
6. Picking the wrong plants for your plot
'A common mistake is putting plants in the wrong spot,' says Chris Bonnett of Gardening Express. 'Try not to just put a plant somewhere because it looks good. Think about other elements, like will it receive the required amount of sunlight there? Or, perhaps the plant needs more shade, so it needs to be in a more secluded area.
'Research the plants that you want and think about the practicality of your garden so you can ensure you provide the plant with the right climate,' Chris adds. That way, your garden is more likely to thrive.
Gerard Splendore, a broker at Warburg Realty in New York, says, 'Buying plants simply because they are on sale is not the best reason to invest in landscaping, and inappropriate plantings or too many of the same type will also backfire as a strategy.'
He also adds that beginning landscaping without a color scheme is a mistake. It's much better (and easier) to pick a palette for your plants and stick to it for harmonious results. Our guide to garden color schemes has lots of tips to get you started.
7. Choosing invasive plants or destructive trees
Jean M. Rosalia, a realtor at Keller Williams Realty in Virginia Beach, VA, says one of the biggest landscaping mistakes that can turn buyers away is planting invasive or destructive trees, vines and privacy plants. 'When thinking of invasive plants, the first thing that comes to mind is bamboo because it's very hard to contain, spreads rapidly, and is even harder to get rid of.'
Jean also warns against ivy. 'While it looks beautiful on historic brick homes, it actually erodes the mortar joints between the bricks, and can cause structural issues if let to go too long.' And while those mulberry trees are beautiful, when they bloom, she says they're really messy. 'Not only do the berries drop everywhere and stain whatever they land on, but the birds also eat the berries and the incredibly acidic droppings will actually damage the paint on your vehicle.'
Planting too close to the house is another common error, and Jean lists mulberry and weeping willow trees as being particularly invasive. 'Their roots grow under slabs and foundations or into water or sewage pipes, causing thousands of dollars in damage,' she warns. 'Trees planted too close to homes with overhanging limbs that grow over roofs also do damage by leaving sap and lifting roofing shingles.'
Got a small backyard and don't want your trees to take over the space? Our best trees for small gardens feature is a good place to start your search. We also have lots more tips for landscaping around trees in our guide.
8. Overlooking maintenance
When planning your new garden, it's easy to overlook how easy – or tricky – it will be to maintain. But, if you want to actually spend time relaxing in your yard rather than constantly doing chores, it's worth thinking about.
Plus, when it comes to selling your property, unkept landscaping won't sit well with potential buyers. 'Part of your home staging requirements extend outdoors,' says Ricardo Mello, co-founder and managing partner of Manhattan Miami Real Estate in NY and FL. You'll need to 'build curb appeal by mowing the lawn regularly, trimming hedges and bushes, as well as making sure any debris or clutter is removed from the yard.' If you need an update, our guide to the best lawn mower will have you prepared for the job.
Of course, if you replace a lawn with decking, or avoid using fast-growing shrubs, then you'll instantly reduce the amount of work you'll need to do. Composite decking requires even less upkeep. You might want to add garden edging to your borders too – it's an easy way to keep everything in its place.
You can find lots more low maintenance garden ideas in our guide.
More landscaping mistakes to avoid
Need even more advice? Here are some additional landscaping mistakes to bear in mind:
- Don't forget about the view from inside the house. After all, to make the most of your yard you'll want to enjoy it from your windows when you're indoors, as well as when you're actually out in it. One simple way to create an enchanting vista is by investing in some good outdoor lighting ideas.
- Make sure your plants have enough space in your borders to grow – cramming them in won't allow them to thrive.
- If possible, try to design your landscaping so it complements the exterior of your home by matching materials, colors, or even shapes. That way, the finished look will feel smartly tied together.
- If you're planning on selling your home, the single biggest mistake you can make is to have no landscaping at all. Thinking about everything from your garden gate to your front porch ideas is key to making a great first impression. According to Mihal Gartenberg, a real estate agent at Warburg Realty in New York, most homebuyers prefer landscaping, and if you don’t have any, they know they'll need to handle this task if they purchase your home. 'Once landscaping starts to feel like "a project" buyers are instantly wary,' she says. 'It does not mean they'll walk away, but it does mean that they're adding it to their list of pros and cons.'
Terri Williams is a journalist with real estate, home improvement, and product review bylines at Realtor.com, Bob Vila, Yahoo, MSN, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Houston Chronicle, and Apartment Therapy. She also covers business topics, with bylines at USA Today, The Economist, US New & World Report, Verizon, and several other brands that you’ve probably heard of. Follow her adventures on Twitter.
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