many shrubs growing in a garden bed
(Image credit: Mkovalevskaya)

A gardener who claims to have avoided all landscaping mistakes probably has a short memory. It’s almost impossible to do serious shrub and tree placement without learning the hard way -- through trial and error. Despite this, “forewarned is forearmed.” It pays to understand a few of the most common landscaping mistakes for shrubs and bushes in order to avoid them.

1. Failure to Think Through Shrub Placement

What is the most basic of all rules for landscaping? It can be summed up as “right plant, right place.” Taking the time to match a plant to a planting position saves untold garden issues. This starts with the plant’s hardiness zone, but it goes further.

Every plant has its own set of cultural needs, and if it is sited in its preferred soil with its ideal amount of sunlight, the shrub generally avoids problems. On the other hand, when a bush that needs shade is stuck in a bright sun location, or a well-drained-soil shrub has perpetually wet feet, the garden is not likely to be healthy long.

Mature size is a very important statistic when planting and failure to take this into account is a common issue. The cute oak seedling looks charming in the corner of the orchard, but when it grows to 75 feet (23 m) tall, it may be crowding out the fruit trees and leaving them in shade most of the day.

2. Failure to Prepare Planting Beds

“Dig a hole and stick it in” is a recipe for extensive landscaping problems. If a bush is worth adding to the garden, it is worth the time to prepare its planting bed. Every single plant added to the garden should be placed in a planting bed prepared for that plant. For most, this means incorporating organic compost into the soil to enrich it and help hold in moisture.

In addition, it may be necessary to amend the soil to alter the pH (acidity) levels. Amendment cannot be done at the same time as the transplant. It must be accomplished earlier, at least a few weeks before planting.

3. Failure to Consider Pollination

Pollinators are important, but so are pollinizers. Pollinators are the bugs, birds, and other species that transfer pollen from male to female flowers, essential to produce fruit. Pollinizers, however, are trees or shrubs with pollen similar to and compatible with the bush you are planting.

Pollinizers are essential to fruit set for many trees. Most fruit producing shrubs require more than one variety to be blooming at the same time to set good fruit. Even fruits that are self-fertile and may not need a pollinizer set better fruit when there is one. This may involve planting more shrubs, but it almost always results in more and better fruit.

4. Planting Too Deep

We think of shrubs and bushes as sending their roots deep into the soil, so we tend to plant them too deep. This is a big landscaping mistake, though, and results in suffocated roots and rotting trunks that, in turn, prevents the movement of water and nutrients from the roots.

Roots do not like overly deep planting. They only grow where there is sufficient oxygen in the soil. This happens close to the soil surface, not a few feet (1 m) under. The trunk base of a bush needs air exposure. It cannot be covered by soil.

What is the rule for planting? Every planting hole should be several times as wide as the root ball, but the depth should only be slightly higher than the root ball height.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.