Avoid These Bad Landscape Practices

— Written By Paul McKenzie
en Español / em Português

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It has been known for many years that several commonly used landscape practices are detrimental. And yet they continue to be widely used. These bad practices routinely result in plants that look worse, have more pests and die early. The good news is that in most cases there is no additional cost or time required to do things the right way. Below are the most common mistakes I observe, with a better alternative.

Mulch in flower and landscape beds and around trees has numerous benefits, but excessive amounts will cause trees and shrubs to slowly decline over a period of a few seasons. The mulch layer in beds and around trees should be no deeper than four inches. Be sure check the depth of the existing mulch before adding more. If the bed still has two inches of mulch, for example, then only add an additional two inches for a total of four. Additionally, there should be no mulch in contact with the trunks of trees and shrubs.

Pruning shrubs into boxes or spheres often leads to dieback of lower limbs as those limbs don’t receive enough sunlight. The formal look of such shapes is also more time consuming to maintain, as frequent touch ups are required. Shrubs pruned into natural shapes, wider at the base, are easier to maintain and less likely to have dieback of lower limbs.

Most shrubs and trees should be pruned in late February or early March. Light trimming can be done over the summer as late as mid-July, but avoid pruning from late-summer through mid-winter. Untimely pruning is unnecessarily stressful on plants.

I’ve observed an awful lot of unnecessary pruning. There’s no reason to cut back a tree or shrub that has room to grow. If there are no overhead or lateral obstructions and the plant has good form, there is no justification for aggressive size control pruning. Some light shaping is sufficient.

There are proven benefits to mowing tall fescue no lower than three inches. The turf will be more drought tolerant and much more competitive against weeds. Mowing low results in thinning turf, bare spots and increased weed pressure. Measure the height of your mower blade, or just set it at the highest setting.

The warming climate is affecting the timing of weed emergence. Crabgrass preventers should be applied in February. Lawns should be monitored for broadleaf weeds starting in early winter, and treated as needed when temperatures are conducive. By late March and April, there’s a good chance that cool-season broadleaf weeds will be blooming and setting seed, meaning the optimum treatment window has been missed.

Tall fescue performs best if sown in late August through mid-September. Get it done by early October at the latest. Otherwise, wait until mid-February to early March, which is the second best timeframe.

There are scores of good plants available of all sizes to fit any landscape need. There is absolutely no reason to plant a shrub that grows to eight feet under a window that’s four feet off the ground. Consider lateral spread as well. A shrub that grows to a six foot width should be planted at LEAST three feet away from a structure or another plant.

One of the most common reasons that trees and shrubs perform poorly and decline early is digging a hole that’s too deep and/or too small. For best results, loosen the soil in a wide diameter around, but no deeper than the root ball. The root ball should rest on firm soil with the crown of the plant (base of the trunk) exposed, not buried.

Adopting the good practices described above won’t automatically transform your landscape into a botanical garden, but it will definitely get you headed in the right direction.