In the Garden:
Lower South
October, 2012
Regional Report

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These primrose jasmine shrubs are too large for the space along this walkway.

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time...

You've probably heard the old adage, "Learn from the mistakes of others. You haven't the time to make them all yourself!" That is sound advice when it comes to landscaping. I've learned many things the hard way and therefore prefer the shortcut of seeing the end results before I spend my own time and money.

We are entering the prime time of the year for establishing a new landscape or renovating an existing one. Here are a few ways to avoid some common landscape mistakes.

Start with a Good Plan
Oh how we love to buy new plants! Walk me through a garden center and I can show you dozens of things I just must have. I am the first to understand the desire to gather all those great new plants you can't live without. But we need to recognize that plant collecting and landscaping are two different things. It's easy to fill up our entire property really fast. Then it looks like a hodge-podge rather than a design. Failure to begin with a plan results in a lack of continuity in the landscape design.

Lack of planning can result in other maintenance headaches. For example, a landscape with lots of angles may make mowing a real chore. The more beds you put in the more edging you will have to do every time you mow.

Start with your overall goals for the landscape. Figure out what you want it to look like, draw out the beds and decide on the appropriate plants. Then you can do your shopping with much better long-term return on your time and money.

Don't forget to consider the four seasons. Everything looks good in the spring. Don't put all your money into spring color. What looks good in summer? What about fall? There are plenty of late season bloomers and even some leaf color choices for fall. Then consider winter. This is where evergreens really earn their keep, as do berrying plants. Have you spread them out or are they all on one side of the landscape -- oops, still time to fix that if you plan before you plant!

Place Plants Where They Want to Grow
Plants can be rather picky about where they grow. Sun or shade, wet or dry soil, soil texture, and certainly climate zone are among the variables that make the difference between a plant thriving or performing very poorly. I may think that a rose would be gorgeous in that corner spot across the yard from my breakfast nook window, but if that area is shaded by a large oak tree, the rose will definitely disagree!

Soil drainage, hardiness, and heat tolerance are other factors to consider. Sometimes by going to great lengths we can make a plant feel at home. But fighting against nature comes at considerable effort and expense, and it is generally better to not try. There are many plants that want to grow where you live. Find out what grows best in your area and invest most of your landscape dollars in such plants.

Prepare the Planting Area First
No one builds a house without preparing the foundation first. Yet we often make the mistake of sticking plants into a spot that has not been prepared. Spend a dollar on your soil before you spend a dollar on a plant. Most plants really benefit from added organic matter. Your plants will grow faster in well prepared soil and you'll save money by not having to replace dead plants. Build raised planting beds, especially in areas that tend to drain poorly.

Eradicate weeds before you plant. It is much easier to destroy weeds before there are plants in the beds. Those notorious invaders like nutsedge, bermudagrass, and Johnsongrass thrive in the new beds you build if you leave them around to enjoy it. Whether you dig or spray, get it done before you plant.

Consider the Ultimate Size of a Shrub or Tree
That thin whip of a tree out there in the yard may one day stretch across the entire property and reach 40 or more feet in height. Look up for power lines and sideways for nearby eaves on your home. Look down for sidewalks that may be damaged by large roots near the base of the trunk as the tree grows to its mature size.

The small shrub you purchase has a mature height that should be taken into account -- unless you want to spend more time shearing than an Australian sheep rancher! Look for dwarf species or cultivars when choosing shrubs for beneath a window or under the eaves of your home. This is also true when planting along a sidewalk. Consider the mature width of shrubs so guests won't have to plunge through a green gauntlet lining the path to your door, and you won't need to add the letters BYOP (Bring Your Own Pruners) to party invitations!

These are just a few tips to avoid headaches down the line. Do you have suggestions for avoiding other common landscaping mistakes? Share your comments with me and other readers.


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