Garden Blunders to Avoid

08/18/2012 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener Landscaping, Plant Care

Experienced gardeners know that great gardens are a process, not a destination, and the wisest gardeners learn from each other’s mistakes. In my many efforts to create the gardens I see in my mind’s eye I’ve had my share of blunders. Here are some avoidable mistakes that you can take from Ken’s gardening school of hard knocks.

Subsoil on top. This is at the top on my list of avoidable landscaping mistakes. I have learned that mountain builders and developers carve off the topsoil from a home’s building site, leaving only the subsoil. As a result, homeowners are left to grow things in soil that is almost impossible to nurture any plant life. This is why I repeatedly write about composted and organic amendments in landscaping and the use of shredded bark as topdressing. You can never replace the topsoil lost, but you can amend planting beds and/or individual plants to create the environment your landscape needs. It is so important to add fresh organic topdressing every year to every garden.

Wrong plant in the wrong place. The previous owner of our home loved holly and had planted holly throughout the yard. The yard is relentlessly hot and sunny, and holly cannot stand up to hot, full sun conditions. Those poor little hollies struggled to survive until I repositioned them in parts of the yard that catered to their needs.

BEFORE you plant, know the light, soil, and water conditions your prospective garden additions require. As your landscape changes, and it invariably does, note whether you need to transplant something to a more suitable location or thin it out of the landscape altogether.

Out of proportion. A nearby ranch home in our neighborhood is all but obliterated from view by two gigantic deodar cedars. Years ago, when they were planted in front of the house, they probably started out as cute Christmas trees. Seventy feet later (and 25 feet wide), they allow only the slightest glimpse of the home hiding behind their branches. Don’t plant trees or shrubs in areas where they won’t have room to grow. If necessary, consult with the plant experts at your local garden center. Their expertise is well worth the cost and the extra travel and shopping time.

Too busy. When you’re an enthusiastic gardener, it’s fun to have one of everything. But, planted here and there throughout the garden can result in an unsettling, “too busy” look. Try to congregate your one-of-a-kinds into one area or find a way to pull the look together by repeating some of the same colors and plants in other parts of the landscape.

All the Same. If you want to camouflage a 100-foot length of a neighbor’s chain link fence, there may be a better way than planting red tipped photinia every four feet. Besides being monotonous, too many of the same type of plant sets up a monoculture, which can become susceptible to an invasion of pests. How much more fun to have a selection of viburnums, cotoneaster, silverberry, blackberries, currants, and other flowering and fruiting shrubs that provide multi-season viewing interest and provides varying feed for the birds.

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Right now in our landscapes the Arizona Smoke Tree has stolen the show. Its dramatic smoke-like flowers form in clusters that smolder brightly above the prized 12’ tall tree. This dynamic Southwestern plant grows in more colors than most gardeners realize, but they all have the same wispy flowers that hover above the dark royal purple to chartreuse foliage. This truly is a heat lover, but it’s worth planting now for the scarlet leaves that appear in fall. This tree is on my Yavapai Friendly plant list for really tough, low water use plants.

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While a picture is worth a 1,000 words when it comes to describing a flower, video is the only way to share the feeling of a garden. With a fancy new pocket video recorder and a quick upload I can record the creative local landscapes that I regularly seem to find. Consequently, every day on my Facebook page, in the section entitled the “30 Second Plant Tip of the Day”, I post one new picture and a different video of local gardens. This week it has plant highlights from the Yavapai College campus. All flower pictures and videos can be viewed at

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Garden Class – This Saturday’s 9:30 a.m. gardening class is entitled “Cutting Time & Work in the Yard”. After this class you no longer will be a slave to your landscape. You’ll take home lots of shortcuts, tips and tricks that can turn any garden project into fast work. An ounce of know-how can prevent hours of work! Best of all, this informative class is fun filled and FREE.

Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.