Don’t Do This: Horrible Landscaping Blunders

Don't do this! Landscaping blunders to avoid

This post might get a little ugly. Scratch that. It’s definitely getting ugly. Today, I’ve got a quick round up of some of the worst offenders I’ve seen in professionally installed landscapes. Roving bamboo, landscape fabric stifling tree trunks, unhappy plants suffering a variety of maladies. . . and all of it easily preventable.

Want to keep from making some of these landscaping mistakes? Read on for a quick, unattractive tutorial.

Don’t strangle your plants with landscape fabric

Poor tree - no room to grow! - Copy

Nothing like enjoying the beautiful white bark of a lovely white birch, then following the line of the trunk to the base, and. . . What is that? Black woven plastic girdling the trunk of your elegant plant?

Just – no. It’s not that hard. Anticipate that your plants will grow and cut out a bigger hole. This goes doubly for ornamental grasses like Miscanthus, which flop unattractively and become impossible to dig and divide when a 3′ wide base of grass is growing out of a 1′ wide hole.

Goodness, where to start? Three don’ts in one.

Weeping plants plus landscaping fabric plus irrigation tubing - ugh.

First, be cautious of using landscape fabric on a mound. You see the mulch tends to slide off and expose the black stuff, which is tres tacky.

Second, try to put thick irrigation tubing on a flat region of the garden bed rather than on a mound. Let’s work with gravity here and place the tubing where the mulch will naturally fall to cover it, not slip and expose it.

Lastly, weeping plants tend to move around and brush the mulch off the landscape fabric. There are a number of ways you can prevent your landscape fabric from showing when using weepers like this Japanese maple. First, don’t put the weeper on a mound, where the mulch is already likely to slip off. Second, don’t use landscape fabric in that particular zone. The mulch adheres to soil much better than to slippery-slidey plasticky stuff and anyway, a little exposed soil is no big deal. Third, plant a few groundcovers close enough that their foliage can obscure the fabric should it become exposed.

(More tips on using landscape fabric effectively here, here and here.)

Choose bamboo varieties carefully and don’t plant without a barrier

Bamboo, Bamboo Everywhere

OK, so there are spreading bamboos and clumping bamboos. When you plant a spreading bamboo, use some manner of barrier to keep it from escaping and eating your home. And while you may think a “clumping” bamboo is safe, the owner of my local bamboo specialty nursery says that even with clumping bamboos, you should use a barrier, as nearly every bamboo has thug potential in time.

What barrier, you may ask? They sell rolls of very sturdy plastic that can be buried and used to create a 3′ deep trough of any shape and size you wish. Or you can pour a special concrete pot underground for it. Whatever you do, do not let your bamboo go wild and free. Even with a barrier, it may escape, and you’ll need to make sure it doesn’t jump over the top of your barrier and get a foothold in the surrounding landscape. This is what can happen if it gets out (photos from a local parking lot):

why you should use a barrier when planting bamboowhy you should use a barrier when planting bamboo (2)

Whew. Scared yet? I am. I like to plant bamboo in pots. Pots which I place on concrete.

Don’t plant heathers or hebes next to sidewalks

dog urine damage on plants

All right, so this one’s not intuitive. But I’ve found that pretty much every variety of Hebe and heather, particularly the finer-leaved ones, are very susceptible to dog urine. I mean, no plant likes to be peed on. But plants with a fine texture tend to hold onto any liquids that fall on them.

When a larger-leaved plant is peed on, the liquid just rolls off and it takes a lot more urine to damage the plant for good. But if the urine lingers and doesn’t roll off, like with the fine-leaved texture of this Hebe above, then you have a recipe for icky dead patches that don’t regenerate. Just one more reason to plan your hell strip carefully!

Don’t plant lawn in shady, acidic soil

shady, acidic lawn

This is pretty sad, right? It’s all brown and unhappy, the grass is thin, and moss has taken over. Why fight nature? Lawn doesn’t like to grow in shade. And lawn prefers lime soil, so the acidic area under a pine or redwood tree is never going to be an ideal, happy parcel of frolicsome lawn.

Here are some tips on what to plant under a redwood or pine. Hint: not lawn.

If you really really want lawn under redwoods, or in the shade, here’s what you’ve gotta do. Impeccable care. Rake 1/2 inch of compost over the whole lawn each spring. Check your soil pH 1-2 times a year and treat with lime to keep it alkaline. Leave clippings and mow often so the clippings are small enough to easily decompose and add organic matter to the soil. Then add a mix of compost and grass seed to your lawn each autumn to help shore up any bare spots with fresh grass.

Even with all of that, it won’t be 100%. I’d advise that you get happy with what you’ve got, and enjoy the excuse to create some new planting beds for shade-loving plants.

How about you? Have you seen any horrible landscaping blunders that drive you nuts? Let me know in the comments below.

26 responses to “Don’t Do This: Horrible Landscaping Blunders”

  1. Dog urine – you’re so right! After adopting our sweet ‘Buddy’ this year, I’m all too familiar with what plants survive being whizzed on. Never thought of the fine leaved plants holding on to it longer, but you’re right! Something to definitely consider for those folks who have whizzers like I do….

    • Rebecca, I’d love to pester you one of these days for that list of plants that can be whizzed on. I need it! My cats do no such thing, so I find myself wishing for a cheat sheet on the topic.

  2. Bamboos aren’t quite the same runaways in our climate, but we do have our share of asphalt-eating thugs. So: right plant, right place. Works in any zone. Landscape cloth sins are pretty universal.

  3. Great reminders, Gen. I admit to having a few clumping bamboos in my garden sans barriers. So far so good, but now I’m wondering… As for running bamboo, I’m too chicken to plant any, even in a container. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Pam, as Helen pointed out, maybe it varies by climate? Perhaps they’ll never be an issue? I know there is one bamboo that I’m comfortable using with no barrier – candy cane bamboo. Pretty and fairly well-behaved.