My Landscape Successes and Colossal Fails

This winter was brutal on our landscaping here in WI.  Driving around, many yards have orange and yellow colored shrubs that were once evergreen.  In walking through my yard, I began to take inventory of what I would need to replace.  It is never what you think it is going to be!

Orange pine tree
RIP: Columnar Austrian Pine

With all my experience and plant knowledge, I still falter sometimes at plant maintenance.   So I thought it might be interesting to share my greatest successes and my biggest fails in landscaping!  I don’t think any of the outcomes are quite what you’d expect, but I know I’ve learned a little something from each one along the way!  See if you can guess the end result of each scenario-

Success or Fail Scenario #1

Boxelder before

This is Boxelder, an invasive fast-growing tree that grows like a weed behind our barn.  It is also weak wooded and to keep it from falling on our barn, we removed most of them, leaving stumps like the picture above.  However, we meant to go back and kill the root system before they suckered.  We didn’t get around to it and now it looks like this:

boxelder after

Yeah, that’s a pretty big fail.  Now instead of the single trunk we once had to worry about growing up and falling on the barn, each of these clumps have 5 or 6 trunks, making them thick and impenetrable.

hydra lesson

Success or Fail Scenario #2

Several years ago when I worked at a Garden Center, I rescued some scraggly root bound lilacs headed for the compost pile.  Each one had shallow roots circling the top of the pot like a thick woven mat.  They were each about 16″ tall and had only a few leaves on a spindly stalk.  I had no idea what color any of the flowers were, or if they would even survive.  I dug a trench in front of the barn and basically planted them side by side and then backfilled the hole.

Today they look like this:


Healthy, luscious and the best part- every one of them has a different colored bloom all in one giant hedge!

Lilac dark purple

Lilac light purple

lilac success

charlie brown tree

Success or Fail Scenario #3

Speaking of hedges, the natural sumac that grows in this one spot on our property is Nick’s favorite.  Not only does it spread and grow fast, but it has a great fall color!

sumac hedge

This winter was especially bad for bunnies and there was no stopping them from making a meal of these new sumac sprouts that make up the thickness we love most about the hedge.

sumac chewed

You can see the stripped bark and chew marks, but in true sumac survivor mode, they have sprouted new life and begun to regrow from the ground up.

sumac success

So what could have easily been a FAIL is actually going to be a SUCCESS!

the strong

Success or Fail Scenario #4

The deer run rampant in our corner of Shiocton.  You won’t see a deer or two grazing in a field, oh no! You will see herds of 20 or more. I have tried several methods of repelling deer, and one winter I decided to use steel stakes and snow fence to deter them from an area planted with small trees.

Fencing FAIL

Fencing FAIL2

It worked for a little while until the deer decided to just run right through the fencing like a banner at the end of a finish line.

Fencing FAIL4

The plastic fencing gave away beneath their weight, but the frozen ground did not.  They bent and snapped off every post…

fence fail

Lesson Learned:  you can’t stop a trane, and nothing runs like a deere.

(And you can’t stop a deer that runs into things like a train)

Success or Fail Scenario #5

Speaking of running right into something…one year I had a deer run right into a cedar tree and snap it’s 2″ trunk.  I found it bent over to the ground held together by what looked like just some bark.  As an experiment, I used duct tape to hold the trunk together and secure it to a post.  It was a little “mad-scientist” of me, and that happened to be the one summer I bought hot pink duct tape for our 80’s theme party!

duct tape tree2

Truth be told, we repaired a lot of things with hot pink duct tape that summer!

Not a pretty sight…

duct tape tree

But it is two years later…

 and unlike this unharmed perfectly straight cedar, that apparently just gave up on life…

duct tape tree3

My little frankenstein is still green!

Cedar tree success

keeps on ticking

Success or Fail Scenario #6

I wish I could blame this on a deer…

tree stake fail

But not so. This was just a case of a tall top heavy tree planted in soft ground during a windy summer…

tree stake fail2

And I did a really really bad job of staking it.  You should ALWAYS use more than one stake.  To be fair, at one time I had multiple stakes in place, but I think I “borrowed” them when I put up the snow fencing that winter, and we all know how that turned out!

tree stake fail3

This was kind of an obvious one…

tree stake fail

Success of Fail Scenario #7

Paying for trees and shrubs that get either eaten, run down or don’t survive the winter has been so disheartening that I have taken up a new project just last week.

Native red twig dogwood

Project Free Trees!

I have been digging up natural plants that have spontaneously sprouted in spots they don’t belong, and relocating them to the back of my field for another attempt to start a grove a trees on the property.  This time I am choosing only free and aggressive species and netting them with a chicken wire to keep snackers off them.

Baby ash
Native green ash tree

Transplanting little darlings like this is pretty easy at this time of the year when the gound is wet and the trees are small, but I learned an important lesson when the sun came out on an otherwise cloudy and rainy day.

wilted willow2

As aggressive and easy to grow as the native willow might be, it does NOT like being dug up on a hot sunny day and will wilt immediately…

willow fail

Success or Fail Scenario #8

This is a story about four little Ohio Buckeye trees.  Because most landscape places don’t carry Ohio Buckeye, they were pretty small when I aquired them.  Ohio Buckeye are a great ornamental tree with flowers in the spring and a pumpkin orange fall color.  They will get about 15-20 feet tall in our area and maintain a nice rounded shape.  When I planned my flower bed borders on the south side of my yard I anchored each with one of these.  I thought it was the perfect place for them.  In my mind they would grow up surrounded by the perennials and shrubs that I had designed them to partner with.  Three of them went to the “perfect” side of the yard, and one was sent to live by the barn.

Ohio buckeye

The one that has lived by the barn for 7 years is the tall one in this picture, almost as tall as those lilacs.

Ohio buckeye2

This guy was transplanted from the “perfect” side of the yard a few years ago, and although still half the size of the other, it has doubled in size since being dug up and moved.


I am not sure what is in that magic soil by the barn that these buckeyes seem to love, but I’ll be slowly moving the other two.  Sometimes you have to give up on that perfect picture you have in your mind to get results that end up being much, much better…

Success or Fail?  Let’s just say lesson learned.

Has your landscape taught you any important lessons?  Faced any colossal planting fails like me?  Ready to give a Charlie Brown tree from a landscape clearance corner a new home?

(BTW:  Did you know Linus’s last name was Van Pelt?  Did you know Linus even had a last name?  Wikipedia, a wealth of information. For realz.)






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