Common Landscaping Mistakes
Horticulturist Michael Boice Shares His Expertise
Planting and managing a landscape incorrectly can lead to plant loss or excessive maintenance. Often we plan a landscape without thinking about the needs of plants or how they grow. Five of the most common mistakes I have found include locating a plant in a space that is too small for it, planting in poor soil types, overplanting, improper mulching, and failing to consider the environmental requirements of the plant.
Trees are often planted in locations they will rapidly outgrow. Even small trees grow 15 to 25 feet tall and 10 feet wide and can interfere with buildings and walkway. Heavy pruning to control the size will eventually stress the tree, making it susceptible to disease and insect pests.
Some locations have poor soil that will not support the plants we choose. Note that water-retaining soils are the most common type in our area, and too much water can drown a root system. Root health is very important to the growth of a plant. Some sites may require total removal of poor soil and replacement with a good quality topsoil to insure proper drainage.
Overplanting is a common error. It may be desirable for a new planting to look full, so small plants are planted for the immediate aesthetics without considering how big they will grow in a couple years. Overplanting requires a lot of trimming to maintain plant size because crowded plants will grow taller. Crowding also reduces air movement, increasing the opportunity for disease and insects to attack. Plants often have to be removed to reduce the overcrowded look or even to uncover a blocked window. Reduce the maintenance and improve the health of your landscape by considering how much space a plant will require once it is mature.
Proper mulching is good for the landscape. Mulch improves the appearance, conserves moisture, and reduces the number of weeds. Mulch can also cause problems if applied incorrectly. Mulch should be applied a uniform two to three inches deep around the planting. It should not be excessively deep or piled up on plant stems or trunks. Deep mulch can shed water, limit air reaching the roots, and create homes for rodents and insects that can damage the plants. Mulch piled up around tree trunks creates an area where roots will grow in the mulch and wrap around the tree. Over the years, the roots grow toward the trunk and girdle the tree, killing it. Maple trees are especially prone to girdling roots.
Plants used in landscaping come from many different growing environments. Plants chosen to add color or texture are often placed in locations that are too sunny or too shady for them. The plants become stressed, making them more susceptible to pests. Some plant foliage, such as that of the variegated hosta, will burn in sunny locations. Most flowering plants will not flower in heavy shade. The amount of light and water available, soil type, and growing temperature are important for the health of the planting.
Learning about the plants in your landscape will improve your chance for success and reduce the maintenance required to keep it looking good.