Colorful flower beds, shapely hedges, a lush Zoysia lawn—these landscaping features are what curb appeal dreams are made of. Transforming a blank outdoor space into an eye-catching garden oasis is an achievable DIY project. Creating a charming yard can take a lot of sweat equity, but the results are worth it. A few common, easy-to-make mistakes—like overgrown flower beds or brown splotches on the grass—can ruin a homeowner’s hard work. Avoid these seven frequent gardening errors for the best landscape on the block.
1. Mowing Too Low
Cutting the grass too short is the No. 1 mistake that makes landscapers everywhere cringe. Mowing the lawn too low slices off the food-producing leaf blades, which can temporarily stop root growth (and with weaker roots come thinner grass and more weeds). Using sharp lawnmower blades, cut the grass to its highest recommended height, which varies for different selections. Popular Zoysia, for instance, should be mowed at 1 1/2 or 2 inches. Tall fescues should be mowed at 3 or 3 1/2 inches. Many grasses can be clipped at a shorter height in spring than in summer, when the lawn is under stress from heat or drought.
2. Not Making a Master Plan
Before breaking out the shovels, sketch out a map of your garden. A preliminary blueprint will save you a headache later on in the process. It’ll give you a better idea of how the garden will look when it comes to life, and changing plans now is much easier than digging up plants later. Tip: Arrange plantings from back to front and from tallest to shortest in garden beds to help ensure everything will get enough sun. Make sure to provide enough growing room for each plant based on the size it will reach at maturity (more on that below). And include plants that will provide color or other interesting features for each season.
3. Not Considering Sun and Shade
A key to a long-lasting garden? Giving plants the right amount of sunlight. Track how many hours of direct sun occur in each location in your garden, also noting the time of day. Plants labeled full-sun need at least six hours of direct sunlight, part-shade and part-sun plants prefer four to six hours, and full shade plants do best with less than four hours of sun a day. Plants requiring full shade or part shade will flourish in sunlight that occurs mostly before noon, while a part-sun plant can handle afternoon sunshine. Consider each plants’ ideal light requirement before deciding on where to plant them. Place shade-lovers in shady spots and sun-lovers in sunny spots for a happy, healthy garden.
4. Not Giving Plants Enough Space
Consider plantings’ mature size before placing in beds so they won’t get too crowded over time. Check each plant tag for recommended spacing, which is measured from the center of that plant to the center of each of its neighbors. Space them a healthy distance apart from one another so their roots will have plenty of room to grow down in the soil and their leaves will have enough space for unfolding to their full glory. You’ll spend less time watering and less time worrying about the spread of disease. Beds may look sparse when the plantings are young, but give them time to grow in.
5. Not Mulching Properly
Mulch is critical for preserving soil moisture and helping plants weather changes in air temperature. On the other hand, don’t leave mounds of mulch piled in garden beds and around tree trunks. Too much mulch can suffocate roots, prevent moisture from reaching the soil, and cause bark to decay. Spread it evenly over the ground at no more than 3 inches deep and about 3 inches from the base of tree trunks. Shallow-rooted shrubs and flowers only need an inch of mulch.
6. Not Installing Landscaping Borders
Landscaping borders keep beds neat and tidy, and they can also add extra visual interest to your garden design. Pick materials like stone pavers, sturdy steel edging, weathered bricks, or shapely river rocks. Or use landscape timbers, willow, bamboo, or sections of tree branches for a more rustic effect. Borders define the separation between your garden and everything else, making it easier to keep soil and mulch in the garden and grass and weeds out.
7. Letting the Garden Outgrow You
An overgrown garden is also a messy garden. Devote one afternoon a week to giving your garden some TLC, or spend a few minutes each day pruning and deadheading plants so everything stays in tip-top shape. Focusing on removing weeds that are flowering or starting to seed will prevent them from spreading like wildfire and maximize your effectiveness. It’s much easier to keep up with the garden for a few minutes here and there than to tackle an overgrown jungle.