New Homeowner Checklist - Common Landscaping Mistakes Featured Image

Six Landscaping Mistakes Commonly Made by Homeowners

Creating a beautiful landscape requires some thoughtful planning and research. This is true whether you are planning to landscape a newly built home or looking to give an existing landscape a makeover.

Before you reach for that trowel or spade, it is important to learn all you can about the characteristics and care of the plants you are considering for your landscape.

It is also important to recognize some of the more common landscaping mistakes that homeowners make. Hopefully, being aware of the following oversights and missteps will help you avoid them…

1) Failing to consider the mature size of a tree or shrub

It is no secret that trees and shrubs will grow taller and wider as time passes. But failing to allow enough room for a plant’s mature size is a very common mistake of home gardeners. For example, planting a tree too close to the house is inviting future problems. The tree may be small now, but in a few years the branches could scrape against the siding and roof, or block the view from a window. In rare instances, tree roots can even harm the foundation.

Similarly, shrubs planted too close to walkways and driveways will eventually overhang into the paths of people or vehicles. Also, shrubs planted too close together will crowd each other in time. This not only affects the aesthetics of your landscape, the root systems will be competing for moisture and nutrients. Fortunately, most trees and shrubs are sold with a tag or label that lists the mature size. To avoid problems down the road, always take this size into consideration when planning the placement of your trees and shrubs.

2) Not paying attention to climate zones

The USDA plant hardiness zone map helps homeowners determine which plants are most likely to perform well for a specific geographic location. This is important because the success of a plant is determined by many factors, such as the average high and low temperatures, humidity levels, rain and snowfall amounts, wind, sun intensity and so forth. Most plant tags (and seed packets) will list the zone hardiness information. This is particularly important when selecting expensive plants as you want to do everything possible to ensure their survival.

3) Putting plants in the wrong spot

Placing a plant in the wrong spot is a common mistake for those new to landscaping. Every plant variety has specific requirements for it to reach its full potential. For example, you wouldn’t place a shade-loving plant in full sun or vice versa. Likewise, a plant that needs good drainage won’t perform well in the soggiest part of your yard. Do your research to ensure you are providing the best sun, water and soil conditions for each plant variety. Also, when grouping plants, it will be more eye-pleasing if you place lower growing plants in the foreground and taller plants in the background.

4) Not preparing the hole properly

Whenever purchasing a tree, shrub or other plant, ask the seller for planting instructions. Making the planting hole the proper width and depth will go a long way toward ensuring the health of the plant. A common mistake is not making the hole wide enough or planting too deep. Certain soil amendments, such as compost or other organic matter, may also be recommended. Not preparing the hole properly can hinder the plant’s growth or may even lead to its demise. By the way, it is highly recommended that you call “811” to have the location of any underground cables or pipes marked before you do any serious digging. This is a free service.

5) Choosing an invasive species

At one time or another, many homeowners will make the mistake of unknowingly planting an invasive species. These plant varieties grow and spread aggressively, and can take over an entire planting area. Because they are so prolific, they are often difficult to get under control. Obviously, it is better not to introduce them to your landscape in the first place. Before purchasing any unfamiliar plant, do your research to make sure it is not invasive. After all, you have more important things to do than battle an aggressive plant.

6) Creating a maintenance nightmare

It is relatively easy to create a maintenance nightmare for yourself without realizing it. Having lots of plants and flower beds may look nice but the more planting areas you have, the more areas you will have to maintain. Even though you may be extremely motivated right now, it is always best to keep things manageable. After all, you may not always have the time or energy to keep up with all the pruning, weeding, and other chores your ambitious landscape will likely require. Also, try to avoid selecting species that will add to your workload. For example, it can be rather time consuming to continually clean up pine cones, acorns, sweet gum balls, and the like. Perhaps there are less messy varieties that you will like just as well in your landscape. A little planning now can save you many hours of maintenance later.

Having a well-landscaped yard can be a source of great satisfaction. But it can also be quite frustrating when things don’t work out as well as you had hoped. Fortunately, many problems can be avoided by having a well-thought-out plan…and by learning all you can about the trees, shrubs and plants you have chosen for your landscape.

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New Homeowner Checklist - Lawn Mowing Tips Featured Image

9 Lawn Mowing Tips to Help You Cut Grass like a Pro

Basic lawn care knowledge will serve any homeowner well, but it is especially valuable to first-time homeowners. Knowing the proper way to mow a lawn will not only increase the curb appeal of your home, it also contributes to the health of the grass itself. Below are nine tips to help improve the effectiveness of your lawn mowing efforts…

1) Use a sharp blade

One of the most fundamental lawn cutting tips is to start each mowing season with a sharpened blade. A sharp blade helps the engine work more efficiently and produces a nice clean cut on the first pass. Conversely, a blade that is dull or nicked will actually rip the grass blades rather than cutting them, which makes the ends look torn and ragged. You might not notice this right away but in a few days you will see the tips of the grass blades start to brown. This not only makes the yard look less appealing, the damage causes undo stress to the grass.

2) Pick up rocks, sticks, and other debris before mowing

Prior to starting the mower, take a quick walk through the yard and pick up any rocks, sticks, dog bones, toys or anything else that may be lying on the grass. If struck by a spinning mower blade, these items could be propelled at speeds in excess of 100 mph. Needless to say, flying projectiles can cause serious injury or property damage. Running over debris can also dull the cutting edge of the mower blade. Obstacles in the yard that cannot be removed, such as exposed tree roots or low-lying stumps, should be clearly marked so you can avoid them with the mower. Striking a root or stump while mowing can cause irreparable damage to the blade and engine.

3) Fill up the gas tank before you start

Filling the gas tank prior to mowing the yard is a good practice. It prevents you from running out of gas midway through the job, which can be quite aggravating. More importantly, you will be fueling the tank while the engine is cool. Refueling a hot engine has the potential to ignite any gas that may drip or spill. Also, do not attempt to remove the gas cap or refuel the mower while the engine is running. The vibration of a running mower can cause gas to slosh out of the tank.

4) Mowing frequency should match the season

Should you mow once a week? More often? Less often? There is actually no set schedule regarding how often you should mow a residential lawn. Grass grows at different rates depending on the time of year. The generally accepted answer is to cut the lawn often enough so that no more than 1/3 of the grass blade is removed during a mowing. This might translate to every five days during the growing season and every twelve days during the more dormant periods. Basically, if the lawn needs mowing, mow it. If it doesn’t need mowing, save your energy until next time.

5) Try to mow later in the day

The best time to cut grass is in the late afternoon or evening. Any morning dew will be long gone by then so the grass should be nice and dry for safe cutting. Also, the sun will be less intense and won’t stress out the newly cut grass (it will also be somewhat cooler for you). Plus, nightfall won’t be too far away, which will give the grass many hours to recover before the sun comes out again the next day.

6) Mow to the proper height

Cutting the grass lower or higher than recommended can have a negative effect on the health and appearance of your lawn. The ideal cutting height largely depends on the variety of grass you have. Warm season varieties – such as Zoysia or Bermuda – grow better when the weather is warm. As a general rule, warm season grasses are usually cut on the low side. Cool season grass varieties – such as Fescue or Bluegrass – grow better when the weather is cooler. Cool season varieties are usually cut on the taller side. If you are unsure, take a sample plug of your grass to a local garden center and they can help you determine the variety and recommended mowing height.

7) Mulch instead of bagging 

There are several benefits to mulching the grass instead of bagging it. A mulching mower saves a lot of time and energy, particularly if you have a larger area to mow. You won’t have to keep stopping to detach and empty the bag, or haul the clippings to the compost bin or to the curb for disposal. Also, leaving the clippings on the lawn releases essential nutrients and moisture back into the soil, which is beneficial to the grass. Despite what you may think, the grass clippings decompose fairly quickly and do not contribute to the lawn’s thatch layer. By the way, the mulching process works best when the grass is dry and not excessively overgrown.

8) Avoid mowing when the lawn is wet

It is best to avoid mowing a wet lawn. Of course, you never want to use an electric mower with an extension cord on wet grass. But even when using a gasoline-powered mower, there are some concerns. You could slip on the wet grass and be injured in a fall or by the mower, especially if the lawn has a slope. Also, the grass will not cut as cleanly as it would if dry. In addition, wet grass clippings have a tendency to clump, which can clog your mower and even cause it to stall. Another drawback is the chlorophyll in the wet grass will stain your shoes, the hems of your pants, or anything else it may contact. If you really have no other choice but to mow a wet lawn, always use caution and go slowly.

9) Be extra careful when mowing on a slope 

If your yard has a slope, you will have to take extra precautions when mowing it. If you are using a walk-behind mower, you should mow the slope from side-to-side rather than up and down. If you mow up and down the slope, the mower could roll backward as you attempt to go up or speed away from you as you go down. Mowing the slope side-to-side will provide more control over the mower. The opposite is true for riding lawnmowers. Instead of traveling side-to-side, a riding mower should travel up and down the slope. Because a riding mower has a higher center of gravity, mowing a slope from side-to-side could cause the riding mower to topple over sideways, potentially causing serious injury to the driver. Regardless of what type of mower you are using, avoid using the bag attachment or other add-ons when mowing on an incline as any weight imbalance could affect the stability of the mower. If the slope is just too steep to mow safely, consider replanting it with a low maintenance ground cover instead of grass. Or if the sloped area is small, you could forgo the mower altogether and try cutting it with a string trimmer.

Whether you are new to lawn maintenance, or are a veteran mower seeking verification that you’ve been doing things right, following the grass cutting tips in the above list will ensure you stay on the right track toward a healthy and well-groomed lawn.

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