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Avoid Telltale Beginner Landscaping Mistakes: How to Create a Home Landscape That Looks Professionally Designed

Follow these easily implemented, do-it-yourself garden design techniques to achieve the look of a professionally designed backyard landscape.

Novice gardeners and new backyard landscapers make common mistakes that brand their landscaping efforts as an amateur.

Here’s how to avoid creating a garden that looks like a beginner designed it and create one that would make a professional landscape designer proud.


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Have a Plan

Not necessarily a four-color to-scale hand-drawn plan, but at least an idea of what the landscaping needs to accomplish.

Consider the aim: is it to add color? Provide privacy for a patio or porch? Block an unpleasant view or frame a great one? Now make a list of possible plant choices based on the goals for the garden.

Study the available light at the site of the garden for a few days or better yet, weeks, before choosing plants.

Exactly when does the sun reach the space, if ever? Is the sunlight full or dappled? Knowing if the location is in full sun, part sun, full shade or part shade will help with plant selections.

Jot down the measurements of the space. Also note where the house, garage, pathways, and other obstructions are. Where is the nearest water source?

Meet the Plant’s Needs

Choose the right plant for the right place. Perennials, shrubs, and trees that thrive in deep shade will soon wither and die in a backyard with six straight hours of sun, no matter how much water they get.

Sun-loving specimens like roses, clematis and lilies will not thrive and flower, and may not even survive, in deep shade. Don’t choose a tree that wants to be 60 feet tall as a foundation planting or surround a child’s play space with shrubs that drop fruits or have thorns.

Read the Tags

Ever notice a house with a front entryway that’s dwarfed by giant evergreen trees planted inches from the steps? Or homes that are always dark inside because the shrubs have grown over the windows? Avoid these situations by selecting plants based on their habits and eventual size, not their size the day they’re bought.

Find out the eventual spread of each plant and allow it plenty of room to grow so there’s little or no ongoing pruning required to maintain it. if the info is not on the tag, look it up online and buy and plant accordingly.

No Straight Lines

There are no straight lines in nature. (Think rocks, mountains, beaches, rivers, tree branches.) Lining up plants in straight lines or like soldiers in formation is a dead giveaway that screams “an amateur planted this.”

Unless you are creating a formal, symmetrical garden, stick to odd numbers ( three, five, seven) of each plant, situated in small groupings or dotted throughout a bed.

Don’t Forget to Water

And that means not just once or twice, but all through the growing season. On the East Coast of the U.S. for example, that’s from May until November. Aim for about one inch of water per week.

Keep track of the local rainfall and if it reaches an inch, skip watering for a few days. If not, provide water at the roots of the plant, via a soaker hose, not a wasteful overhead sprinkler.

Lay on the Mulch

Spread a 3 to a 4-inch deep layer of natural colored, not dyed, mulch on the surface of the soil around and in between plants. (Red mulch also screams “amateur” ) The mulch, which must be augmented each growing season as part of ongoing maintenance, will protect the delicate roots from drying out, conserve moisture, and keep new weed growth to a minimum.

Plan ahead and choose plants carefully for the site. Don’t plant in rigid rows. And remember to water regularly and to mulch sufficiently. Follow these guidelines and your property will be well on the way to becoming a neighborhood standout.

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