In the Garden:
Middle South
September, 2012
Regional Report

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The easy-care summer garden was enhanced by the blooms of Stewartia pseudocamellia.

Taking Stock and Looking Ahead

I heard from a friend recently who said her efforts to deal with the heat and humidity of summer while maintaining order in her jungle-like garden has been "overwhelming" in the past month. In contrast, I have to admit I've been taking it pretty easy. But then again, I planned it that way.

By limiting lawn areas, container gardens, rapidly-growing vines, and flowers that require constant deadheading, and focusing instead on trees and shrubs that offer vibrant foliage in fall and colorful blooms in winter, spring and summer, I've fashioned a low-maintenance landscape that's beautiful throughout the seasons.

I begin my gardening year in September, when I take stock of the past 12 months and look ahead to another round of improvements. In general, this includes tidying the garden and planting trees and shrubs from September to November, pruning in late February, and mulching and adding any annuals and leafy perennials in April and May.

In summer, the garden takes a break and so do I. While it goes on autopilot, I head to the beach with my family and enjoy other long-planned excursions.

This doesn't mean my summer landscape is completely carefree, however. There's a small strip of lawn that requires mowing, a group of container gardens on the front stoop that must be tended, and a secret garden to one side of the house that needs occasional care. But at most, I spend a couple hours in the garden each week.

To keep things cheerful and cool, the summer color scheme is green and white. Extra appeal is provided by variegated plants, layers of texture, and summer-blooming woodies such as Stewartia pseudocamellia and Hydrangea arborescens 'Incrediball'.

Sounds like utopia, right? Well, I like to think I'm headed in the right direction, but some days it's one step forward and two steps back. And though I've made good progress in the two years I've lived here, there's much more to be done.

The first thing to consider as I roll my sleeves up and get busy again is the removal of a dead hickory tree in the front garden. When an arborist and I examined all the large hardwood trees two years ago, we didn't give this one a second thought even though it had a vertical split in the trunk. Hickories are usually very tenacious, but unfortunately, this summer the crown died.

There's also a large American holly that's struggling. Previous owners tried to keep this tree by paving around it when making a parking pad, but its vigor has declined with the loss of root space and it weeps sap on the cars. Though I hate to see it go, it would be simpler and less expensive to remove both trees at once rather than let the holly struggle on.

While planting conditions are ideal, I should also replace some of the old shrubs in the front yard. I just need to decide which ones I want to tackle this year--a hedge of bedraggled Clarissa hollies or a collection of color-clashing Kurume azaleas that have also seen better days.

The tiny fescue lawn needs aerating and seeding. Bulbs should be ordered and planted for spring blooms. And it wouldn't hurt to spread a bit of compost around winter-flowering woodies such as Prunus mume and Edgeworthia chrysanthia.

The big job, however, will be the continued assault on the English ivy growing in the woodland area near the river. Recent rains have made the soil soft, which will ease the task somewhat. Thank goodness for this small advantage; it's a monumental job and I'm looking forward to getting this effort behind me.

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