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14 Garden & Landscape Pitfalls & How to Avoid Them

It happens to even the most experienced gardeners.....a major gardening fail. Mother Nature just doesn't make it easy on us. But trying something new and having a big success feels pretty great and gardening is really all about trial and error. 

That being said, there are some common mistakes we see all the time. Knowing how to avoid them will increase the health of your plants and overall success in the landscape. Take a look.


Over Watering

This is one of the trickier problems to overcome. You've got a partner in this one. Mother Nature, but she's not exactly reliable. Which means you need to know if the plant requires heavy or light water AND how much it's getting from natural rainfall. If you aren't sure what the water requirements are, look it up or give us a call. Then, water accordingly.

  • Potted annuals & Vegetables are easiest. Keep them slightly damp at all times. When watering planters, stop when the water starts running out the bottom. Giving your pots a good soak early in the morning will keep them from drying out during the day.
  • Other Plant Material: Look water pooling at the base of the plant. This is a sign there is sufficient water in the soil. Here are signs to look for that might indicate you are overwatering:
    • Wilted Leaves in Damp Soil
    • Yellowing Foliage
    • Browning and Wilting leaves

Under Watering

You need to water everything you purchase and plant. Most established plant material will only need water in severe conditions but there are some exceptions to that and newly planted material will need supplemental watering for the first couple of years. To help, put a reminder on your cell phone, mark your calendar, put a soaker hose on a water timer. BUT .... watch the weather. On a dry, hot, windy day plants can dry out in one day. Mulch your plants with a fine texture mulch. Chunky mulch or bark nuggets do not help retain moisture.

Wrong Location

We see this mistake all the time. That 3 gallon dappled willow was so cute when in its nursery pot, so we planted under our first floor picture window. 1 year later its covering the SECOND story window. This is where expert advice makes a difference. Let us know the area you are planting and let us suggest some plants for you. Mature plant size, soil conditions and exposure can all make the perfect plant a terrible decision for your landscape.

Incorrect Exposure

If you plant ninebark in the shade, it will get powdery mildew. Issues such as this make it important to understnad the needs of the plant. Some plants love sun while others do best in shade. But when we talk about exposure, it also means the amount of protection a plant requires. Understory trees, which are commonly found in forests, under the protection of larger trees, won't be happy in middle of a hot, windy backyard.

Pruning at the Wrong Time

It's inevitable that we will have customers come into the store who have a flowering shrub that isn't flowering. Often the culprit is the pruning. Flowering shrubs like lilacs set their buds for the next year very quickly. This means they should be pruned immediately after flowering. New growth will occur, the buds will set and you'll have blooms next spring.  Pruning when dormant is an error, becuase you will be pruning off all the buds for next year.

Oaks are also commonly pruned at the wrong time. Red Oaks in particular need to be worked on in the winter. When they are pruned in the summer, the wounds or open cuts are extremely susecptible to insects. Once an insect gets under the bark and into a fresh cut, it can be very harmful to the tree. The insect won't kill the tree, but the fungus he carries will. Bugs are attracted to the fresh sap of the wound. When it feeds on the sap, in transmits the disease. By pruning in the winter, when insects are dormant, you won't attract them or their diseases. This is referred to as Oak Wilt Disease.

Mis-reading a Label

Have you ever accidentally thrown a "Dry Clean Only" item in your washing machine?  Mis-reading a label can cause total gardening failure. If there isn't a tag with information such as mature size, exposure and drainage requirements: ASK!

Confusing Annuals with Perennials

One easy mistake to make is confusing an annual with a perennial. It's easy to do because the word "annual" might imply the plants will come up annually. They do not. Annuals have a "shelf life" of one growing season. They are most commonly used in hanging baskets or planters and are known for their vibrant color, which lasts all summer. Perennials tend to be planted in the soil (but can be used in pots, too!) and come back year after year.  

One of our most commonly confused plants is the amazing Purple Fountain Grass. Since many ornamental grassesPurplefountaingrass.jpg
 are perennial in our zone, people assume purple fountain grass is too. It isn't! Nothing is more disappointing than waiting for your ornamental grass to come up in the spring, and it never arrives. Ask us about perennial alternatives to this showy, showstopping annual grass. 

Tip from the pros: Most homeowners want a purple fountain grass in the fall, when its plumes really become abundant and tall. But purchasing a big one in the fall can be expensive, especially for an annual. Consider buying a 4" one in the spring and using it in your summer planters. By fall, it will be the mature size and you'll have spent less than half the amount everyone else is spending for their autumn planters.

Not Amending the Soil

The soil in our area isn't ideal and many of us have heavy clay soil in our yard. Even if you don't have heavy clay, amending the soil is critical for healthy new plantings. 

  • Vegetables require a variety of soil amendments to provide the plants with the nurtients they need to grow fruit. You can access our recommendations here. Our free vegetable soil guide includes soil amendment recommendations for square foot gardening, new gardens and existing garden refreshment.
  • Trees, shrubs and other planting also require soil amendments. We recommend a combination of mycorihhzae, an all natural root stimulator, and amendemnts such as leaf mulch, Claybuster or manure to break up heavy clay soil. 

Mulch with Mulch

Please don't mulch with rocks or stone. It provides no value to the plant. Applying a layer of hardwood bark mulch
is a much better option. Mulch will provide nutrients as it breaks down, and it also locks in moisture and keeps weeds at bay. If you love the look of stone, plant sedum or juniper that can tolerate it. Mulching a hydrangea with rocks in full sun equals certain death.


I know, I totally get it. The neighbors are annoying and you don't want to see them ever again. Trust us, planting a
row of spruce trees too close together will just lead to more problems down the road. Sometimes, you just need to be a little patient. Sorry, that doesn't help with the neighbor problem....at least in the short term. We recommend planting Emerald Green Arborvitae 3 feet apart and Norway Spruce at least 15 feet apart.

When designing a berm, using a mix of trees, shrubs and perennials ensures a beautiful and well-spaced privacy screen. In the photo to the right, we designed a berm for added privacy that looks has color, texture and year round privacy.

Planting plants with a Mature Size that is Too Big

Planting plants that will get too big for the spot is tempting. It's easy to think you'll just keep up with pruning. Why add something to your "To-Do" list? Besides, we have a simple solution. Plant a smaller variety. Diablo Vs Tiny Wine Ninebark, Wine and Roses Vs Spilled Wine Weigela, or Limelight Vs Bobo Hydrangea are all examples of popular landscape shrubs with a "dwarf" variety.

If you need assistance choosing the plants for a small landscape project, The Barn Nursery has a couple options for you. First come into our garden center anytime! And we mean that. Come on by and one of our staff will work with you to find the perfect plants. Or, if you want more formal assistance, check out our Design On the Fly services. 

Shopping Once a YearPerennialsBloominginSummer.png

Coming to visit your favorite garden center once a year is a big mistake! Why? It's not just because we'd like to see
you more often. Many of our customers ask us about how to increase the year round interest in their landscaping. If you only shop once a year, you'll miss the beauty of plants that bloom and show off at different times of the year. Most people that come in purchase what is in bloom at that moment. This pic, is from mid-July. Visiting once in May means missing out on all these gorgeous plants.

Instead, ask for advice on picking out plants that will provide color all season long. Or come see us in July and select some summer blooming plants and again in fall to add fall color.

Planting Veggies at the Wrong Time

Planting veggies at the wrong time can lead to failure. In our zone, we have early spring, summer and fall vegetables. Here are some examples. Many lettuces and broccoli love the cold weather. Planting them in late May will be too hot for them to be successful. Basil and cucumbers are incredibly cold sensitive and shouldn't be planted early in the season.  Wondering what you can plant in the next couple months? Check out our cold weather vegetable guide.

Using "Free" Mulch

It may seem like a great idea to go to the village and pick up some free mulch. Here's why you should think twice before you do... 1) the mulch is made from weedy scrub trees or dead disease and insect infested trees that had to be removed. The mulch therefore is likely to be full of disease or damaging insects, and seeds from plants like Boxelder and Buckthorn that you would never want to introduce into your landscape. 2) It is mostly fresh, unseasoned pulp wood which can actually absorb nutrients OUT of the soil as it decomposes. Premium bark mulch adds nutrients TO the soil, improving your soil with every application.New Call-to-action

Thanks for reading our tips on common gardening mistakes. We hope they help you have a successful spring planting experience. Remember, if you need more guidance that is provided above, we can help! Come into our garden center. We would be happy to show you around and choose the right plants for your landscape or garden.  





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