7 Dumb Design Fails New Homeowners Make With Their Yards, Decks and Patios—Are You Guilty?

7 Dumb Design Fails New Homeowners Make

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Homebuyers who actually manage to land their dream house in today’s crazy market are understandably excited to make it their own. And now that the weather’s warmed up, many will no doubt be eager to take their itch for decorating outdoors.

But watch out: If you’ve never owned a house with a yard or outdoor area before, you may make some rookie mistakes that can seriously crimp your property’s curb appeal rather than enhance it.

So, to avoid becoming that new homeowner on the block who makes neighbors point and whisper, beware of these common pitfalls that many pro landscapers and designers say will tank you.

1. Expecting an Instagram-worthy yard in an instant

Photo by American Beauty Landscaping Inc.

“We’ve had new homeowners insist on Insta-perfect landscapes right away,” says Oscar Ortega, maintenance manager at FormLA Landscaping.

But the desire for an instantly lush look can prompt newbies to plant too much, too close together.

“This costs more upfront,” Ortega points out. “Plus, the plants grow into each other or nearby objects and they sport unhealthy foliage since they have to compete for limited resources. All in all, it creates long-term headaches.”

2. Using indoor furnishings outside

Photo by Carol Montoto

Yes, it’s totally trendy for homeowners to trick out their outdoor areas to match the comfort of the indoors—with rugs, flat-screen TVs, and even entire second kitchens. But this doesn’t mean you can just haul your indoor furniture onto your deck and call it a day.

“Sometimes people get carried away with decor items, like putting an old sofa or even fake plants outside,” says Marco Bizzley, an interior designer and consultant with HouseGrail. “This makes no sense. Don’t do it. I can’t stand it when a backyard is piled up with furniture. It looks cluttered and more like a yard sale.”

Stick to furnishings that look appropriate and are designed for the outdoors so they can withstand the elements.

3. Not protecting decks and outdoor furniture

Photo by Bruce Palmer Design Studio 

“A lot of new homeowners don’t realize that the deck materials you choose need to be treated properly,” explains Cristina Miguelez, a home improvement expert at Fixr. “Wood has to be stained to prevent rot in some cases. Or if you invest in rot-resistant cedar, you might not understand that it has to be primed before painting to avoid cedar bleed.”

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4. Planting shade-lovers in the sun—or vice versa

Photo by Van Zelst Inc

“I’ve personally seen new gardeners plant hostas, which thrive in shade, in a location that gets full sun, and the leaves burned, turned brown and yellow, and made the whole outside look extremely unattractive—and of course, it killed the plant,” says Susan Brandt, the green thumb at Blooming Secrets.

The fix is easy here, she notes, if you take the time to learn about gardening terminology: “Full sun means the plant needs six or more hours of rays; partial sun means just half that amount; and full shade means no direct sun, period.”

5. Ignoring HOA rules or local laws

Photo by Erin Lau Landscape Design- Seattle 

New to a homeowners association, aka HOA? Before you plant anything, read the fine print.

“New homebuyers can get tripped up by easements in some developments that make it illegal to add trees along the road or near the sidewalk,” says Brandt.

The reason: Walkways and driveways can break apart or buckle because of tree roots beneath the surface.

“Removal and restitution are on the homeowner, too,” Brandt adds. “So be sure you know the local laws before you start planting.”

6. Designing a dream pool without taking temperature into account

Photo by Land Art Design, Inc.

“Some new homeowners can’t help themselves when it comes to finally owning a pool,” says Miguelez. And all too often, they choose pool features that aren’t appropriate for their climate.

For instance, “stone tiles won’t survive a freeze/thaw cycle in northern areas,” she explains. After a few harsh winters, a new patio or pool deck constructed of the wrong materials could crack. “This is also true of slab concrete patios and some stamped concrete patios as well.”

7. Planting what you love regardless of climate

Photo by Jean Brooks Landscapes 

“My father loved planting bulbs such as crocus, daffodils, and tulips, but when he moved from New York, which is hardiness zone 6, to North Carolina, zone 8, he was never successful with these flowers,” says Brandt.

Truth: You can’t zip past that hardiness chart you see at the plant store and just hope for the best.

And it’s not just that first-time homeowners are planting warm-weather plant friends in too cold a place.

“The climate in many areas of the U.S. doesn’t have a cold enough period for bulbs to flourish,” Brandt says. “So no matter where you live, find your hardiness zone before you buy or plant anything in an area that’s unfamiliar to you.”

Brandt suggests checking plant hardiness zones at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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