In the Garden:
Upper South
February, 2005
Regional Report

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Placing plants too close together is detrimental to their growth and appearance.

When Good Gardens Go Bad

Perhaps it's just my problem. A well-planned garden, with the plants carefully chosen, turns out not to measure up to the original concept. Or, after creating a number of garden areas, I discover that my time is finite and the growth of weeds is not. I'm continually amazed how quickly a garden can become a patch of grass and weeds. In case I'm not the only one who has experienced some variation of these scenarios, here are some lessons I've learned on how to correct a garden that is very far from the original intention.

Starting Over
Most important when confronted with a "problem" area, take the time to make a serious assessment of the difficulties and come up with some solutions. For instance, one of my garden areas was composed of nine square beds, arranged like tic-tac-toe, with pathways between. In its original state, there were no borders on the beds and the paths were hardwood mulch with landscape fabric beneath. Over time, the demarcation between beds and paths disintegrated, and the entire area became impossible to keep weeded. It eventually reverted to grass. Because I really liked the original design and concept for the area, I decided to start over.

Removing the landscape fabric beneath the mulch was the most difficult part. Then I tilled the entire area and recreated the raised beds using cedar boards for the sides, which will keep them well-defined. I laid down a heavier-duty landscape fabric for the paths, with pea gravel on top. Weeds are still able to make inroads, but not nearly as fast in the gravel as in mulch.

Overcoming Overplanting
One of my favorite garden areas is a white garden that I created about seven years ago. One problem is that non-white flowers have somehow found their way here, usually because I had no other place to put them late some evening. The perennials are easily moved, but mature shrubs are a bit more of a problem.

For one somewhat-rare plant, I'm going to take cuttings before trimming it back heavily and moving it either early this spring or next fall. The biggest problem is that I committed that frequent gardener's sin -- planting too close together. Although the shrubs are all growing well, none of them are shown off to their best advantage. Some people might just remove and destroy, but I will try to move them to another site. It would have been far easier to have spaced them better in the beginning.
Salvaging Plants
The biggest challenge facing me this year are beds of perennials that have been severely overtaken by weeds, especially hard-to-destroy weeds like field bindweed. Hand-weeding won't eradicate them, and herbicides are impossible to use in such close proximity to the desired plants. Although I won't be able to do all the areas in a single year, the goal is to start digging up what's worth saving. Important in this step is to remove weeds from the root balls.

The plan is to either pot them up or plant temporarily in raised beds filled with a purchased soil-compost mixture. Both choices are labor intensive and not inexpensive, but they will allow me to salvage plants that are special to me. At some point, I'll create new planting areas that, no doubt, will be perfect the next time around.


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