University of Florida

Avoid These 5 Common Mistakes

In the landscape, more is not always better. UF’s science-based guidelines can help produce a healthy, thriving yard using less water, fertilizer, and pesticides.

The following five mistakes (overwatering, overplanting, over-pruning, over-fertilizing, and overuse of pesticides) are common and easy to fix. This section offers a simple solution for each one. 

1. Overwatering
Overwatering is watering to the point of runoff (excess water that your plants' or grasses' roots cannot absorb) or watering too frequently.

Why is this bad?
Overwatering makes your plants more susceptible to pests, weeds, and disease; it wastes water; and it can cause pollution by carrying fertilizer, pesticides, and other chemicals into ground or surface water.

What's the solution?
Never water if rain has been forecast in the next twenty-four hours. Check your irrigation system regularly for leaks and other problems. Calibrate your irrigation system according to UF guidelines. Ensure that your rainfall shut-off device is working and that the irrigation system does not deliver more than ½–¾ inches of water at a time.

See: Conserving Water: Solutions for your Florida-friendly Landscape.

2. Overplanting
Overplanting means designing a landscape with more plants than can be adequately sustained with available space, nutrients, and water.

Why is this bad?
Overplanting can result in cramped plants that are more prone to disease, with the biggest or most vigorous plant frequently crowding out the others. Overplanted landscapes will often interfere with sidewalk and driveway access, as well as views from windows or doors.

What's the solution?
Design landscapes with the mature size of the plants in mind. Remember that plants are often not fully grown when you purchase them. Landscapes should be designed so that the desired effect is achieved when the plants reach about 75 to 100 percent of their mature size. If landscapes must look "full" quickly, use fast-growing plants or plants that are already at mature or nearly mature size.

See: Basic Principles of Landscape Design or Florida-friendly Interactive Yard.

3. Over-pruning
Over-pruning means removing more foliage or branches from an ornamental plant than is healthy for it.

Why is this bad?
Over-pruning can weaken trees and shrubs, making them more susceptible to disease and insect invasion. When you over-prune, you might also unintentionally eliminate the next season's flower buds or fruit.

What's the solution?
Never remove more than 30 percent of the foliage from an ornamental plant or shrub at one time. Know the right time of year to prune your plant; contact your county Extension office for more information. Use plants that are the right size for the location, so that overgrowth does not become a problem.

See: Landscape Plants or Pruning Landscape Trees and Shrubs.

4. Over-fertilizing
Many lawns and landscapes need some fertilization. However, it's important to fertilize appropriately. This means fertilizing at the correct rate, with the right kind of fertilizer, and at the optimal time(s) of year. Otherwise, you may be applying more fertilizer than your grasses or plants roots can use.

Why is this bad?
Over-fertilizing can cause pollution. If too much fertilizer is applied and the plants cannot absorb it, that extra fertilizer can be washed by irrigation water or leached through the soil into our water supply, creating unhealthy algae blooms and fish kills and contaminating the aquifer which supplies our tap water. Over-fertilizing can also burn a plant's roots and make the plant more susceptible to pests.

What's the solution?
Fertilize only if needed, using a fertilizer containing slow-release nitrogen. For turfgrass, do not exceed the rate of 1 pound of nitrogen (N) per 1,000 square feet of lawn at each application. Use compost and other soil amendments, such as ferrous sulfate or chelated iron, to improve soil health, instead of automatically fertilizing. "Weed and feed" products—products that contain both herbicide and fertilizer—are not recommended.

See: Overfertilization or Your Florida Lawn.

5. Overuse of pesticides
What does this mean?
Homeowners frequently assume that every bug they see in the home landscape is a pest and feel tempted to reach immediately for the pesticides. In attempting to protect their landscape, they often use more than the recommended amount of pesticides or use them too often.

Why is this bad?
When you overuse pesticides, the insects you're attacking can develop resistance to the chemicals. Beneficial insects can also be harmed by pesticides. Pollinators like bees and natural predators of your insect pests may be affected, which can actually make your pest problem worse.

What's the solution?
Use Integrated Pest Management (IPM), an environmentally-friendly approach to pest control. This system looks at how the whole landscape functions to employ more effective pest control techniques.

IPM emphasizes the roles of beneficial insects and birds in reducing pests in the garden and encourages the cultivation of pest-resistant plants. It advocates spot-treating rather than blanket spraying and using non-toxics like dish soap instead of pesticides. IPM also encourages manual controls such as hand-picking pests off plants and pruning affected plant parts.

Another important component of IPM is choosing plants that are well-suited to your site and plants that are known to have fewer insect and disease problems. Avoiding overwatering and over-fertilizing will also help keep pests from becoming a problem.

See: Integrated Pest Management Florida.


Learn more! Call, write, or visit your county Extension office for more details on Florida-friendly landscaping. Go to for Extension office contact information.