What's the most common landscape design mistake?

Picture this scenario:  You want to plant a few shrubs along the front of your house so you go out to your local nursery and buy some cute little shrubs.  You are so excited about your landscape project that you get started right when you get home.  You space the shrubs evenly from each other and about a foot or two from your house, plant them exactly as the nursery owner told you, water them, and sit back to enjoy your new shrub border.  Perfect!

A couple years later, you notice that your shrubs are not cute little mounds anymore, they are starting to fill in and are rubbing against your freshly painted house and are growing together.  Has this happened to you?

What went wrong with your landscape project?  P-L-A-N-T * S-P-A-C-I-N-G

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That's right, plant spacing is HUGELY important in landscape design.  Let's turn back the clock and see what could have been done differently to prevent this common landscape problem.

  1. Before buying plants, measure your space.  Make a sketch of the area you want to plant.  Measure the length and width.  If it's up against a structure, make note of any windows and doors.  Measure from the ground up to the bottom of the windows. 
  2. Using your measurements, determine what size plant will fit in that area.  For example, if your garden bed is 3' wide, you will need a shrub that is 3' wide or less.  If your window is 5' off the ground and you'd like to keep your view open, your plant shouldn't be taller than 5'.  If you are going to plant next to a building or fence, plan to leave an extra foot of space along the entire length.
  3. Remember those cute little shrubs from the scenario?  They didn't stay cute and little.  Just like kids, they grow up and get big.  The mature height and width will be listed on the plant tags.  Compare your desired plant sizes with these numbers and find a combination of plants that will fit in your space and also look nice together.
  4. Now for the fun part, set your plants out and see how they will look in their new homes.  But don't plant yet!  Look at the width of each plant to determine your spacing.  If a shrub will be 4' wide, that means it will need 2' of space around it on all sides.  If you're planting two shrubs next to each other that will be 6' wide and 4' wide, there needs to be 5' of space left between them (3' + 2' = 5').  When planting next to a structure or fence, leave an additional 1' of space for maintenance access.  If you're starting with small shrubs, these distances can seem huge and your garden will look sparse for a year or two, but don't be tempted to plant them closer together!
  5. Water your new plants, then sit back and relax.  You have chosen plants that will grow into their space without overcrowding each other or your house.

With a little planning, it's easy to avoid the common mistake of planting too close together.  Plant spacing is only one piece of the landscape design puzzle! 

When choosing your plants, you will also need to consider the site conditions (sunlight, water, and soil) and how the plants will look next to each other.  Then, there's always the question of a harvest too - would you like your plants to give back to you in the form of fruit, craft materials, wildlife habitat or medicine?

I'd love to hear from you!  Have you had trouble with plant spacing in your garden? 


Do you need help designing the garden of your dreams?  Download my free step-by-step edible landscape design guide and begin planning your edible landscape today.