If you’re new to gardening, or even new to home ownership, you may be considering tackling your front yard landscaping. So… you may be wondering what are some of the mistakes that others have made before you get started. What to do… what NOT to do.
Recently, a survey of hundreds of gardeners revealed all of their tips and tricks for landscaping the front of your house.
I came across this really interesting post in the DIY Garden and Landscape Facebook group the other day. One of the group members asked,
“What is the #1 thing you wish you’d known before you landscaped the front of your house?”
I thought this was a great question! And I don’t think I was the only one that was thrilled to finally see a post that didn’t ask everyone to ID a specific plant.
There were HUNDREDS of responses to this question. At the time of writing this article, the post had over 350 comments on it. You can read the responses here, if you’re interested. Also, before you join, read this post about Facebook gardening groups: the good, the bad and the ugly.
I really enjoyed reading all of the advice. I also thought it would be fun to list a lot of these answers and also give you my own professional garden designer opinion on them.
Start with a plan for your front yard landscaping
Overwhelmingly the #1 response to this question was to PLAN FIRST. Whether the advice literally said “plan first” or the landscaping became overcrowded or plants were cited in the wrong location, many gardeners’ regrets were related to the fact that they didn’t plan for the full size of the plants.
- “That i have added and changed my mind a million times. Wish i would have waited longer and truly figured out what i wanted.” -Cari W.
- “[Add] top soil and pre plan everything.” -Jasmine F. (She likely means compost or good garden soil rather than topsoil. But yes, pre-plan!!!!)”
- “We landscaped 3 times before it stuck. I suppose I would have done more research.” -Monja S.
Basically, when you don’t think things through and take into consideration ALL of the factors that surround the planting, you will regret it. It’s easy to forget this when you get to the garden center looking at all of those beautiful plants. But, you’ll see throughout this post that It’s a very expensive and time-wasting mistake.
Honestly, I’m not surprised that planning ahead was the most popular advice. I have made many of the same mistakes myself. It took me 6 years of ripping out my landscaping over and over again because I didn’t plan. Now I know that planning is the true key to success when you are tacking a landscaping project. Especially when you’re working on a space as prominent and visible as your front yard.
For some reason, my favorite advice, to “always create a plan first” is somewhat controversial. Some people are just not planners. I’ve just decided that these are not my people.
If you are my people, take a look at all of my garden planning courses and other resources I’ve created to help you properly plan your landscape design.
Front yard landscaping DESIGN tips
Here are some of my favorite tips related to landscape design.
Know the mature size of a plant before you plant it
Plant spacing and giving plant’s enough space to grow is really important. You need to check the plant labels for the actual full grown size of your plants. This means the height, the width and how tall it is while blooming and while not in bloom.
It’s a common mistake to plant too close or even too far apart. So, doing a bit of research first is well worth it. Should I emphasize the importance of making a plan, again? Nah, I think you’ve got it!
A plant may look small when you purchase it, but if it gets 8′ wide when full grown you’ll need to make sure it’s planted at least 4′ from every other plant in every direction. Otherwise you’ll cause overcrowding. You may even kill the plant because it doesn’t have enough space or light or is competing for nutrients in your soil.
In the beginning while my plants are growing to their mature size, I also like to add annuals in between to fill in the space while I wait.
Here is some advice from gardeners who didn’t think about spacing until it was too late:
- “I wish the landscapers who did our landscaping would have accounted for how large things get and put in fewer shrubs.” -Kristen B.
- “Spacing my plants are important!!! I mess that up big time over crowded.” -Plantlady S.
- “The height of everything I planted. Some things got lost.” – Heidi T.
- “I think spacing is key! Everything looks so small, but it will grow.” -Christy A.
- “Take in account the size of mature plants. Read the label!! That tiny little plant could grow into a monster!!” -Andrea F.
- “Read the tags, look up the plant online for the zones, the height and width and whether it takes sun or shade. Take an old yardstick with you to measure when planting and allow space for mature plants. I keep everything at least 12” at maturity off on the house or other plants to allow for air circulation unless you want them to grow together.” Pam B.
I really thought that Joshua made a great point, too, about the size of his garden beds.
- “Wish I’d gone bigger. 1200 sq feet just isn’t enough room to layer in plants and all.” -Joshua D.
I always think foundation/front yard plantings are way too narrow. Your foundation planting bed should be AT LEAST 6 feet deep — more if possible. A lot of the spacing issues you read above are due to squishing and squeezing plants into a tiny strip that is not big enough. So, if you enjoy the look of a layered landscape with different rows and lush planting, you will need the space.
Try planting in groupings
Arranging plants in the garden is also really important and it’s an area where a lot of home owners get stuck. It’s tempting to buy one of this and one of that, but plants and flowers just look much better when they are massed together.
- “I also like planting in groupings. The people who lived here previously did a great job of making sure something was always blooming in spring and summer, but I don’t like how there is one random plant that is different from a grouping.” -Christy A.
Actually, another member of the group, Cindy R., posted MY DRAWING in the comment thread as her best advice… which is very random. I’m not sure how she could post my advice and drawing as her advice? But, anyway, I was very excited to see it pop up! I feel a little famous now!
Here’s the drawing:
What’s above, below and behind your plants?
This came up pretty often as well. In addition to spacing out your plants so they don’t become overcrowded, you should also look around the area.
This means above the planting (power lines, roofing, other trees, etc). It also means below the planting (sewer lines, water lines, electrical, gas, etc.).
It ALSO means behind the planting (home siding/windows, retaining walls, foundation). Also make sure that you’re thinking about your sight lines — will the shrubs block a window or make it difficult to pull out of your driveway?
- “My shrubs got so tall that they blocked our windows!” -Jen V.
- “The trees that were previously planted are all in the wrong spots. Against retainer walls and over sewer lines. ” -Lynne M.
- “Don’t plant trees or shrubs so close to house.”-Deanna W.
Lots of warnings about where you shouldn’t place your plants. I hope that you’re learning something from all of the advice you’re reading here. I struggled between creating a separate section for these or putting them in the “create a plan” list. Almost every comment in the thread could end up in the create a plan section, though.
Know the sun/shade requirements
Planting shade loving plants in full sun and visa versa is another common mistake I see. Different plants need different amounts of light and a lot of times if your plant is looking sick or sad it’s caused by it being in the wrong location (too much/not enough sun or some issue with your soil).
- “I wish I paid more attention to which plants do best in morning/afternoon sun and shade! I could move them all but I’ll have to redo my entire beds.” -Tara B.
Choose hardscaping materials wisely
Here is some great advice from other gardeners who didn’t think about the materials before they chose them. There’s nothing wrong with any material here, they just weren’t right for this particular gardener’s situation — and that’s really the point here.
- “Not to put dark rock. It will burn your plants….” -Lindsay S.
- “That decomposed granite will be tracked in just like sand can be. And it leaves bigger scratches.” -Laura L.
The materials you choose for your hardscaping as well as your mulch and edging are really important. They all have their pros and cons so it’s not something you should do on a whim. Learn about the products your are using and think about your own personal needs before you choose the wrong thing.
As an example, if you are choosing materials for a pool area you’ll want to make sure that it’s non-slip. You’ll also want to make sure that the surface is ok to walk on barefoot — i.e. it won’t hurt/cut your feet and it won’t burn your feet. These all seem like common sense but you’d be surprised how many people choose a very dark composite decking near their pool and don’t think about how hot that will get on someone’s bare feet.
I’m also forever trying to steer people away from black rock as mulch in garden beds. Black absorbs heat and will make your soil warmer and therefore your plants will be warmer. Especially if you live in an already warm climate, black rocks are not a great idea in a garden bed. Maybe you can use them for aesthetics in another area of your landscape away from the plants, though!
Plants bloom at different times of year
Plants often only bloom for a week or two so in order to make your landscape look professional, you need to add plants for structure like evergreen shrubs and plants that have really nice leafs and foliage.
- “Definitely how long/when your perennials bloom (mix it up), the height (tallest in back), and how much they spread. Also, you can always add/take away… if you don’t like something where it is or it gets too big.. move it!” -Nicole S
- “That some flowers only bloom for a week or two then die. Don’t make those your center pieces ?” -Lindsey S
My Design Your 4-Season Garden Course covers this topic in great detail and will teach you how to choose plants for each season of the year. For a quick read, check out this article: how to make your flowers bloom more… and longer.
A trick to get [free] help from the pros
This is something I always recommend if you have a lot of work to do and don’t know where to start. Lynne had kind of a cool hack here. While I often do this for renovation projects but never thought to do it for landscaping.
- “I am getting free quotes from local companies to learn how to lay out my yard properly.” -Lynne M.
Also try to avoid crowdsourcing opinions in Facebook gardening groups. You will often get bad info or you’ll end up with so many options that you’ll be even more confused than when you started.
And, if your project doesn’t warrant the help of a professional, you can check out this post for some tips to get started.
Front yard landscaping PLANT CHOICE tips
Not surprisingly, a lot of advice that rolled in was about specific plants that people had planted. Most of these were warnings about plants that they shouldn’t have planted. Or that they didn’t know were bad, or spread or looked funky. Here are some of the best.
Choose some native plants
This is also something I wish I knew when I was a beginner. I didn’t know anything about native plants or invasive plants and their impacts on the environment and the local wildlife in your area.
- “Native plants are good too.” -Sandy H
You can check out this post to learn more about natives and how you can start to incorporate them into your gardens.
Grass is high maintenance and not all that good for the environment
I feel like this next comment is an advanced tip. I definitely agree and every year I’m shrinking my grass areas more and more to make more space for gardens. Planting a grass lawn is actually a really weird custom here in the United States. It’s not natural and it’s also probably the thing that creates the MOST maintenance in your yard.
- “There are other ground covers besides grass, that are easier to take care of, better for the environment, and actually have a purpose.” -Chasidy C
- “A garden without grass is a lot easier to keep…” -Tina H.
If you want to take the advice here, check out some groundcovers I really like.
Some plants can take over; do your research
If you’re new to gardening it’s important to know that there are a lot of plants that will spread aggressively in the garden. I think this is something that every gardener learns… eventually. Unfortunately, the difficult thing about aggressive spreading plants is that a plant’s ability to spread really depends on where you live and the conditions you have. Certain plants will really take over in one area while in a different climate they will do just fine. So, just do your research first!
- “Not to let the Bishop’s weed grow before I knew what it was. Now it is everywhere.” -Anita M.
- “Not to plant so much ivy.” -Michele M
- “That swamp hydrangeas could take over my yard!? i think they are pretty though. Just not much room for anything else.” -Jennifer H.
Unfortunately there are many, many, many, many more plants that are very aggressive and can not only be a pain to eradicate but can also cause some serious damage to your home.
In addition to aggressive plants, there are invasive plants, which are non-native and harmful to the area that you live. These plants can be real huge thugs in the garden and wipe out native plants and habitat for animals.
Here are some of my favorite apps that you can use to identify plants you like that you see “in the wild.” Choosing plants that you see growing in your own neighborhood is a great way to help you decide what will work in your own yard.
Front yard landscaping SOIL & DRAINAGE tips
Lots of helpful advice popped up in the category of either soil, draining and grading. Honestly, I think water problems are the absolute WORST problem to have. Any pooling water near your foundation is such a huge problem to have and should be corrected immediately. So before you go digging out beds next to your home’s foundation, you should definitely read through these useful tips!
Dirt/soil matters more than you think
It seems strange that many people neglect the soil, which is where you are putting your plants into the ground. The main thing to know here is that different plants like different types of soil. So, if you are not sure what your soil is made of and you are choosing plants blindly, you are probably wasting a lot of money. This is a big reason why plants die — because they aren’t suited for the conditions you have.
- “The type of dirt I have! Which is red dirt, clay, and lots of limestone” -Nyshelle W.
- “That all the dirt the builder left was crap and we should’ve brought on topsoil for all the beds before we planted a damn thing!” -Michelle S.
I have heard Michelle’s issue a lot in my career. I don’t have a new build but if you do you should dig down into the soil a bit to see what’s going on there. You can also get your soil tested to see if it’s any good. In general whenever I’m making a new garden bed I always add loads of compost and organic matter to it to resolve this.
Check out this article about soil for more information about soil types and how to amend the soil.
I also cover this in my free video training about my 3 gardening secrets — it’s actually Secret #3.
Address any drainage problems, first
The type of soil you have can also lead to more serious issues, like drainage. If you have a heavy, clay soil that will not drain, the water will end up pooling in different areas of your yard. Pooling water near your foundation is a big issue.
I suppose that’s why two of the most popular posts on my website happen to be about drainage: How to grade a yard and how to install a french drain. It seems to be an afterthought for a lot of home owners.
Poor draining soil can also sit in your flower beds and kill or damage the plants you purchased.
- “Wahhhhhh that we needed to build in some sort of drainage in our flowerbed…. so we will be redoing that!” -Angie R
- “I’ve recently learned from a friend that landscaping too close to the house can cause drainage issues around the foundation and may lead to basement flooding or water getting into the walls.” -Shannon C.
- “To grade it so the water wants to run away from the foundation, and that if trees are planted too close to the foundation, you’ll just end up ripping them out. And if you are planting both grass and trees, consider whether the grass can live under the shade made by the trees. Oh, and don’t rely on hand watering. Irrigation is key. Oh, and try to get the hardscape in first.” -Caitlin J.
When you end up having to fix a drainage problem like Angie’s, you’ll have to dig up all of your foundation plantings, too. Most of the homes I see with this problem don’t have healthy plants here anyway because they are all drowning in water.
I always recommend hiring a professional landscape architect or a contractor to come out and look at water and drainage problems
Landscape fabric doesn’t prevent weeds
Many home owners think that putting down a layer of landscape fabric will resolve weed issues in the garden. This simply is not true. The reason is that they don’t ONLY come from the ground. Weeds are also carried through the air by birds and even the wind. So, a layer of landscape fabric isn’t going to do much to help you with that. It can also be difficult to remove if you change your mind later. It’s equally difficult to keep it covered.
- “Not to use landscape fabric, I spend more time each year trying to cover it up. From the wind blowing the material on top of it off.” -Jessica C.
Although Jessica is more concerned with the aesthetics of landscape fabric, It’s also terrible for your soil and for your plants to smother them with fabric. Earlier we touched upon how important the soil is for your plants. With a layer of landscape fabric over the soil, how will you feed the plant living in the soil? Covering it up is just a band-aid.
- “If I’d known I wanted to plant sunflowers, I would not have put landscaping fabric down. Now they can’t root deep enough.” -Sonya R.
Sonya also made a good point about weed fabric. Some plants will not be able to grow with the fabric down. They also will have trouble naturalizing, which can be a good or a bad thing depending on who you ask. I personally love a naturalized garden.
Use weed fabric under hardscaping; not garden beds
So, what is landscape fabric actually good for? I never use it in my beds with plants. But, it can be a decent solution for any kind of patios or walkways that you have. It’s also useful as a layer between the soil and decorative stone.
- “I only use landscaping fabric around my house where I have shrubbery. It too will eventually get weeds sown on top. In flowers beds I use layered newspaper or cardboard. If you have new soil make sure and amend the soil to have some good dirt to grow in. Most of all, relax and have fun, they are just plants.” -Pam B.
I’m not sure if I’d even use fabric under shrubbery, to be honest. Although, I like Pam’s other ideas!
Instead of landscape fabric, try using the no dig method for creating garden beds. This is kind of what Pam is talking about with layering newspaper or cardboard. It’s also called sheet mulching.
And, as I’ve said, no matter what method you choose, you’ll always get weeds due to wind and birds. Learn how to prevent weeds from sucking the life out of your garden.
You will make mistakes… and that’s ok
While there were so, so many great tips and responses. There were a few cringe-worthy ones that I didn’t care for. I’m not including them in this post… but I think it’s important to point out that not all advice is good advice. So, take everything with a grain of salt.
I’ve really slammed you with a ton of information here. And what I think you should take out of this is the bits and pieces that will help you.
And just know that making mistakes is part of being a gardener. I like to say that if you’re not killing plants you’re not growing as a gardener.
- “Landscaping is ever changing. Know something might die or fail. Try again or try something else!” -Pam B.
It’s important to acknowledge that landscaping changes. Plants die even when you don’t want them to and/or did nothing “wrong”. Shrubs grow bigger than you think. Other shrubs don’t grow nearly big enough. Flowers go in and out of bloom. Some years the garden looks great. Some years it looks like crap through circumstances you can’t control (usually the weather; drought, frost, etc).
What I love the most about gardening is that it’s full of surprises. And full of new challenges. And full of opportunities to make a landscape that’s uniquely you. Aren’t you excited to get planting?
I’m curious what your #1 tip for a beginner that’s looking at landscaping the front of their house for the very first time? Do you agree with some of the other gardeners’ suggestions or would you have said something different?
My #1 tip is always to start with a plan. And that’s why I’ve created so many articles and tools to help you to do that. From my garden planning worksheets, to ebooks, to online courses about garden planning… I really do try to provide home gardeners like you with all of the tools you’ll need to design a beautiful 4-season landscape that’s uniquely you — the first time.
Here are a few articles about planning your garden that you may want to check out next:
- Flower gardening for beginners
- 4 Steps to improve your existing landscape
- 7 Steps to designing your landscape from scratch
- How to arrange plants in your landscape
- How to create a layered landscape
- No dig flower garden bed
- What’s your garden style?
More Gardening Inspiration!
- Cooper-Young Garden Walk – Lessons from Touring 80 Memphis Home GardensThe Cooper-Young Garden Walk in Memphis Tennessee was a great experience for any garden lover. Here are photos, takeaways and ways you can implement these ideas into your own garden.
- 13 Landscape Design Trends That Will Takeover Gardens This YearStay in the loop! From 80s retro vibes to all-black statements, you’ll be surprised by this year’s landscape design trends!
- Working with Landscape Designers Without Settling for Their Vision (Marte’s Story)After 3 years and 4 different landscapers, the Design Your 4 Season Garden course helped Marte nail down exactly what she wanted from her garden designers.