A baker's dozen of what not to do

by Jan Spann

Few of us have the opportunity to start with a fresh page on home landscaping, but we can start from our current view and apply smart garden techniques to add scale, balance and earth-friendly awareness. For your consideration, here are a dozen rules gleaned from garden experts.

1. Chaos rules when you don’t have a plan.

Put the shovel down and pick up a pencil and paper. If you consider gardening a sensory journey, you may have some favorites that you are eager to add. Stop. Just because you like a plant doesn’t mean it belongs in your plan.

The lovely, delicate columbine is one of my favorite blooms, and I have now learned to love it from afar, especially because it is the state flower for Colorado, which means its success requires a cooler, less humid climate than Central Arkansas.

Consider how you will use your outdoor space, including the green space of lawn. A rose garden can be lovely, but the blooms and thorns may not mix well for a family with small children. Pets are a consideration as well. Learn what plants work best in your area, the light and water requirements, and then ponder how those plants and shrubs work in relation to the shape and style of your home.

Examine ways to bring the inside out so that when you are finished, you have a nice, harmonious design.

Having a plan will also help you limit impulse purchases. Your research will translate into a shopping list, so you’ll know what works in your particular landscape and not just what catches your attention at the garden center. Setting your color palette and budget in the planning stage allows you to walk by those temptations.

With color, keep it simple and pick one color that really frames your home. If there is too much color and it’s too strong, it almost can become a distraction. Repetition and some harmony in a garden go a long way.

2. Underestimating the cost.

Landscaping is 30 percent more expensive than any other type of home improvement project. Don’t forget to factor in your budget, and when you hit the nursery, stick to it, which also helps with impulse buys. You can also develop your plan to be completed over several seasons, adding shrubs and bulbs now and planting perennials and a few more shrubs in early spring.

One of the biggest factors in the budget is the labor involved, so if you can do it yourself, you’ll save money and have the added bonus of healthy cardio workouts! Fall is the best time to put your plan into action, which means cooler weather for those workouts.

3. Improper soil preparation.

The foundation of your landscape is its soil, and the right soil will get plants and lawn off to a successful start. At a new home, soil can be compacted as a result of the heavy equipment used during construction. Over tilling the soil can destroy the beneficial micro-organisms that promote healthy roots in garden and lawn. Clay and sandy soils require inorganic matter like humus and compost.

Your local county extension agent can provide a soil test when you bring in a soil sample (learn more at uaex.edu and click on Yard & Garden in the red bar). This is also the time to observe how the soil drains to avoid root rot or other moisture problems.

Volcano mulching, or the practice of piling mulch, as much as six to 10 inches, against the tree trunk in a pyramid like fashion, kills trees, period, exclamation mark. When mulch is piled up next to the base of the tree, it promotes excessive soil moisture that can encourage bark decay and root rots and leads to damage from insects, diseases and rodents.

4. Improper pruning.

Pruning can be just as much of an art form as it is a technique, but when pruning is improperly done, you can do more harm than good. In fact, in some cases, it’s better not to prune at all than to do it improperly. Every plant has a different pruning process.

5. Not considering long-term maintenance.

Landscape plans don’t just consider the plants and layout. You should also factor the maintenance requirements. Use your research to make up a maintenance schedule with which you can live. Garden beds need to be weeded at least once or twice a month, minimum. If you don’t have the time to take care of your garden, make sure you have enough money to pay somebody to do it.

6. Too much of the same thing.

Intermingle various shapes and sizes to give you interest in your yard as well as bring the right kind of insects. Certain plants need certain nutrients, and if you plant all the same plant, then it’s sucking all of the nutrients out of the soil.

7. It’s all about the space.

One of the quickest ways to kill a tree is to plant it too deeply. Some folks figure the more soil they can put around it, the better. But doing so can actually choke the tree to death because there is no air allowed to go to the root system. Going too deep can also encourage root rot.

The same is true for smaller plants as well. For example, iris rhizomes should not be covered completely, and bulbs have specific needs for depth.

8. Improper care procedures, such as fertilizer and insect or disease treatment.

If you don’t fertilize at all, your plants are in trouble. And if you over-fertilize or do it incorrectly, your plants are also in trouble.

Fertilize at least twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall. Avoid bright sun, and watering always needs to follow. It’s also a good idea to mix in fertilizer when planting new plants. When you dig the hole, mix in new soil as well as fertilizer. So the plant, over the period of a year, is going to have a nice time release of ferti

When you find leaf spots, yellowing or wrinkles, or insects crawling around, your first reaction is to spray something. That’s a problem when you don’t identify what is doing this, because if you treat with the wrong product, you may be causing even more problems. Call your local extension office to see if they can identify the problem if you take in a sample. This can also be helpful for the agency, as it’s how they identify issues at play, such as the Emerald Ash borer that has now been sighted in Central Arkansas.

9. Ignoring the seasons.

Plan out your garden with regard to the seasons. Don’t go to the garden center and just buy what’s in season. Here’s where your No. 1 plan comes in as well. Various flowers bloom at certain times of the year, so work your plan to include fall foliage and winter interest along with those spring and summer blooms.

10. Neglecting curb appeal.

You may enjoy spending time in your backyard haven, but don’t neglect the front. It doesn’t take a lot to make a great first impression. Plant color for each season, keep the lawn trimmed and paint your front door for great impact.

Visualize your gardens at night as well as day. Add exterior lighting to help with not only vision and movement, but also to make the garden pop. Solar lights are economical and come in a variety such as plant stakes and hanging lights.

11. Being shortsighted.

Consider what your plan will look like in five and 10 years, and space your plantings accordingly. Trees and shrubs placed too close to your home or drive can cause serious damage as their root systems grow as nature intended.

Remember to remove all wires, tags and strings attached to the plant at purchase. The burlap wrapped around trees roots for safe travel will cause major damage to that tree when it’s not removed.

12. Not accounting for wildlife.

Before you decide what to plant in your garden, think about what pests you have in relation to what you’d like to plant. Many plants are now marketed as “deer resistant” because of bitter leaves. Once they taste the wrong one, they are likely to stop coming around.

13. Forgetting to recycle.

Yard projects tend to produce a good amount of waste, so instead of tossing out the branches, clippings and other debris, dispose of them in an eco-friendly way. Another idea is to create a compost pile mixing the brown carbon items such as leaves and limbs with the nitrogen-rich kitchen waste like vegetable and fruit scraps (not meat, please).

Whether your garden is decades old or a newly started project, you can incorporate these tips on what not to do so you have more time to enjoy the fruits and blooms of your labor.