13+ Things Your Landscaper Won’t Tell You

Add as much as 15% to your home's value with these expert landscaping tips.

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Illustration: Eddie Guy
1. Ditch the mower bag.

Those grass clippings will become food for earthworms and microbes that will help make your lawn green and healthy.

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2. Sure, the view from the street is important, but don’t forget to look at your landscape from inside the house.

If you have a room with a big window, make sure it looks good from there too.

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3. Don’t fill every inch of your space with plants and flowers.

By next spring, you’ll have a weeding and pruning nightmare.

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4. That "pretty" red mulch you love?

It has been found to contain arsenic and other harsh chemicals that can be harmful to children and pets and will contaminate your soil.

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5. Hate bagging leaves?

You don’t have to. If there’s just a light layer, go over them with your mower and leave them on your lawn. As they break down, they’ll help limit weeds from popping up.

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6. You can send a sample of your soil to a local agricultural agency to have it tested.

Dig down six to seven inches deep and then gather two cups of dirt into sample bags. Mail them off to find out what nutrients you need.

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7. If you find a flower you like, always buy more than one.

Plant clumps of species in odd number, such as five or seven in one area, or repeat the groupings throughout your landscape for a unifying effect.

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8. DIY landscapers tend to make their planting beds too narrow and too close to the house.

You want to extend your beds out at least one to two thirds of the house’s height, if not more.

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9. Laying weed fabric is generally a waste of money and time for the long term; weeds just grow on top of it.

I once had a customer whose beds had seven layers of weed fabric, yet she still had weeds. I guess she kept thinking, If I put down just one more layer, the weeds will stop coming.

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10. Most lawn fertilizers have about 30 percent nitrogen, which is way too much.

Look for fertilizer with time-releasing water-insoluble nitrogen and use it only twice a year on a steady schedule, like on Memorial Day and after Labor Day. In general, well-irrigated and older lawns need less fertilizer.

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11. Watch out for a gorgeous plant called purple loose-strife, or Lythrum salicaria, which a lot of nurseries still sell.

Though it’s inexpensive and has a lovely flower, it’s an invasive species that will spread everywhere and choke out other plants.

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12. To keep from overwatering your lawn, remember that one inch of water once a week is ideal, maybe once every five days in extreme heat, depending on your soil.

Infrequent watering encourages roots to grow deeper to find groundwater, creating a stronger plant.

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13. Looking at a color wheel is a great way to choose garden flowers.

Colors that are opposite each other, like yellow and purple, look beautiful together.

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14. If you don’t have a big budget, hire someone to do a landscape design and then install it yourself in stages.

That will keep you from making costly mistakes, like putting plants in the wrong spot.

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15. Bushes and spruce trees planted at the end of your driveway may look nice, but they can block your view of oncoming traffic.

Keep your line of sight clear.

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16. One thing I’ll never understand: people who spend thousands on their new landscapes and then neglect to water them. It happens all the time.

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17. It’s better to plant too high than too deep.

People have a tendency to over-dig, and the roots of the tree or plant can get buried, causing it to suffocate, or water accumulates at the root level and rots out the roots.

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18. We know your kids want to help, but they’re just making our job take longer.

And squirting us with a squirt gun? Now you’re really pushing it.

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19. Please don’t stand there talking to me with a cold drink when it’s 100 degrees out.

Offer me one.

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12 thoughts on “13+ Things Your Landscaper Won’t Tell You

  1. I happen to disagree with this landscaper tip.  I always lay weed fabric and found it to be a wonderful tool to keep unwanted weeds and/or grass out of  my planting beds.  If  you purchase the cheapest fabric (which is more like plastic than fabric),, it will tear, allow some weeds/grasses to pop thru and not provide the desired results.  Spend a few dollars more and purchase the medium to high medium quality.  There maybe occassions when you need to pull an undesired weed or grass that pops up, but you will be very happy with the results for years to come!                      

  2. Any mulch will have traces of arsenic. It naturally occurs in certain trees which are used to make mulch. Other traces of it can come from wood pallets which are shredded also in some mixtures and have pressure treating chemicals in it. Just dont use it in the flower garden if youre worried.

  3. Re: #17. I’ve heard that the hole for planting a tree should be square as opposed to round to prevent the roots from wrapping themselves up. 

  4. Not bagging your lawn clippings also spreads any weed seeds you’ve just mowed, unless you’re lucky enough to have a weed-free yard!

    1.  Running the weeds over with the lawn mower wheels also spreads them. The benefits of mulching out weigh the cons. A nice healthy, watered and maintained lawn will choke out many weeds. When the grass is stressed the weeds take over.

  5. Yes, your cooperative extension will do a soil test and tell you the nutrients your grass, flower beds, or vegetable beds need.  It is a very reliable test if the homeowner does his part correctly.  You need to take a sample from each area where you will plant different plants, e.g.  vegetables have different needs than flowers.  Also these tests are not free!  Penn State charges $9.00 per sample, but it is a real bargain for the information you receive and the time and money you will save in the long run.

  6. It was reported that red mulch is harmful, is this true of black mulch also?

  7. While mulching your lawn helps redistribute fertilizer and helps feed microbes, it also can cause thatch problems; reducing the amount of oxygen and water to the roots.

  8. While mulching your lawn helps redistribute fertilizer and helps feed microbes, it also can cause thatch problems; reducing the amount of oxygen and water to the roots.

    1. Thatch is dead stolons/rhizomes of creeping grasses at soil level – can occur only in over fertilized lawns – the fast rate of grass growth fueled by chemical fertilizers out paces the rate of microbial soil life growth ( negatively affected/killed off by the same fertilizers so there is very little recycling of dead matter is going on, which results in build-up of the dead organic matter. Cutting lawn at a height of less than 3 inches will add to a problem- wind dries out/sun sterilizes the top of the soil, kills soil life, nobody is working on digestion of the dead grass parts. Lawn clipping protects the top layer of soil, encourages the worm, etc activity, digestion of thatch, the clippings usually completely gone in 2-3 days

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