Avoid the top four landscape mistakes
One mammal causes more landscape problems than any other — more problems than rabbits and rodents, moles and voles, dogs and deer. As the great philosopher Pogo the possum once said, "We have met the enemy and he is us." Yes, many well-meaning humans spawn time-consuming landscape lycanthropes.
I've never heard anyone proclaim, "Gee, I wish I had a high-maintenance landscape." Everybody wants a low-maintenance yard. A lot of us love working in the yard, but even I don't want to dread the drudgery of my yard tasks. Some may dream of a no-maintenance yard; however, even parking lots have weeds infiltrating cracks in the concrete fortress. Landscapes can become monsters due to our errors in planting and selection.
The No. 1 mistake in landscape plantings is overplanting; in other words, too many plants that are planted too close together. A properly planned landscape should appear sparse after planting. If we allow for the mature size of the plant, there can easily be 3 feet or more between shrubs. Perhaps an upcoming wedding or graduation yard party or a pending house sale might be good reasons to overplant, but generally, we are better off filling space between the shrubs with annual flowers or ground covers.
Mistake No. 2 is underestimating a plant's size. The plant labels and garden books give a range of possible plant heights, for example, 12-20 feet tall. If I really really really want that plant but I don't have the space, I automatically delude myself into thinking it will grow to only 12 feet tall. The 20-foot-tall part of the description is wiped from my consciousness. With our great soil and plenty of moisture, assume plants will reach the high end of their height range.
The No. 3 mistake is a landscape legacy from the No. 2 mistake. We wait until shrubs are engulfing the garage before we starting pruning. If we pay attention to the mature size of plants when we select and place them, hopefully we won't have to do a lot of pruning. However, since we know we will commit mistake No. 2, we should maintain a wary eye to detect the plants outgrowing their bounds. If you are not sure how to take care of them, we can help. Check out our University of Illinois Extension videos at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/video/.
Mistake No. 4 is mentally the toughest one in my estimation. Sometimes, evergreen shrubs in particular get way too large for the area. Evergreen shrubs such as junipers, yews and arborvitae can be pruned each year to keep them smaller if needed. Once they are more than 2 feet or more too large, it is very difficult to recover the size you want. If you have to prune into the brown zone of the evergreen, you might as well prune at ground level and start over with a new shrub. Evergreen branches generally don't recover if all the green needles are pruned off.
Initially beginning a landscape or refurbishing an existing one may seem overwhelming — physically and financially. First evaluate any existing plants to determine if they should or can be salvaged, then avoid overplanting and plan for the plant's maximum mature size.
If you would love to learn more about gardening and want to share your newly acquired knowledge, then the Master Gardener program may be for you. Training for Master Gardeners in Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties starts at the end of January in three locations: Champaign, Danville and Onarga. Applications are due Dec. 6. Check out our website for more information and to apply at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/. Questions? Our great horticulture team is here to help. Phone our offices: Champaign (333-7672), Danville (442-8615) or Onarga (815-268-4051).
Check your local UI Extension for opportunities at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/state.
Sandra Mason is unit educator, horticulture and environment, for the UI Extension, Champaign County. Contact her with questions or comments at 801 N. Country Fair Drive, Champaign, IL 61821, call 333-7672, email email@example.com or fax 333-7683.