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6 Common Landscaping Mistakes in New Developments

By Bob Fitz, PLA, ASLA,, Principal, Koontz-Bryant, P.C.

  1. A lot goes into the planning and construction of a new development: time, money, energy, resources and plain old hard work, just to mention a few. It doesn’t matter if the project is commercial, residential, municipal, industrial, educational, large or small, public or private. They all are susceptible to the following mistakes that are so often made by the development team.

  2. 1. Poor Planning: Treating landscaping as an afterthought

  3. Usually the Owner will inform the team of designers of his/ her goals for the project, including his/her vision of the finished product. With marching orders in hand, each professional proceeds with performing the work required of their respective fields of expertise. While there is a certain amount of necessary coordination between the designers, most are focused on their own tasks at hand and rightly so. Unless a landscape architect or landscape designer is part of the team at the outset, landscape design is usually not at the forefront of the thought process in the initial plan development
    An architect may design an award winning building; the civil engineer may lay out the site in the most efficient manner to maximize the useable area of a site, facilitate connections to the numerous underground utilities and make provisions for stormwater management; and the surveyor may be right on schedule with preparing plats showing the many of easements that are typical with new developments. But if provisions are not made early to accommodate agency required landscaping, costly revisions to plans are likely.

  4. For example, placing utilities and associated easements in buffers or in the parking lot landscape islands makes it extremely difficult to have enough physical space to accommodate the required landscaping. In most localities, the landscape requirements (by ordinance or zoning condition) are no less important than meeting other code requirements. Having sufficient area for open space, interior parking lot landscaping, vegetative buffers or tree canopy must be factored in the project design early in the process; otherwise, there is a huge risk that revisions would have to be made not only to the site plan but perhaps to the building plans as well. Such revisions would be costly and could very well cause unwanted delays in the project schedule. Along with the design of outdoor spaces and amenities, a landscape architect can be instrumental in the site planning process.

  5. It is critical to factor in landscaping requirements early in the process.


  1. 2. Inadequate Budget: The budget has been reduced because of cost over-runs: it’s just landscaping

Most municipalities have minimum landscape requirements or guidelines for buffer areas, streetscapes, parking areas and storm water basins or best management provisions (BMPs). An adequate budget with contingencies should be established at the outset of a project to cover costs for these areas along with other areas on the site (e.g.; entrance features, plazas, court yards, and other amenities). Failing to do so will just result in a “skimpy” appearance landscape-wise for the development because the allotted landscaping dollars were stretched thin to cover those unaccounted areas.

Unlike the above picture, allow landscaping to properly enhance the property and make a bold positive statement about the development.

  1. 3. Bad Design: But it looked good on paper!

  2. On occasion the wrong plant material is specified for a given situation. For example, just because there is ample space initially for a tree that is small at time of installation does not mean that there will be ample space for that tree as it matures. Plants can be persnickety; some do well or not so well in certain climates or situations. Proper material selection and placement (e.g.; planting zone, sun exposure, soil types, hydrology, etc.,) are crucial in ensuring that the plant not only thrives but performs in the manner that was intended (aesthetics, screening, shade, wind break, water conservation, pollutant removal, etc.)
    Landscape beds can sometimes look sparse or under planted either because the installed plants were intentionally small but placed with room to grow and/or the designer was trying to stretch the budget and address as many areas as possible with token amounts of plant material. If it was the latter, then those beds will be susceptible to constant weed growth and will require added maintenance. Conversely some designers will attempt to achieve a mature finished appearance by over planting a given space such as a landscape bed. This approach is also problematic in that the plants will eventually outgrow available space and begin to choke each other out by competing for limited nutrients.

    Utilize the services of a licensed landscape architect or certified landscape designer who is well versed with the plant material of the region.

  1. 4. Bad Installation: Anyone can do landscaping, right?

  2. The best design in the world is worthless if the design is not implemented correctly. This holds true for landscaping too. It is tricky enough to get plants to survive the shock of being moved from a nice cozy greenhouse or fertile nursery field to a location that is often less than optimum for growing much less thriving (e.g., compacted soil, poor soil, poor drainage, etc.) Having high quality plants handled and installed in the proper manner and proper follow up care are critical in the establishment and survivability of the plants. Now is not the time to cut corners to save time or money.

    Don’t be tempted to use just anyone with a truck and shovel to do the landscaping because they’re cheap. Only contract with a reputable landscape contractor or nurseryman to perform landscape installations.

    5. Poor Scheduling: What do you mean, my plants are not available now?

  3. Most projects are governed by a timetable and certain construction activities (e.g.; asphalt paving, pouring concrete) are best performed under certain weather conditions. In most regions there are optimum planting seasons (spring or fall.). The success of establishing the landscape is directly influenced by when it is installed. All too often, landscaping activities commence not because it is the optimum time for planting but because the site and building construction are now complete. This time might not coincide with the availability of plant material from suppliers; temperatures may be too hot or too cold for plant transplanting; the site condition may be awful due to seasonal weather conditions.
  4. To have the best possible chance of plant establishment and survivability, the plant installation needs to occur during the proper planting times.

  5. 6. Unrealistic Expectations: Plants are not bricks and mortar.

  6. Some Owners are often disappointed with the initial plantings because there is no “wow” factor even though the material is of excellent quality and to specification. The disappointment is usually because the plant material is simply small, which is usually a direct result of budget constraints. Seldom do projects have huge landscaping budgets that would permit the purchase of the largest available plant material. The Owner sees the nice building(s) as depicted in the architectural renderings but initial plantings are just underwhelming.
    Plants are living organisms that grow and change. If all goes to plan, they will mature and provide the desired appearance and perform the desired function. However, with improper or no maintenance, they may eventually block views of signs, entrances, and windows, and may eventually create traffic hazards and concealment security issues. And yes, they eventually die. Replacements are inevitable.

    There is no such thing as an evergreen tree that flowers year round, thrives under any adverse growing conditions, is inexpensive, stays at a specified size and requires no maintenance.

  7. In Summary

  8. The above mistakes are not exclusive to new or large development projects. Many homeowners make the same mistakes. The consequences are magnified as the project size increases. These consequences usually translate into disappointing results.

  9. Avoiding these mistakes will undoubtedly result in a greater return on your investment by improving value and curb appeal.


  10. Contact Bob Fitz, PLA, ASLA at Koontz-Bryant, P.C. for landscape architectural services.