How to Avoid 5 Landscaping Blunders: Tips for new and experienced gardeners

Leyland cypress planted too close to structure
Leyland cypress can grow up to 70’ in height and 15’ in width. They should be planted at least 15’ away from each other and 8’ away from any structure. This was taken in June 2013.

Creating a beautiful landscape takes time and resources. Invest in careful planning and research before you begin to establish or renovate a landscape. It will pay off in the long run!

Here are a few common blunders that occur in landscaping and, more importantly, how to avoid them.

  1. Planting without planning. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the planning of any project, let alone one you don’t have a lot of experience with. Believe me, we’ve ALL done it. All of these blunders come under the category of insufficient planning. So, what are the most important planning tasks?

    Site plat plan
    Site plat plan
  • Take an inventory of the area and its features. Start with a plat plan or a Google map of the property. Make a copy. Don’t draw on the original plat plan!
  • Draw in existing hardscape features: house, driveway, sidewalk, deck, septic field, utility lines, etc. A hardscape is any feature that is not easily moved.
  • Note the north compass direction to help determine sun and shade. This will help with plant selection.
  • Mark the location and name (if you know it) of existing plants that you want to keep. Use an ‘X’ to mark the trunk and a circle to show the relative size of the canopy or drip line. This helps to determine what plants can be planted underneath.
  • Identify very wet or very dry areas. The bottom of a slope can hold a lot more moisture that the top of hill.
  • What do you want to accomplish? Screen the neighbors, create a quiet outdoor seating area, create a pollinator garden as a focal point from inside the house, or something else? Remember: Form follows function.
  • After you’ve selected your plants, add them to the plan. Don’t plant them too close together!
  • Get your soil tested. Pay attention to the pH results. Some plants are finicky about the acidity of the soil in which they’re planted. See the Home & Garden Information Center’s soil testing information. Maryland does not have a soil testing lab. Contact us at Ask an Expert if you need help interpreting the results.

    Plat plan for landscaping
    Plat plan with hardscapes & ideas for improvements

I know these all sound really boring but you’ll thank me later. If you were going on a vacation to a far-away land, would you just drive to the airport before planning and expect everything to work out fine?

  1. Just say “NO” to impulse purchases! Businesses love impulse purchases but you know what happens when you grocery shop when you’re hungry, right?
  • DO NOT BUY any plants on the first trip!
  • Visit a local garden center or a local public garden to see what plants are available and what will likely grow well in your area.
  • Write down the names of the plants you like and the places you would like to plant them. Take a picture of the plant and its tag. Never count on the memory!
  • Go to the library or search Google for the following:
    • Maximum height and width
    • Preference for sun, shade, etc.
    • Preference for wet, moist, well-drained, or dry soil
    • Planting zone. See the USDA Hardiness Zone Map. Maryland’s zones range from 5b to 8a.

      Rhododendron with nutrient deficiency
      Rhododendrons need acidic soil. Yellowing shows nutrient deficiency due to high pH.
  1. Don’t ignore a plant’s needs! Yes, plants have needs too! And they can’t just get up and walk to a place in the landscape that would meet their growing requirements. Plants that are struggling to survive aren’t thriving and are more susceptible to insect and disease problems.  The phrase “Right Plant, Right Place” says it all. Perhaps you should start with a list of native plants. Plants that are native to an area are adapted to that environment, are less susceptible to pest and disease problems, and require less products and maintenance.
  2. Don’t mistakenly plant invasives! Invasive plants can cause serious economic and environmental damage. Maryland has imposed restrictions on the sale of invasive plants. View our invasive plants page for more information, and see the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s list of invasive plants.
  3. Don’t try to do it all as one big project. Unless you plan on hiring professionals to do the job, it is best to start small.

Additional Resources

By Ria Malloy, Assistant Program Director, Home & Garden Information Center. This is the first in a series of articles on landscaping. Look for future posts on plant selection, planting practices, and maintenance.

7 thoughts on “How to Avoid 5 Landscaping Blunders: Tips for new and experienced gardeners

  1. Debbie September 28, 2017 / 8:44 am

    Very informative blog post!!!

  2. Thomas October 2, 2017 / 6:59 am

    In a heavy clay (likes to crack in dry weather), we recommend large water consuming trees at least 30′ from structures.

  3. Joe June 13, 2018 / 12:05 pm

    Really great tips! Starting small and not taking on too much is the best way to do it!

  4. Jo Phllip November 30, 2018 / 11:47 pm

    Yes– plan plan plan! don’t make impulse purchases or else you will really blow your budget…

  5. liam April 3, 2019 / 9:46 pm

    Maryland, thank you. Really enjoyed this. My wife and I always find our selves making those “impulse purchases”. I’m going to share this article with her.

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