Landscaping A Yard: 25 Common Mistakes

Landscaping Mistakes

Apparently it’s “Mistake Week” here at INSTALL-IT-DIRECT, as we recently featured Top 10 Mistakes Homeowners Make When Hiring a Contractor,” and today we’re focusing on landscaping issues we most often see homeowners do in error. We promise to go easier on you next week!

Meanwhile, here’s the most common residential landscaping mistakes:


1. Not hiring a landscape designer or architect for involved designs

If you have a big yard or big dreams, landscaping can be a complicated and costly endeavor, and getting a landscape professional on board could save you hours of wasted time and money. A landscape designer will make the best use of the areas you have and create plans for garden layouts, entertaining areas, water features, and more.

A landscape architect is someone who plans, designs, and manages the implementation of your home’s landscaping. If you are new to gardening and don’t have a clue about landscaping, you may want to hire professional help. A second caveat to this “mistake” is: have a plan. Planning helps you avoid buying too many plants or too few, or a bad mix of landscaping elements that don’t work together.

2. Not setting a budget

Did you know that landscaping is 30 percent more expensive than any other type of home improvement project? When you’re starting a landscape project, it’s smart to set your budget. If you’re starting fresh, 10 to 15 percent of your building budget is recommended for landscaping.

Do your research, know what you want and create a shopping list. If you lack the budget to implement your entire dream plan, consider having your landscaping completed in stages. Still implement a “phased installation,” so your designer will design your entire project up front for maximum efficiency.

3. Not paying attention to erosion-prone areas

Like so many of us in Southern California do, you might have a steep slope in your yard. If so, during our infrequent rains, you could lose topsoil and face erosion issues. Fix all erosion problem before you plant, by building a retaining wall or erosion will continue to affect your plants and landscape.

Common Landscaping Mistakes

4. Neglecting the front yard

Many homeowners tend to spend more time on the backyard and forget the front. Make sure you’re paying attention to your home’s curb appeal by focusing on your front yard, too – even if you spend less money there.

5. Not holistically planning the design

Your property appears as a unified whole, and so landscaping shouldn’t operate in silos, but rather flow seamlessly from one element to another. A good landscape designer can help in this regard. Take a step back and look at your yard as someone new to your home might and consider how all the landscaping will work together for the complete picture.

Good balance in a landscape takes size, color, and texture into account and strives to maintain scale and keep elements in proportion to each other. This applies to indoor/outdoor designs as well. In this case, paving materials should closely match the color and style of indoors and plants, exterior and outside decor should align with your interior’s design as well.

6. Not implementing the appropriate irrigation

Plan the proper irrigation structure at the beginning of your project and don’t make it an afterthought. Each plant in your landscaping may have different watering needs, and an irrigation system should take that into account. You’ll also probably want to conceal irrigation lines because visible irrigation can really muck up a pretty design.

7. Forgetting to make the design functional

This goes back to planning: how are you going to account for how your family uses the yard? Are you planting a flower bed where your kids like to frolic? Are those shrubs smack dab in your dog’s pee path? Consider your landscape’s usage and not just its “look.” Sit down and make a list of what you want to do in your yard, ensuring everyone’s needs are met. Also consider how future homeowners might use the yard so potential buyers aren’t someday scared off by your 15-foot retaining walls.

So when planning consider: how you currently use the yard, how you’d like to use the yard, and how you want it to look.

8. Not taking trees into consideration first

Plant trees first because they are often the foundation of your landscaping and not as easily moved as other elements. Trees also frame your landscape and when mature, arguable provide the most visual interest and take up the most “eye space.” Choose and place trees to harmonize with the rest of the landscape you are planning.

Landscaping Ideas to avoid

9. Placing trees and shrubs too close to the house

Remember that trees grow. Plant them several feet away from your home so their limbs won’t rub against your home. Overhanging limbs can also damage the roof and spreading roots might damage the foundation. Placing shrubs too close to the house can result in them disrupting the foundation when they grow or result in them growing into the windows and siding. Plant trees and shrubs at least four feet away from your house.

An add-on to this mistake? Be sure to put thorny plants well away from sidewalks, driveways and other areas where people might inadvertently brush against them.

10. Planting too close to pools, decks, and patios

This mistake is related to #9, but needs its own call-out. Planting trees and shrubs too close to decks, pools, or patios can threaten the structure of all these elements.

11. Not planning for color: either using too much or too little

Decide on your color palette before settling with a design. You want to know which colors work well together and with the color of your home. Keep in mind that too much color can overpower a design and your home. Start with a color that complements your house, your home’s trim or its front door, and add accent colors that harmonize.  You don’t want to go on green overload as provided by plants, trees, and shrubs. It’s too monotonous and needs some spice.

12. Not paying attention to climate zones when choosing plants

This is important because temperature, humidity, rain, wind, and sunlight affect plant growth (obviously) and you’ll need to plant in areas best suited for the plant variety you choose. Plants must be able to survive the average high and average low temperatures for the region – not so much an issue for San Diego. Still, use the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to choose plants that are right for your yard, keeping in mind that microclimates within your yard can also exist.

13. Not knowing the different between annuals and perennials

It’s important to have a basic understanding of landscaping terms before you begin planning so you know that what you choose will do what you want it to do (bloom more than once before it dies, for instance).

14. Making your landscape bigger than your efforts to maintain it

Part of planning a landscape is planning time to maintain it. If you don’t have the time or inclination to take care of your yard’s upkeep, plan for the money to spend on someone who does.

15.  Buying plants without knowing how tall they will grow

Read the tags at the nursery. They will tell you how tall and wide your tree or plant will grow at maturity. A good rule of thumb is to allow for even more growth than the tags indicates to be on the safe side.

16. Not taking your soil into account when choosing plants

If you have poorly draining soil, you need to know because plants won’t grow to their desired height or look healthy. If you have poorly draining soil, either fix it or select plants that can grow successfully in it. Test your soil with a home kit sold at home and garden soils and add the proper amendments and nutrients to grow what you want to grow – or what will work best with what you have already.

17. Forgetting to take privacy needs into consideration

It’s so easy to get caught up in landscape design that you forget your neighbor will enjoy your yard too unless you plan for some privacy with tall plants/trees/shrubs or fences tall enough to hide unwanted views.

18. Making patio areas too small

There’s so much you want to add to your landscape! We get it, but sometimes a patio can be an afterthought and not leave you enough room to actually, move in it. A 10′ by 10′ space is the minimum you should consider when designing a patio, otherwise there won’t be enough room for a standard-sized patio table and chairs, not to mention anything else, like you know, people.


19. If using bamboo, not choosing the right species for the yard

This really applies to all invasive plants in general, but we’re going to pick on bamboo here since it’s so commonly used in Southern California backyards. Remember there are spreading bamboos and clumping bamboos, and the latter can completely overtake your yard.

20. Overlooking the hardscape

In addition to the plants, trees, and shrubs, you need to think about your hardscape. If you are putting in a deck, for instance, you’ll want to make sure any plants you’ve chosen work well with that installation, i.e. aren’t too thorny, don’t overtake the space, don’t crowd the space, etc. This applies to fences, patios, pools and walkways. Incorporate the hardscape into your thought process when placing other landscaping elements.

21. Overcrowding

Nothing ruins the aesthetic appeal of a landscape quite like overcrowding. For one, an overly cluttered landscape is ugly and distracting. For two, shrubs, trees and flowers need good air circulation. Also remember that plants and trees will grow, so if it looks overcrowded now, just wait a few years and it’ll get worse.


22. Overdoing ornamentation

Too many decorative items in your landscape is like overcrowding: it’s unattractive. Our best tip is to use restraint when choosing garden ornamentation or your yard will look like a hoarder cat lady’s.

Landscaping Tips and What to Avoid

23. Getting too linear

You’re working with a natural landscape and it should look that way. Too many straight lines and severe corners, and your yard will look like a hospital. Copy the undulating swoops and sometimes uneven borders of nature with flower beds and plant placement.


24. Not accounting for wildlife

Do you want to attract or repel wildlife? The plants you choose and the landscape design will do one of both. Plan for yard visitors or plan to keep them out best you can.

Landscaping in Southern California - What to know

25. Overlooking Exterior Lighting

Because you planned your yard in the light of day, you may forget how you want it to look at night. Take into account what elements you’d like to highlight with nighttime exterior lighting and incorporate that into the design.

Your Turn…

Your yard is an extension of your home and creating a pretty, functional, and sustainable space can be overwhelming at first. Remember to first identify and understand your yard and your needs and then create spaces that serve your purposes. Have you made any landscaping mistakes? Which ones and did you fix them?

Photos: Install-it-Direct; Houzz (click on photo for attribution)