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Avoid These Common Landscape Mistakes

Jennifer NicholsField Notes

Whether you take care of your own property, or you have someone maintain it for you, there are common mistakes we frequently see in the landscape. Learn to avoid these landscape mistakes and save yourself time, money, and frustration!

Landscape Mistake #1: Trees planted too deeply

Mistake #1- tree planted too deep

Like other living things, woody plants are comprised of different types of tissue which perform different functions. Bark tissue protects the plant and transports nutrients between the roots and the leaves. Root tissue absorbs water and nutrients from the soil. Identify the point where bark tissue meets root tissue (the root flare) and plant this at or slightly above ground level.

Frequently when plants are purchased, this root flare has been covered by soil, either in the pot, or in the digging process. If the step of identifying the root flare has been missed and the plant is planted too low, many shrubs and virtually all trees will weaken and die within several years. We call this telephone poling in the industry, because the tree looks like a telephone pole stuck into the ground. Compare to trees that grow naturally in the woods and you will always see the root flare, or a widening at the base. For more information on proper planting height and technique, visit Purdue University’s ‘Tree’s Need A Proper Start- Plant Them Right!’.

Landscape Mistake #2: Mulch volcanoes

Mistake #2- Mulch Volcano

Mulch suppresses weeds, retains moisture in the soil, and reduces erosion. Initial plant installations require up to 3 inches of mulch in order to cover the soil. Additional applications of mulch should be approximately 1 inch, or just enough to break down in a one year cycle. Too much mulch is not only an unnecessary expense, it affects woody plants in the same manner as planting them too deeply. Never apply mulch up against a plant’s bark because it causes the bark to rot and invites disease.

We call these piles of mulch around trees mulch volcanoes. I have no idea how this trend started, but it is not a sound horticultural practice. Make sure your mulch is not too thick, and spend that money elsewhere. Or better yet, use leaves for mulch, and skip that expense altogether.

Landscape Mistake #3: Tree abuse

Mistake #3- Physical Damage

Trees are living things, and if cared for properly, they will live for a long time. That is why it is important to care for them. Damage to the bark of a tree can shorten the tree’s life. Likewise, poor pruning can turn a beautiful tree into an eyesore for years to come.

Power equipment is often the cause of tree damage, so keep mowers and line trimmers away from the trunks of trees. The mechanical damage to the base of trees by this equipment causes permanent damage, so we recommend mulching under trees instead of growing grass. Fill these beds with shade perennials, and trees will remain beautiful and damage free for years to come.

If pruning needs to be done due to low branches or a tree growing too close to a building, prune properly! If you are not sure of proper pruning techniques, hire a certified arborist. The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) has a listing of all certified arborists in your area.

Landscape Mistake #4: Poor plant selection

Mistake #4- Poor plant selection

Another common mistake is choosing the wrong plant for a site. Always select plants for size, placement, and culture.

I often see large shrubs planted directly under windows and next to sidewalks in front of houses. This may look nice when the plants go in the ground, but many of these shrubs can ultimately grow 10’ tall and as wide in just a few years. Consider the mature size of plants if you do not want to become a slave to pruning. Often with shrubs, “Less is more” is indeed the case. So consider reducing the number, choosing dwarf varieties, and placing plants where they have plenty of room to grow.

Culture is also critical when selecting plants. I take clues from where plants grow in nature. For example, Rhododendrons always grow in well drained soil, mostly as an understory plant in the shade. So they will never be happy in clay soil in full sun. On the other hand, many hollies and magnolias grow naturally in wetter soils along streams. So if you have clay soil, they may do well in your spot.

Let’s face it, landscaping can be both expensive and labor intensive. To minimize the expense and effort, and to maximize the successes and the enjoyment of your landscape, do your homework, and learn from the mistakes of others. And as always, if you need help, contact GreenWeaver!