Lay down a paver patio, plop down some plants, spread mulch and voila! You have yourself a beautifully landscaped yard. Except it's not that easy. If it were, there wouldn't be landscapes that look like the ones below. Most homeowners whose yards aren't exactly magazine worthy are making simple mistakes at the very beginning of the project. Unlike home renovations, landscape projects include living plants that continue to grow over time. Not considering this basic but crucial fact can lead to disappointing yards. These are the five most common mistakes made by homeowners when landscaping.

Not Understanding Site Conditions

Landscapes are living, growing, and constantly changing spaces. What gets planted and where it gets planted matters. Not all plants can live in identical conditions or thrive in ANY condition. The obvious example is the fact that palm trees and cacti aren't found in Minnesota. But homeowners continue to buy random plants that will inevitably die because they're aren't suited for the right conditions.

Some good questions to ask are:

  • How much sun does this space receive each day?
  • What Hardiness Zone do I live in?
  • Is the soil heavy clay, sand or rock? See the best type of soil for plants.
  • Where are the low spots of the space? Where does water collect?
  • Are there any objects like an AC unit is the area? (hot and noisy)
  • What site lines/views do I want to block or enhance?
  • Do any trees drop debris that could potentially stain or degrade hardscapes?

AC Unit in Landscape

Not Considering the Landscape in the Future

Immediately following a landscape project, everything looks so nice and orderly. Plants are evenly spaced, richly colored mulch fills in the open space, and weeds are nowhere to be found. What happens though when those plants continue to grow? Or when the mulch and weeds need to be maintained? Fun fact: your landscape will never look the same again. But that doesn't need to be a bad thing. With good design, hopefully a yard looks better as the years go by. Perennials begin to fill out, shrubs add privacy, and trees provide shade.

Too many times a homeowner will plant an oak tree right next to their house that will grow to 50' tall. This can eventually cause cracking of their foundation, debris falling on their patio, and a risk of branches falling on the roof. Too many times has a homeowner planted a nice row of shrubs below their front window only to cut them back every year because they crowd out the view. Too many times has a homeowner planted way to many plants and too close together because they didn't realize how quickly they spread.

Think about how you want the landscape to look and function right away as well as how you want it to look in 5, 10, and 20 years.

Tree Too Large

Prioritizing Wants Instead of Needs

Many homeowners let their WANTS dictate the design and budget instead of focusing on the biggest NEEDS for their project. Someone may not want to seed their lawn and wait 4-8 weeks before it's established, so they use sod instead for immediate results. That is a completely reasonable request. But if spending more money on sod prevents them from importing quality topsoil or installing an irrigation system, then it might not be the smartest decision. Is a sprinkler system needed for a new lawn? No. But it is highly recommended to maintain a quality lawn. Without good dirt or an irrigation system, the future health of the lawn is in jeopardy.


Someone else might want to replace their existing patio with beautiful flagstone and a built in fire pit. But when they're dead-set on the expensive materials, they can lose sight of the most important aspect of the project; they need a large patio with the capability of entertaining. As a result, a smaller patio is built and never fulfills the vision originally had by the homeowner.

Identify the 1-3 most important needs for starting a landscape job. Make sure each design and budgetary decision lines up with those needs and meets your goals. 

Copying Your Neighbors

One of the most common responses we get from homeowners is some variation of "our neighbor just installed a patio and we want something similar." If your neighbors inspire you to improve your yard and raise the value of your home, that's great! Some good ole' fashioned keeping up with the Jones's. But the problem with that line of thinking is that your neighbors aren't you. Duh. The copycat is usually never as good as the original. When you copy what you've seen, you might miss out on other great opportunities that are better suited for you and your yard. For all the same reasons listed above about site conditions and wants versus needs, mistakes usually happen when the homeowner's individual preferences aren't being considered. Instead, evaluate how you want your yard to function, look, and feel. Then collaborate with your designer to maximize space and budget to achieve those goals.


Not Using a Design

The worst mistake of all when landscaping is not creating a plan or design. When landscaping begins without a design, usually all of the previous mistakes happen at once. Poorly selected plants are placed in spots that don't make sense. The spacing, sizing, and growth progression will cause problems in the future. Materials are chosen without thinking about the context or use of the space. Hardscape and softscape are patched together without a schedule. And once you dig the first hole, you're pretty much committed. It's not easy correcting mistakes once pavers are set and plants are in the ground. Do some research and consult a professional.

Ugly Garden

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