Cue: The intersection of landscaping and the call before you dig | Local News


The request to the 811 center was like many received – locate utilities because the owner wanted to DIY a new privacy fence. Once the utilities were marked, the owner started digging holes for the poles, thinking that each flag marked where it SHOULD dig, instead of where it SHOULD NOT dig.

After shutting off utility in several places, a hefty fine and utility restoration costs, the owner came away with a new appreciation for all that goes on below the ground surface. He was lucky because none of the damaged lines affected people or property. Things could have been worse because what happens underground, above (think power lines) and nearby (homes, outbuildings) all impact the projects we undertake to have a safe and beautiful outdoor space. .

This story may make you shake your head, but the reason for sharing is to foster the understanding that many landscape hazards and mistakes are preventable. Failures at the functional level of landscape design include:

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  • Plant evergreens that will grow or have grown to block the entrance to the house (“Where’s the front door?!?”)
  • Plants placed too close to utility boxes which may require excavation to maintain them, destroying valuable trees and shrubs.
  • Installation of raised beds around trees. (A good way to kill trees.)
  • Planting grass on slopes too steep to mow safely.
  • Retaining walls that fail because they were constructed incorrectly or too high to resist ground expansion.
  • Failing to locate underground utilities before digging. (Nebraska 811)
  • Trees that grow into overhead power lines because little attention has been paid to the height of the tree species.
  • Planting trees over septic tanks, causing roots to overgrow and backflow into pipes.
  • Pretty and artistic outdoor spaces may seem like the sole purpose of landscape design, but when I educate Nebraska Extension master gardeners on the subject, function comes to the fore with an emphasis on preventing costly landscape mistakes. and gives equal importance to aesthetics. After all, what good is a beautiful landscape if rainfall causes soil erosion or standing water increases mosquito populations?

No one plants a tree with the intention of having to cut it down because it is dead or dangerous, but the opportunities to make early corrections when the solutions are easier are too often overlooked.

Implementing these cornerstones during planning and installation is extremely important for successful landscapes that will stand the test of time:

  • Safety first.
  • Landscaping is a problem-solving process, not a problem-creating process.
  • Form follows function. Get the technical stuff before you tackle the pretty.
  • The right plant, in the right place.
  • Call before you dig, Nebraska 811.
  • Seek professional help to answer questions and resolve potential issues.

Kathleen Cue is an ISA & TRAQ Certified Arborist and Nebraska Extension Horticulture Educator for Dodge County. She can be reached at: 1206 West 23rd Street, Fremont, NE 68025-2504; (402) 727-2775; or


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