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SKIP RICHTER: For landscaping success, plan before you plant

SKIP RICHTER: For landscaping success, plan before you plant

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The old adage, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You haven’t the time to make them all yourself,” is sound advice when it comes to landscaping. I’ve learned many things the hard way and therefore take time to consider the longer-term end results before I invest time and money in my latest landscape ideas.

We are entering a great time of the year for establishing a new landscape or renovating an existing one. Here are a few ways to avoid some of the more common landscape mistakes.

Start with a good plan

Oh, how we love to buy new plants! Walk me through a garden center, and I can show you dozens of things I just must have. It’s easy to fill up our entire property really fast. Then it looks like a hodgepodge rather than a design. Failure to begin with a plan results in a lack of continuity in the landscape design.

I am the first to understand the desire to gather all those great new plants you can’t live without. But we just need to recognize that plant collecting and landscaping are two different things. People who love unique plants often end up with a “horticultural zoo” rather than a well-designed landscape.

Lack of planning can result in maintenance headaches. For example, a landscape with lots of acute angles may become a mowing headache. The more beds you put in, the more edging you will have to do every time you mow.

Start with your overall goals for the landscape. Figure out what you want it to look like, draw out the beds and decide on the appropriate plants. Then you can do your shopping with much better long-term return on your time and money.

Don’t forget to consider the four seasons. Everything looks good in the spring. Don’t put all your money into spring color. What looks good in summer? What about fall? There are plenty of late-season bloomers and even some leaf color choices for fall.

Then consider winter. This is where evergreens really earn their keep, as do berrying plants. Have you spread them out or are they all on one side of the landscape? Oops, still time to fix that if you plan before you plant.

Place plants where they want to be

Plants can be rather picky about where they grow. Sun, shade, wet, dry, soil type and certainly climate zone are among the variables that make the difference between a plant thriving or performing very poorly. A rose might look gorgeous in that corner spot across the yard from my breakfast nook window, but if that area is shaded by a large oak tree, the rose will definitely disagree.

Soil drainage, hardiness and heat tolerance are other factors to consider. Sometimes by going to great lengths we can make a plant feel at home. But fighting against nature comes at considerable effort and expense, and nature usually wins. There are many plants that want to grow where you live. Find out what grows best in your area and invest most of your landscape dollars in such plants.

Prepare the planting area first

Spend a dollar on your soil before you spend a dollar on a plant. Most plants really benefit from added organic matter. Your plants will grow faster in well-prepared soil, and you’ll save money by not having to replace dead plants. Build raised planting beds, especially in areas that tend to drain poorly. 

Eradicate perennial weeds before you plant. It is much easier to destroy notorious invaders such as nutsedge and bermudagrass before there are plants in the beds. Whether you dig or spray, eliminate them before you plant.

Consider a plant’s mature size

That thin whip of a tree out there in the yard may one day stretch across the entire property and into the neighbor’s yard. Look up for power lines and sideways for nearby eaves on your home or sidewalks that may be damaged by large roots near the base of the trunk as the tree grows to its mature size.

The small shrub you purchase has a mature height that should be taken into account ... unless you want to spend more time shearing than a sheep rancher. Look for dwarf species or cultivars when choosing shrubs for beneath a window or under the eaves of your home.

This is also true when planting along a sidewalk. Consider the mature width of shrubs so guests won’t have to plunge through a green gauntlet lining the path to your door ... and you won’t need to add the letters BYOP (Bring Your Own Pruners) to party invitations.

Take time to notice other landscapes noting what you like any problems you see. Late winter and spring are great times to enhance your landscape with a renovation or redesign.

Robert “Skip” Richter is the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Horticulture Agent for Brazos County, 2619 Texas 21 W., Bryan, Texas 77803. For local gardening information and events, visit Gardening questions? Call Skip at 823-0129 or email

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