The 6 biggest backyard blunders (© Jim Bastardo/Getty Images)

We all make mistakes, right? It’s OK. But, honestly, wouldn’t you really rather read about the mistakes of others than learn from your own experience?

In honor of that notion, here are six common errors that homeowners — particularly those new to the whole business of planting — make in the yard, and what the experts say you should do instead.

1. Forgetting the growth gene
There’s a good degree of wishful thinking in yard design, particularly in failed yard design.

The most common hapless dream: wishing that a shrub or tree would stay at just that height, say, under the window ledge. The owner diligently cuts, and cuts, and cuts, but the shrub keeps growing, until all that’s left is a tangled web of brown branches.

Expecting any plant to flourish — or even remain — at an immature size is as unrealistic as willing a child to stay small, the experts say.

“Any plant is programmed to grow a certain height,” says Joe Machcinski, owner of Pangea Gardenscapes in Seattle. “You can’t keep a big plant small. You can’t prune it the way you like it. It’s just going to continue to grow.

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“I’ve seen a lot of mispruned plants, and I just shake my head,” he says. “Why not just do your research or let someone who knows their plants lay them out properly?”

The solution: Read the label at the plant store. Note the size at maturity. Plant based on this measurement. In the meantime, make do. Hey, whoever said waiting out adolescence was fun?

For more, see this introduction to shameful pruning at Plant Amnesty, a nonprofit whose stated mission is “to end the senseless torture and mutilation of trees and shrubs.”

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2. Not putting it where the sun don’t shine
“You can’t plant ferns in the sun,” says Don Mahoney, curator of the plant collection at the San Francisco Botanical Garden.

And yet people do, again and again. They also put impatiens in the middle of an open yard and rhododendrons on the south side of the house.

Then they call him, or come in with depressing photos of withered, browning plants and ask, “Please, what am I doing wrong?”

“They’re beginners and they don’t really understand that plants are different,” Mahoney says. “To a lot of people, a plant’s a plant and you just plant it. They don’t understand that plants have different growing requirements.

“It’s such a problem that breeders are trying to breed impatiens that can handle sun,” he says. People see the color and want to put it in a bright spot in the yard.

“They go to the nursery and say, ‘Those are so pretty. I’ll buy some of those,’” he says.

It doesn’t help that some nurseries – particularly large, chain stores with unschooled staff – will display plants in a sunny place outside the store even though those plants need shade.

“Most nurseries don’t separate them out,” Mahoney says. ‘You’ve got to think for yourself a little bit.”

The solution: Get a book on plants and flowers for your region. Plenty of used ones are available for a few bucks, if need be. Then read the labels in the store.

Local, specialized garden centers likely have experts on hand, unlike the big, multipurpose stores that have a high turnover of young clerks.

“I’ve overheard them telling wrong advice to people so often,” Mahoney says. Instead, read up before going to the store. Or check online with a local garden club or specialty flower club. It’ll pay off later when you don’t have to replace your dried-up, dead plants.

3. Not knowing that watering is a science best left to nature
Plants have evolved to thrive in a particular environment. Get it wrong and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to overcome with a hose or a few drain pipes.

“Right plant, right place — that’s the phrase we use,” says Irene Mills, a horticulturalist and owner of The Plant Mommy, a landscaping consultancy in Washington state.

“It doesn’t have to be a native plant; it just has to be a plant that’s adapted to those conditions. Usually reading the tag is enough to figure it out.”

In fact, not putting the right plants in the right place for their sun and water needs is the No. 1 mistake that newcomers make, experts say.

“And then people get discouraged and they say they have a black thumb,” Mills says. But it’s not them. If you don’t believe it, just look at the wild.

“There are lots and lots of trees, and they’re growing and I know they‘re not getting watered. They’re not being messed with. They’re not being sprayed,” Mills says. “That’s the concept of right plant, right place.”

The solution: Read the label on the plant. It will tell you. Sometimes this tiny bit of foresight will be enough to turn a “black thumb” wonderfully green.