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Most homeowners make mistakes in their yard. I sure have. Gardening and lawn care are full of crazy do’s and don’ts, nature doesn’t always cooperate and who has the time to make things perfect?
Here are seven of the biggest blunders people tend to make in their yards:
1. Don’t be random: It’s easy to go overboard at a garden center or plant website, especially if things are on sale. But don’t buy a bunch of random plants. Your flower bed or lawn will end up a confusing mess of different shapes and colors. (Bing: Shop for plants)
Instead, group three or five identical plants together in a flower bed to create big blocks of the same color or leaf texture. That way your garden will have more visual impact, especially from a distance, and will look more organized. And when planting shrubs in a border such as along a street or driveway, repeat just three or four types rather than installing a hodgepodge of varieties.
2. Trees aren’t Mount Vesuvius: Judging by office-park lawns, many landscaping services specialize in turning mulch into two-foot-high volcano cones around the trunks of trees.
Resist the urge in your yard. They may look attractive, but these mulch cones can block off the oxygen that the inner bark of the tree needs, invite rodents to build nests or create excessive moisture that can rot roots or lead to growth of bacteria and fungi that can attack the bark.
Instead, create a depression in the mulch where it surrounds the tree and leave the base of the trunk exposed to air. For more advice about tree mulching, check out this blog from Pennsylvania’s Scott Arboretum.
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3. Neatnik mowing: Many people think it’s better for the lawn to rake up the clippings after mowing. For those of us with a compulsive streak, it seems to make perfect sense.
But it is healthier for the grass to let the clippings be (not to mention a big time saver). They will decay naturally in a few days, returning nutrients to the soil in the process — a much better way to fertilize the lawn that dumping chemicals on it.
A caveat: Be sure to cut your grass before it gets too high, or you could end up with thick mats of clippings that may smother the grass before they disintegrate. Check out these tips from the University of Minnesota extension service.
4. Hello darkness, not my friend: The majority of flowers, trees, vegetables and shrubs need plenty of sun, at least six hours a day. Plant them in shadier spots and they’re likely to limp along. Flowering trees may barely flower, pepper plants won’t produce peppers and shrubs will be stunted.
I learned this the hard way in my upstate New York yard. I thought plants labeled “part sun” would thrive in just a few hours of light a day (instead, they need at least four hours), and that “suitable for part shade” meant they would do fine in the gloom under my maple trees.
To fix my mistakes, I replanted irises to brighter spots, dragged viburnum trees from the dark to the light and found true shade plants (bleeding hearts, hostas, lungworts, etc.) for under the maples.
5. Living too large: If a 10-foot-by-10-foot garden is nice, why not double its size to give it twice the presence in your yard? That’s the way I thought early on as I began landscaping around my house.
But then reality set in. Twice the garden means two times the weeds, two times the plants whose spent blooms need to be snipped off during the growing season, and two times the dead plants to clean up each fall.
If you’re new to gardening, take it easy the first year or two. I think a lot of people give up on the hobby because they get overwhelmed with the work when they could have learned to love it by starting small.
6. Vegetables for a lifetime: Vegetable gardens have become a major trend over the past few years, but many beginners don’t realize how much produce they can create. Just one tomato plant can put out up to 20 pounds of tomatoes in a season, according to the University of Missouri. Multiply that by the six-packs of plants sold at some big-box stores and you may be headed for a ketchup competition with Heinz.
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One summer a few years ago I planted three or four cucumber vines and, two months later, was overwhelmed by dozens of cukes. I gave them to family and friends, made a huge batch of cucumber soup and still couldn’t get rid of them all. Some ended up rotting in the fridge. And need I mention zucchini?
7. Feeding to death: Plants need nutrients to thrive. But some people casually douse their flower beds and shrubs with fertilizer without bothering to measure it. Too much plant food, or the wrong kind, can end up prompting flowering plants to create mostly leaves, not blooms. And you even can kill a plant by overfeeding it.
My advice: Wait to see how your plants are doing before you fertilize. Many years, I don’t add any plant food and things do just fine. And when you do fertilize, read the directions or ask a garden center for advice.
Containers, though, are another matter. Because you have a lot of plants stuffed into one pot they should be fed periodically.