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I have compiled a list of what ‘NOT TO DO’ when tackling your own landscape. In my experience as a landscape designer, homeowners would call me after they’ve reached a point of impasse and frustration. While I encourage the do-it-your-selfer, I am pointing out these steps simply to help you BEFORE you take the plunge. Don’t make these common mistakes:

1. Tackling the task WITHOUT a plan.

For a small project you can do a little research on your own, make a few sketches and get down and dirty with pride. For the larger projects you need to do a lot of research, or better yet work with a designer to make sure what you want to do is thought out and your choices are the best ones for your space. The basic elements and principles of design should be applied to give you the outdoor living space you dream of.

There are many factors to consider. What is your objective or goal? (How would you like it to look and function in the end?) Are you more formal or informal? What is the actual size of your area? What type of soil is it? Does it need amended? Do you need a retaining wall? Will what you want to do solve your problem areas? What are your problem areas? What is the growth habit of your choice plants? Do you have a balance of deciduous and evergreen plants in your plan? Do they need shade or sun? What is the cold tolerance of your choices (zones) These questions and many more come into play and need answered before you start.

There are many designers that will be happy to do the homework for you and leave you with a detailed, ‘to scale’ plan of action and estimate if you want them to do the work. It will include exactly what materials/plants you need, the size if applicable, and how many. always provided the folks with an estimate of retail cost if they went and purchased themselves You can also check to see if your local college has design courses. Perhaps students enrolled can help you as school project, or you can study yourself for personal enrichment. In the long run, you save money and time going this route. Most of the questions are answered and addressed BEFORE you start , enabling you to finish successfully.

2. Planting without regard to size at maturity.

You buy plants because of their beauty or appeal

right. Then you take it home and plant it in front of your porch near the sidewalk to enjoy. WHAT YOU FORGET TO FACTOR IN IS THAT IT IS GOING TO GROW. Every living plant has a maximum growth habit; the size high and wide that it will be if unattended. Trees, for example, are categorized into groups. There are Shade trees, growing 60’ high. There are ornamental trees

growing 25-30’ high.


This pair of purple leaf plum trees is planted 2' from the foundation.

And there are small ornamental trees that grow 12-15’ high. All too often I have seen homeowners plant shade trees in their small yard and then trim them each year to be small ornamental trees. This maintenance takes a huge amount of time and eventually becomes a nightmare. Or the opposite. A large yard has all small trees, leaving the house the dominant feature and looking awkward in the space. You follow how crucial this is? When you buy a tree or shrub there is usually a tag on it that specifies the growth habit of that plant. Pay attention to it. Buy a plant with growth habit to fit your space. If there is no tag, google it! The growth habit of your tree or shrub is a detail you don’t want to leave out.

NOTE: There are also a number of dwarf or compact plants on the market that in small spaces work wonderfully, and do not need much maintenance.

3. Installing landscape fabric with bark mulch.

The only time landscape fabric should be used is with mulch that does not decompose, such as stone mulch.

All too often, homeowners use landscape fabric, or plastic underneath bark mulch. The problem with this is that the bark mulch decomposes and acts as a greater growing medium for weed seeds on the top. Mulch is refreshed year after year. DIY’s will argue that at least the weeds pull easier, and while this is true initially, over time you are doomed. The growing medium is optimum on top of the barrier, the healthy weeds get persistent and roots find their way below the barrier. Then what you have is roots interwoven in the fabric/plastic and impossible to pull.

That unfortunately is when you reach impasse and throw your hands up because it is too much to deal with. Call a landscaper. Thus costing more in the long run.

Solution: Bark mulch can over time amend your soil when there is no barrier between it and your existing soil. Applying mulch 5-6” (settling to 2-4”) will inhibit weeds while amending at the same time. The organic matter helps to fertilize your plants. This gives you 2-3 years of weed prevention, before having to reapply if you don’t want to.

If you like the clean bark look, there is an organic mixture to spray over your finished bed to inhibit growth for up to 2 years. The recipe is ¼ cup dawn dish liquid, 1 gallon vinegar, and 2 cups Epsom salt. It will kill any plant life you get it on. Don’t spray on a windy or rainy day. Hot sunny days work best due to plant transpiration.

4. Bark Mulch too high on trunk of trees and shrubs

While it looks good to have neat mounds of mulch around your trees, the problem occurs when mulch is too high on the necks of your plants. Whatever the plant is, with mums and roses the exceptions, mulch up on the trunks or stems even at three inches, can cause it to decline. First it is under stress, then pest and disease set in, and inevitably doomed.

The solution for this is simple. When mulching, keep the mulch away at least two inches from the trunk. The best formation is to create a well or bowl around the trunk. A bowl to catch water allows it to soak in at the base of each plant. Light mulch at the base, progressing to heavier mulch in circumference of stem is optimum. The circumference depends on the size of the stem or trunk.

Another solution is to use fabric and stone mulch. The fabric and stone however, will need pulled away from trunk as tree/shrub grows bigger.

5. Watering instructions not followed.

‘Too much water is just as harmful as not enough.’

Here’s the scenario folks: The potted and B&B (Balled & Burlapped) plants that you buy at the nursery or garden center are used to being watered everyday. When you bring them home, you should keep the soil moist until planted but our objective is this:

We want to train the plants to pull water from surrounding area when it needs it, not to depend on it directly every day. In effect we are weaning the plant.

Once you have them planted in the ground the proper watering instructions are these:

With an open ended hose and a SLOW steady water flow saturate the base and the surrounding area of your tree, shrub, or flower. Allow approx.15-20 minutes for trees. Allow approx. 10 minutes for shrubs, and approx. 5 minutes for flowers. You want the hole AND surrounding area moist. A slow steady flow allows the water not only on the surface but to seep deep as well. ALWAYS WATER AT THE BASE OF PLANT. (Watering with spray hose can spread disease through droplets.)

This should be done once a week for the next four weeks as a general rule. If you see the leaves druping after a few days, water a bit using the same practice. Root systems, soil, climate, and other variables could vary the practice a bit.

At the end of 4 weeks your plant will have learned to pull the moisture from surrounding area. You do not need additional watering EXCEPT in drought conditions.

Remember your plants are living things and will let you know if there is a problem. Paying attention to them will enable you to read the signs early enough to prevent problems and preserve your investment…..most of the time. Rabbits and Deer are another story.

Installing your own outdoor living space is hard work but so very rewarding. When it is finished you can sit back on your hammock and relax with satisfaction,

pride, friends, and an ice cold drink!!!

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