The Biggest Mistakes People Make with Their Yards

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Neglect and poor planning top the list of big mistakes people make with their yards. Learn how to create your best yard by avoiding these missteps.

Let’s face it. Sometimes our front and backyards get away from us. Instead of being pleasant places for us to spend our free time, they become unmanageable, impractical or a lost cause.

Maybe it’s because our ambitions exceeded our skill set or budget. Maybe we made a crucial error in our initial planning and now there’s no going back. Or maybe we landscaped for the Pacific Northwest, but we live in the Southwest desert.

Whatever mistake you’ve made in your yard, you can rest assured that someone else has been there. Take a look at these expert insights on the biggest mistakes people make with their yards, and maybe you’ll feel a little better about that patchy grass or fire pit that never gets used.

1. They Don’t Design Around Problems

New homeowners always walk into a backyard and have big ideas of what they want,” says HGTV personality and yard renovation pro Matt Blashaw. “But when you do that, you’re not solving problems you already have.”

If you look at that muddy area in your backyard and imagine a paver patio, go for it — but first, deal with the existing drainage problem. Neighbors too close? Think of a privacy fence or a tall hedge first, then decide where to put the hot tub. Blashaw says to consider what your yard is lacking, whether it’s privacy, shade or drainage, and plan your landscape design to resolve or work around these problems.

2. They Put Features Too Far From the House

A big backyard is a bonus for many homeowners, as it allows room for different feature areas, like a patio, fire pit, hot tub and built-in grill. But a beautiful yard needs to functional, and building those features too far from the house means you might not use them as much as you think.

“I know a homeowner who put a $15,000 bar and barbecue island in his backyard,” says Blashaw. “Yet right next to his sliding glass door was a hibachi grill. The island was too far away to be convenient.” The same is true with fire pits, Blashaw says.

And here’s another thing to watch for: When designing areas where people will gather and occasionally make noise, be sure they’re not too close to nearby houses. Don’t give your neighbors something to complain about.

3. They Make Lawn Mistakes. So. Many. Lawn Mistakes.

A sorry-looking lawn is the heartbreak of many a homeowner, and it can be difficult to get it back on track. Unfortunately, lawns provide all sorts of areas to make mistakes.

“Poor cultural practices are the biggest mistake people make when maintaining their yards,” says Josh Sevick, president of The Grounds Guys. For a lush lawn, you need to take care of three key components — mowing, turf care and watering. Sevick calls these “The Trifecta of Influence.”

Mowing No-Nos

  • Mowing too low. “Mowing too low has a negative influence in maintaining a healthy lawn,” says Sevick. Grass may develop brown spots, be more vulnerable to weeds or just weaken and die if it’s cut too short. Mowing at the proper height for the grass type will result in a healthier and more appealing yard.
  • Mowing too infrequently. “You should mow to remove no more than one-third of the leaf blade per cutting,” Sevick says. “This could mean mowing every four to five days in the spring, which is not something that most homeowners do.” Mowing every seven to 14 days, he says, can stress the grass plants and turn them yellow. His advice: “Adjust your mowing frequency to the growing conditions and not the calendar.”
  • Dull mower blades. “Mowing with dull mower blades causes damage to the plant by ripping, instead of cutting, the grass blades,” says Sevick. He recommends sharpening mower blades every 15 to 20 hours of use time — twice per season for the typical lawn. “You can tell yards cut with dull blades because when looking at them,” he says. “They have a haze to them.”

Turf Neglect

  • Forgetting to fertilize. “Many homeowners elect not to fertilize their yard, leaving grass thin and deficient in the food it needs,” says Sevick. “You need a fertilizer program with properly-timed applications in order to provide the right amount of nutrients to achieve a healthy, green yard.”
  • Delaying insect and disease control. Believe it or not, Blashaw says untreated insects can destroy your lawn in a season. Sevick agrees. “Many homeowners wait too long to take action against insects,” Sevick says. “This leaves dead areas that require renovation to repair the damage.” Stopping insects before they get out of control is a critical step to maintaining a healthy yard.
  • Failing to aerate. “Many yards have poor soils, thatch and thin areas that would benefit from an aeration,” Sevick says. “Unfortunately, many homeowners skip this important cultural practice. An aeration is as important as a fertilizer treatment when it comes to creating and maintaining a healthy yard.”
  • Skipping dethatching. When thatch builds up, insects and disease take root. Dethatching is a necessary lawn care step that can be done once a year, in the spring or fall. Skip it, says Sevick, and “costly renovation is often necessary for correcting this problem.”

Water Woes

Sprinkler Cristi Croitoru/Getty Images

  • Thirsty lawns. “Many yards experience the highs and lows of local rainfall,” Sevick says, “but it’s never the perfect amount metered out to meet a lawn’s needs for the year.” Relying on Mother Nature to keep your yard green may mean a decline in your lawn’s health and vigor during dry periods. “Supplemental watering is critical to maintaining a healthy yard,” says Sevick.
  • Infrequent watering. Even if you do water during dry periods, make sure you’re doing so frequently enough. When they’re not getting rainfall, “yards should be watered every two to three days to maintain deeper roots and to help protect against drought stresses,” Sevick says.
  • Not enough water. “Just throwing out a sprinkler for a couple of minutes at a time won’t do the trick,” Sevick says. During dry periods, grass should receive between one- and 1-1/2-inches of water per week.

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