Landscaping for continuity

    by Jim Slagle, Associate Editor    

    Enjoying the good life outdoors without leaving home. That’s part of the American dream, the same dream that drove – and continues to drive–city dwellers into the suburbs and beyond.

    Indeed, folks with yards and gardens get to enjoy the good life outdoors – but at a considerable price. A tremendous amount of labor, expense and material goes into making even a simple yard look good. It seems like as soon as we attack one trouble spot, another one pops up.

    Where to begin? Well, since the first day of autumn occurs this month, now is a good time. Let’s think of our yard in terms of continuity: What to keep, what to toss, what to add, what to prepare.

    What to keep. Now, while the viewing is good, walk around the yard with a pad and pencil (or mobile phone). Pretty much everything is in full foliage and full sized at the end of the summer.

    Make notes about your favorite plants and groupings. What do they need to continue look their best? A fresh layer of mulch? A fall pruning? Root division? Transplanting? You may not want to tackle some of these tasks until cooler weather predominates, but you will have the beginnings of a plan of action, and the plan of action starts with the plantings that you cherish most.

    What to toss. Most gardens have a few ugly ducklings that just take up space rather than contribute to the overall landscape. Perhaps it’s a scraggly shrub that no longer blooms as vigorously as its neighbors. That’s OK in the background, but you’ll want to move it out of a place of honor to make way for a handsome replacement. Enjoy the process of choosing a replacement by starting now while options at the nursery are abundant. Make it part of your plan.

    Some beds benefit from being thinned. Examine those overgrown clusters of ferns, hostas and liriope. Take advantage of a cool day and do some digging to give the plants some room to grown in the spring. You can transplant to another area of the yard if you’re willing to keep them watered until frost. Even the plants that are care-free once established need frequent watering after being uprooted.

    Items to toss don’t have to go into the trash. Ask if neighbors want your castoffs, or list them on a trading site. I know someone that picked up a dozen unloved azaleas that were being torn out for an expansion project. The cost was $0 and they seemed to love their new home. In a couple of years, they were dazzling.

    What to add depends on what type of gardener you are. If you are a garden enthusiast, you probably keep a list of plants you’d like to try or successes you’d like to replicate. If you haven’t already, now’s when to secure those specimens, whether it’s tagging them at the nursery, ordering them for delivery, or asking a fellow gardener for a cutting.

    On the other hand, if you garden as a duty (“just keeping things looking nice”), you probably just want to identify bare spots that could use some new plants. Bulbs and perennials get planted in late fall, but avoid disappointment by not waiting until planting day to purchase If you’re trying to create some privacy, you’ll want to consider evergreens for the year-round screening they provide. Secure early and make a plan to keep fall plantings watered until frost.

    What to prepare. Again, this will somewhat depend on whether you view gardening as a hobby or a duty. You might want to create a compost system both to utilize waste and to provide a superior source of plant food. If you have a vegetable garden, you’ll want to cut back and clean up. This task can appear overwhelming, so you may want to divide the work into manageable sessions.

    You can get a head start on a new flower bed for next spring by covering that area now with mulch or heavy plastic. This will discourage weed growth when the ground warms up in the spring. If you’re replacing lawn, cut the grass as low as possible before covering.

    Don’t neglect this step: Take time to admire your handiwork. Sit and enjoy. Pat yourself on the back. Enjoy nature’s lush beauty and your hand in encouraging order and harmony.

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