A full spring schedule and recent home projects opened my eyes to the astronomical increases in the cost of landscape installation, construction, and green material (plants, trees, and sod.) Now that warmer temps make it safe to plant, you've surely noticed how the cost of materials has skyrocketed. The pre- Covid cost of a 2x4 was about $2.40; now it is close to $11. Professionals up and down the supply chain are passing on the their increased operating expenses to the consumer. Items impacting operational budgets include vehicle maintenance, truck tires, labor, gas and plant material. Last year the pain of isolation was remedied by an abundance of outdoor home projects. Consequently, the supply of tall and larger plants was exhausted. Plants aren't widgets. They take time to grow, and the result is felt at the the landscape centers with limited supply and increased cost of taller shrubs and trees. For example, a pre-pandemic five foot tall evergreen cost around $175 and now it it is $350 or greater.
What can you do to ease the financial pain?
Plan now, Plant later
Take this year to plan for the future and stage your renovation over a three-year period. Plant structural and evergreen plants first. Then add seasonal interest plants over the course of next few years. Shop sales in the fall. Planning prevents 'splurge plantings' that often result in dead plants and wasted money. Taking your time to think about your plants allows thoughtful consideration of your growing conditions and choosing the right specimen for your space. Remember this motto: Right Plant, Right Spot.
If your plan includes fast-growing shrubs like weigela, viburnum, spirea and junipers, try purchasing young, small plants. If your project includes a large hillside or mass planting, consider purchasing 2-year old saplings. For example, you can purchase young junipers at Musser Forests for $2.05 ea. (quantities of 25 or more) rather than larger plants at $40+. Buy and plant a few more young plants than you need because inevitably, some will die. The disadvantage to purchasing smaller is keeping them watered due to the small root balls that can quickly dry out. I usually recommend installing a soaker hose for large areas.
By mid-June many nurseries are trying to unload their annuals. Purchase a few select annuals now for immediate color, but fill empty bed and container spaces by shopping sales in late June and early July. The plants should flower through September.
Instead of planting new things this year, focus on maintaining what you already have. Much of my business is the result of home gardens that haven't been maintained. Weeds have overgrown through ground covers so that the entire areas must be killed and replanted. Shrubs haven't been pruned and are past the point of salvaging. A yearly or bi-annual maintenance plan will save you thousands in replacement costs. Give your beds a clean natural edge, keep up with the weeds, use corn gluten as a weed seed pre-emergent, and skip the mulch this year.
Bonus: A view into my spring garden.
To ease my garden costs, I have planted seeds, bare root roses and shopped online sales. Rather than working on any big projects this year (I need to replace some trees declining boxwood), I'm focusing on the fruits of my labor and enjoying my outdoor space.
After a long, dreary winter, spring blooms bring me much joy. And I enjoy experimenting with contrasting textures and colors....hard and delicate, square and round, spiky and soft, yellow and green. I have a small yard so each plant must have purpose. I am ruthless in removing plants that don't live up to my expectations. Roses and climbing hydrangea serve as trellises to support my clematis. Ground covers like thyme, geranium biokovo, trailing baby's breath, and lamium add seasonal color, reduce weeds and significantly lessen my mulch costs. I deadhead the salvia and coral bells to extend bloom times. Feeding my Knock Out roses rewards me with waves of blooms all summer. Deutzias stabilize a hill and the baptisia provide loads of indoor bouquets and garden structure. Peonies and lilacs are 'one and done' plants (short bloom time and look "homely" rest of the season). I rarely add them to my clients' designs, but they are a treat and I must indulge by sharing my valuable garden space with these single season bloomers. Snow-in-Summer softens the the hard edges of the walls in my back yard. The gray winter foliage breaks up the stark precast stones which are viewed from every room within my first floor. The crazy spring with its unusually warm and then plummeting temps caused many of my cutting garden perennials to die this year....red hot poker, asters, and daisies just never showed up to the party this spring. So I appreciate the years they bloomed and get excited to try something new. To take their place, I planted native wildflower seeds and 4 bare root roses. I'll keep you posted on how this experiment works. Despite the weeds, deer, rabbits, ground hogs, and loss of plants, the beauty of each seasons' colors and textures brings much joy. Happy Spring and Happy Planting, Gwen
Planting annual beds in the spring is the highlight of a gardener’s year. After a cold and brown winter, it is a relief to experience the April green-up, and also the pastel showy blossoms of flowering trees. Annual planting is the gardener’s reward for patiently awaiting winter’s end. You take the steps to create a landscape design, scour plant material at greenhouses, and create gardens with meticulous care. After all of your efforts are complete, you awaken to discover that ...your precious flower bed became a snack!
Spring is not only your favorite time of year… it’s also a deer’s favorite time as well! After eating nothing but twigs and dead grasses all winter, there’s nothing they love more than getting a mouthful of your tender and tasty flowers! The answer? Deer resistant plant material and deer spray.
Why are they “deer resistant”?
Certain annuals naturally repel critters because their textures are unpleasant in a deer’s mouth. Other plants have a bad smell or taste - and can even be poisonous.
I’m at the store and found a plant I love… will deer eat it?
It’s always a good idea to visit a greenhouse with a plan. When you encounter a new cultivar you really love, get some information from the plant marker. Besides light requirements and spacing suggestions, the label may indicate if the plant is deer-resistant. If it doesn’t say, here are some ways to see if a plant will be ignored by hungry deer:
Fun fact…. Hosta and Hydrangea are two of deer's best-loved foods. These perennials will draw deer in and keep them coming back. If you have deer, either replace these plants with resistant annuals, perennials and shrubbery, or spray repellent to protect them.
Annuals to Avoid
Annuals to Plant
Partial Shade and Full Shade
Partial Shade to Full Sun
The knowledgeable gardener can certainly take measures to prevent deer browsing and enjoy colorful and beautiful gardens by combining deer deterrent sprays and using select plants in the landscape. Replacing plants and shrubs which deer prefer with those they will ignore will take time, money and effort. But the result will be a sustainable garden minus the frustration with local wildlife.
Watering plants seems simple and uncomplicated. However there are some myths that mislead even the more experienced gardener. A sustainable landscape calls for installing the right plant in the right spot. Making a plant feel at home improves plant health and reduces the need to overuse a valuable natural resource: water.
When choosing plants, first evaluate your existing conditions and read plant labels. If plants like wet feet, you’ll want to put these in areas that tend to have damp soils like near streams, springs or water features and fountains. If you have dry shade, then look for plants that like those conditions. However, if you’ve inherited an existing landscape or experience drought, unusual heat or drying winds, additional irrigation or hand watering may be necessary. Whether you're taking care of an established garden or installing new plants, you’ll benefit from these guidelines and myth debunking tips.
While the general rule of thumb is about an inch or two of water each week with deep, infrequent watering as opposed to the more frequent shallow watering, this really depends on a number of factors. First, consider your soil. Sandy soil is going to hold less water than heavier clay soil. Therefore, it’s going to dry out faster while the clay-like soil will hold moisture longer (and is more susceptible to overwatering). For clay soils (Western PA,) avoid daily light sprinklings, which encourage roots to grow near the soil surface where they're vulnerable to drying out. Apply water slowly so it's absorbed by the soil rather than running off — a soaker hose is ideal. Another advantage of a soaker hose is that you don’t have to stand and direct the spray.
This is why amending the soil with compost is so important. Healthier soil drains better but allows for some water retention too. Applying mulch is also a good idea, reducing watering needs. Weather conditions determine when to water garden plants as well. If it is hot, windy, and/or dry you’ll have to water more often. Of course, in rainy conditions, little watering is needed. Plants, too, dictate when and how often to water. When a plant is first installed, it requires regular watering until it acclimates to it’s new home. (Read on to later in this blog)
Different plants have different watering needs.
Be sure to read water recommendations and growing conditions on labels or reputable website sources. If plants like wet feet and they are planted in a dry soil, they will need more irrigation. Some plants like hydrangea, astilbe and hosta are sensitive to heat and may need more water during hot and windy weather. Vegetables, bedding plants and many perennials have more shallow roots systems and also require more frequent watering, some daily–especially in temps over 85 F. (29 C.). Most container plants need watering on a daily basis in hot, dry conditions — sometimes twice or even three times a day.
The best way to water most plants is by applying enough to moisten the plant's entire root system, and then letting the soil dry out slightly before watering again.
When to Water:
Time of day is key. The most suitable time for watering is morning, which reduces evaporation. But late afternoon is okay as well provided you keep the foliage from getting wet, which can lead to fungal issues.
Wilting is a sign that the leaves aren't getting enough moisture, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the soil is dry. Anything that damages plant roots can cause wilting.
Plant roots need a fairly constant supply of both air and water. Too little water and the roots die from lack of moisture. Too much water and the spaces between soil particles remain filled with water, suffocating roots. Both situations reduce a plant's ability to deliver enough water to stems and leaves, resulting in wilting. A good example of this is an outdoor pot with inadequate drainage holes -- after a week of heavy rain, the plant’s roots become waterlogged. Root diseases, physical damage (such as disturbing roots while you're hoeing) and soil-borne insects can also harm roots to the point that they can't fully hydrate the plant.
Damage to stems can also cause wilting. Some diseases and insects (especially borers) prevent water distribution throughout the plant, causing some or all of it to wilt.
The only way to tell if lack of water is causing wilting is to check soil moisture.
How To Water
The myth that water droplets act like tiny magnifying glasses and burn plant leaves has no basis in fact.
There are good reasons to avoid watering your garden on a sunny afternoon, but causing scorched leaves isn't one of them. Anyone who has watched the sun come out after a summer shower knows that the water quickly evaporates. Try to avoid watering on sunny afternoons to minimize the amount of moisture lost to evaporation, but don't worry about leaf scorch.
Overhead watering isn't the most efficient from a water conservation standpoint, but there are times when it's called for. It's usually best to apply water directly to the soil around plants rather than watering with a sprinkler. Less water is lost to evaporation, especially on hot, sunny days. Foliage stays dry, minimizing disease problems.
But there are times when an overhead shower is called for.
During dry, windy weather, a fine layer of dust can build up on leaves, reducing the plants' ability to photosynthesize efficiently. Another case is if plants are infested with insects, such as aphids and spider mites. Simply hosing them off plants can keep them in check. Gardeners who want to avoid spraying chemicals prefer this method. Finally, heat-stressed plants that have wilted even though their roots are moist can benefit from a cooling shower — the effect won't last long on a sunny day but it may provide some relief.
Even drought tolerant plants need watering.
Many young plants have perished because these drought tolerant plants didn't get sufficient water at installation time and during their first season of growth. When you set out a new container-grown plant, the roots are confined to the shape of the pot. The plants need a consistent supply of water during their first growing season, until their roots grow out into the surrounding soil. Water them as you would your annual flowers in their first season. During their second and subsequent growing seasons, drought-tolerant plants may need supplemental water only during extended dry spells. Note, however, that just because a plant is drought-tolerant doesn't mean it won’t fare better with a regular supply of moisture.
Watering in Newly Installed Plants
(Courtesy Penn State Extension—Advice for PA residents)
Newly installed landscape plants have a unique set of needs. Unlike established flowers, shrubs and trees, new plants experience an adjustment when transferred from container to the ground. To help plants get a good start in your garden, follow these tips from the Penn State Cooperative Extension. If you live in another region, check out your state extension’s planting guidelines.
Soak the plants immediately after planting and check regularly to prevent drying out. Less frequent but deep watering encourages perennials to root deeply. Perennials that are said to tolerate drought are drought tolerant only after they have become established. The addition of mulch will help to reduce the need for frequent watering.
Shrubs and Trees
Water the plant weekly during the first year, except during weeks when it rains enough to wet the top six inches of soil. When you water, be sure to soak the soil by allowing a hose to trickle slowly at the base of the plant and at the edges of the backfill soil. Move the hose around a tree or shrub bed to assure uniform water application. Avoid shallow, frequent watering because it will encourage the growth of shallow surface roots, which will be vulnerable to drying out. Be careful not to overwater. Frequent saturation of the surrounding soil in poor drainage areas could smother the root system. Water only when the soil under the surface is dry to the touch. Continue to monitor new trees for drought stress into their third season. They may suffer from insufficient water even when other established plants in the landscape are thriving.
Water is a precious natural resource that we don’t want to waste. And unless it comes from the sky, it isn’t free. Start by finding out what your plant needs to grow and thrive. Keep an envelope with the original plant tags, or make notes in your journal. After planting the new specimen in the ideal spot, soak it thoroughly and check soil moisture regularly to help it adjust to it’s new home. And follow our guidelines for optimal watering. Your thirsty plants will thank you.
Don’t let the winter blues get you down. Spring will be here soon. Take advantage of these last few weeks of hibernation to consider getting a head start so you can hit the ground running. The theme of a winter garden to-do list is anticipation. While you hum the Carly Simon ballad, dream up a crop of fresh gardening goals. Research new plants you’d like to try this year. Below are some ideas to motivate your spring planning.
Swap Plants. If you have plants that are ready for dividing, consider sharing. Get together or video chat with some gardening friends and organize a plant exchange for spring. Think about what plants need dividing and coordinate with your group on who, what, where and when you’ll host a garden swap. This article from Homestead Brooklyn has some great planning tips: How to Organize a Plant Swap Like a Pro.
Plan a low-effort garden. If you’ve got a busy summer planned, consider planting pots in self watering containers (available online and garden centers) and plan your drought tolerant containers. Window boxes, which can be difficult to water, benefit from self- watering window boxes. Swallowtail Garden Seeds is an informative resource with pictures for drought tolerant plant ideas.
Take inventory of your tools. Buy any tools you need so you’re prepared when spring arrives. Care for your tools by cleaning and sharpening them. Create a cleaning station for your hand tools for the growing season. Sanitizing pruning shears prevents the spread of disease between plants. Garden Betty has an informative blog on making a DIY tool cleaning station.
Get Healthy. Get soil healthy by taking a soil test. Purchase it from a hardware store or your local extension office. Now is the time to start the testing process so that you have results in time to amend your soil in the spring.
Start composting with worms. A great approach to recycling and producing natural fertilizer is vermiculture. It takes about one year to reap the benefits. If done correctly there is little to no smell and no rodents. For more information read this article called: Worm Composting Basics for Beginners.
Create Buzz: Help your garden and local farmers by attracting and supporting pollinators. Use the winter to evaluate your yard and determine how you can create an environment that attracts pollinators. Bees, bats, hummingbirds, butterflies and more are needed for a healthy environment. This beautifully illustrated guide by the US Fish and Wildlife Service is worth the download.
Incorporate Native Plants: Commit to planting one native plant. Native plants support local wildlife, thrive in your environment and therefore require less care and chemicals. Native plants adapt to our local climate and conditions, provide food for native animals and insects, support native pollinators, are low maintenance and support biodiversity. The DCNR provides native plant lists for your area. PA natives are listed on DCNR website.
Purge: Eliminate at least one invasive plant in your yard. Non-native invasive plants become established in the wild and prevent native plants from growing. Many people have invasives in their yard and don’t realize it. These invasives don’t support the local flora and fauna. Eliminating an invasive plant once and for all saves you time from weeding out new shoots, and gives your other plants a fighting chance. Even though it is hard to justify ridding your yard of a thriving plant, you’ll support our woodlands and wildlife by eliminating invasive plants like: burning bush, Japanese barberry, Japanese honeysuckle, and tree of heaven. The Smithsonian lists the top six invasive plants in the United States on their insider website. For the most extensive list of invasive plants specific to where you live, contact your county extension office.
A harsh winter like this one makes the arrival of warm breezes and spring blossoms all the sweeter. As you anticipate the thaw, commit to game-changing, practical steps to maintaining a healthy landscape.
One way to think about creating your garden is to compare it to a musical. The bones give it the
beat or rhythm that you can tap your foot to throughout the seasons.
You're familiar with the phrase, "This house has good bones." Like a home, a garden must also have "bones" that provide structure through all four seasons. Fall and winter are the best time for the gardener to assess and reevaluate gardens and landscapes. Would adding some boulders or a stone bench balance your front garden in the months when flowers aren't blooming? Do you have enough shrubs and trees to serve as the bones of your garden through all seasons? If not, fall is the perfect time to plant them so their roots can spread and establish. Does your garden contain plants that stand out in the fall? Does your large perennial bed contain a balanced variety of bloom color, height, texture, and shape? Have you transplanted flowers which are hidden, or were planted in the wrong spot? These are a small sample of the questions we should ask ourselves this time of year.
Each landscape is dynamic, ever changing, and transforming. Plants and bulbs will multiply. Shrubs and trees sometimes exceed our growth expectations in a few seasons. Reevaluation in the fall is the way the most successful gardeners keep tabs on their outdoor spaces. So walk around outside, take photos, and make notes in your garden journal. Set yourself electronic reminders for when to tackle these tasks.
Why are the bones of the garden important? They provide structure, dimension, and foundation for the rest of the plantings on your property. Bones offer winter interest and can be living like a hedge or inanimate like an arbor, fence or gate. Bones are the first design element to consider when updating or starting from scratch.
For those who live in climates with all four seasons, it is worth considering what your garden looks like when deciduous plants have lost their leaves. It is best to evaluate the bones of your garden when all the flowers have faded and plants have dropped their autumn leaves. Views from within the house and those seen by the public are especially important. Southern gardeners also benefit from starting with a strong backdrop to support the continuous seasons of flowers and greenery. Bones of a garden include structure, rhythm and winter interest. They serve as the backdrop for the landscape. Without good bones, a garden looks like a sloppy, hodgepodge collection; the result is unpleasant on the eyes. Even perennial and casual country gardens have bones. Purposefully including garden structure gives the gardener the luxury to splurge purchase a favorite plant without creating a mismatched landscape.
One way to think about creating your garden is to compare it to a musical. The bones give it the beat or rhythm that you can tap your foot to throughout the seasons. Certain plants dance in the chorus line and during the various acts, star performers take center stage. Some plants, like those with a beautiful voice, command more attention than others, like the color yellow or variegated foliage. In the winter, the star performers are the bones of the garden.
If you prefer a gray- green color theme, use the varied sized blue spruces. Iseli fastigiate is tall and narrow, globe type is lower and round. Pancake or Bowling ball (cypress) offer a shrub layer. Heuchera leaves have all- season silver interest. Special note about variegated foliage: for example, Daphne, boxwood, certain iris, and others. Use these unique plants with interesting foliage as focal points or place in areas to attract attention. Too much variegation looks busy and fussy. Variegation also does not show up well against light- colored backgrounds, such as pale stone, white or vanilla- colored brick, light siding, and white fences.
With some thought and planning, using color to offer structure is easier than you might think.
Texture is another way to create rhythm and bones. For example, if you are a collector of daylilies, ornamental grasses, hydrangeas, or camellia, you can provide rhythm by repeating your collection throughout the landscape. Then mix in contrasting foliage to make your favorite plants pop. For example, for grasses or daylilies, add oakleaf hydrangea or other large-leaved plants, or strongly structured evergreens.
Perennial, English or Cottage Gardens
While all landscapes benefit from having a strong foundation, it is even more critical for perennial, English or cottage gardens. Without structure or rhythm, these areas may look weedy and hodgepodge. There are a couple of ways to create rhythm. First, you can use evergreens or structural elements like trellises or obelisks and repeat them within the bed. Second, plant larger structural herbaceous perennials like ornamental grasses, baptisia, peony, or cohosh or large hostas and repeat like you would a shrub. Then add your favorite perennials in between. Another option is to create groupings. Each grouping would include 4-6 plants, one for each season: early spring, late spring, early summer, late summer, fall, and winter. Repeat these groupings throughout the planting beds. Perennials tend to only bloom for 2-3 weeks, so varying seasonal bloom time ensures color and visual interest throughout the year.
When creating or evaluating your existing landscape, the first step is to evaluate its bones. Do you have too many star performers stealing the stage? Is there one season when your garden appears flat and one-dimensional and could benefit by adding the height of a flowering tree or tall evergreens? What does your landscape look like in the winter? What is creating a beat? Is it color? Evergreens? Hardscape? Keep views in mind as you evaluate the landscape. In a front yard where traffic may travel quickly, use bold statements of rhythm with strong color or structural evergreens. For informal gardens, or gardens experienced while strolling or meandering along a path, you have the opportunity to use more subtle forms of structure, like groupings of perennials. Remember that creating the bones of your landscape doesn’t have to be the repetition of a tightly sheared, round boxwood. There are infinite ways to achieve good bones in your own garden. Each method is a chance to infuse the landscape with your personal style and creativity.
Another growing season has come and gone, and it is time to prepare your garden for winter. Spending just a little time in the garden this fall will make for a healthy and happy spring garden.
The first task most gardeners consider when preparing the garden for winter is cutting back perennials. While cutting everything to the ground may give the garden a tidy look, it does a disservice to wildlife species that can make use of some plants in the winter. Leaving perennial seed heads provides natural foraging habitat for native wildlife. In the winter months when food is scarce, gardens full of withered fruit and dried seed heads can provide birds with a reliable food source. Seed-eating songbirds such as finches, sparrows, chickadees, juncos, and jays will make use of many common garden plants. When cleaning up the garden, prioritize removing and discarding diseased top growth, but leave healthy seed heads standing. Many perennials lose all of their top growth, but when you cut the brown or yellow stalks, you will find green, lush, healthy growth at the base of the plant. Leave the ground hugging green leaves. Examples of these types of perennials are Oenothera, Salvias, Penstemons, and Scabiosas.
Shrubs that bloom on old wood (current year’s wood) are typically summer and fall bloomers. Even though it may not hurt them to be prune in the fall, I usually wait to do so until spring for more winter structure in the garden. An exception to this rule are lavender, caryopteris and buddleias (butterfly bushes). These plants should be left alone in the fall. Hydrangeas are a complex category. See our blog on pruning hydrangeas.
Do not prune evergreens in late summer or early fall. It may promote new growth that will not have time to harden off before first frost. Tender new foliage will be brown and unattractive in winter.
Anti Desiccant Sprays
If your roses or broadleaf evergreens, like rhododendrons, are in an exposed spot, or if you have recently transplanted them, it is wise to spray them in late fall with Wiltpruf, an anti-desiccant spray made from pine sap. This will keep the plants from losing valuable moisture in the cold drying winter winds. Be sure your broadleaf evergreens begin winter well watered as an added extra protective measure.
There are two different mulching chores in the fall.
Enjoy the fall colors, cool crisp air and those last warm days to put your garden to rest for the winter. A few hours in the garden this fall will reap healthy, happy plants in the spring.
Fall can feel busier than any other time of year, even more than the holidays. Whether it is the added task of raking leaves, back-to-school schedules, transitioning back to the office or playing "catch up" after returning from college drop-off or vacation, fall decorating can easily drop to the bottom of the to-do list. To get you motivated to add a seasonal welcome to your entrance, I've gathered inspiring ideas to share with you. They are simple, lovely, and inexpensive.
Regardless of your style, the examples below won't disappoint. Beautiful autumn decorations don't need to say: 'Fall' or 'Harvest'. Like landscape design, a mixture of color and texture offer attractive entrances and guide your guest's eye to the front door. The round shapes of gourds and pumpkins complimented by the feathery loose shapes of grasses make a stunning arrangement. Because the season is short, fall is a wonderful time to experiment with color and texture.
This little spot feels like a big warm hug. The single yellow mum draws attention and is the perfect pop of color. To add evening interest, the white pumpkins feel like fall and will certainly reflect the front porch light. If you have a protected spot, just simply add a pillow and blanket which can be stored and reused every year.
Absolutely the cutest and simplest idea. This is especially ideal for those of you with small spaces. The metallic color of the dots will glimmer under evening light.
Fill a lantern with colored gourds. Or use fake ones and store for next year. For a pretty effect, add some battery- powered lights. If you don't have a lantern, repurpose a large glass flower vase or pillar candle holder.
Compliment your front door by combining color and texture. This summer planter easily transitioned to a welcome fall entrance. Simply by adding some artificial , glass (reuse every year) and one or two real pumpkins, the theme easily changed. Notice how the round shape of pumpkins contrast with the large urns, and the spiky grass with yellow highlights pop against the structure. The subtle hues of purple and maroon add understated color.
Pull out a can of spray paint and color an inexpensive table, chair and plastic pumpkin. Add some writing and candle and you're ready for trick-or-treaters. The black and white outdoor pillow ties the entire ensemble together making the look sophisticated and fun.
If you love Halloween and have lots of kiddos visiting for trick-or-treating, a little investment into a few reusable decorations make this an inexpensive and fun entrance. Adding a hot pepper plant and mum keep this porch in the spirit of fall. The rocker provides the perfect place to greet neighbors and hand out candy. Replacing the bats and black netting with a fall pillow will extend this look into Thanksgiving.
Autumn is about warmth, friends and family. Let your front entrance communicate that to all who pass by and see the front of the place you call home.
We all have them…unsightly views of gas meters, A/C units, and trash cans. Particularly challenging are those large green boxes or green plates in the ground that house the cable for the neighborhood or electric poles positioned right in the center of the front yard. It is tempting to decorate and attempt to cover them with white trellises or plant a bed around it with flowering perennials and shrubs. Or to plant vines that grow up electric poles (which by the way is illegal in many areas).
Unfortunately, decorating an eyesore attracts attention and does just the opposite of the intended goal to hide it. My number one design motto is: Never decorate an eyesore. Instead, follow these tips to address the frustrating and immovable structures in your yard.
Avoid Colors / Use Neutrals: Color attracts attention. So stay away from yellow and white plants and structures. This includes yellow leaved plants. Instead, use neutral or colors that occur in nature like greens (not yellow green) and browns.
Absorb light: Use colors that absorb light like black, browns and dark greens rather than those that reflect light like whites, yellows, and silver.
Keep it natural: Inanimate objects in the landscape draw the eye. So whenever possible use dark green plant material that does NOT flower.
Create a distraction. Sometimes, due to the location of an object, planting around it or creating a structure is impossible, impractical or too costly. My pro design tip is to distract. If the problem can’t be made more attractive or cannot be hidden, then a distraction is needed. The idea is to create something more interesting, which demands attention. The best distractions don’t just look visually attractive. They have to work harder than that. As far as possible, all the senses need engaging; that way the brain concentrates processing all those sensory signals it receives at once, which means the solitary eyesore doesn’t get noticed as much. Use a lovely focal point that directs the eye away from an eyesore, like a bench, rock, birdbath, planter, door wreath or ornamental plant. Below are additional strategies specific to other landscape blemishes.
When shielding the eye from garbage bins, be sure they are conveniently assessable for daily use and easy to pull to your curb for trash pick up. If you have tight garden space, consider adding a planting station on top. The picture on left has too much color and will draw the eye towards the trash cans. Black trash cans behind the doors would fade into the shadows and be less visible. Instead of a flowering container the top could be used a potting station. The picture on the right is creative, functional and appears to be a planter box with simple greens. Some of the ideas for A/C units could be modified and used for trash receptacles.
A/C and Front Yard Utility Boxes
Flush in-ground lids for utilities and sewers
Examples from my own home
Below are my attempts to distract attention away from utility boxes and sewer access in my front yard. My neighbor planted the yews, that are naturally trimmed by the deer in our neighborhood. The Verizon workers occasionally cut them back for access. Sometimes we mulch right over the sewer lid since it is easily pushed aside by workers. Paths are an excellent strategy for pulling the eye towards a direction. In this case, I used the path to draw attention away from the utility area and towards a decorative trellis/fence panel.
Another eyesore is a gas meter near our front door and along the sidewalk from the drive to our front steps. Behind the chair is a gas meter. We hid it with an evergreen hedge; when walking on sidewalk, attention is diverted by the water feature and owl. Workers can easily walk behind or step over the hedge for access. This year, they actually replaced the gas meter without affecting the shrubs.
Hopefully, these tips and photos are instructive and even inspirational. For those of us who've been "gifted" the added challenge of dealing with an eyesore in our yard, these examples offer creative strategies for hiding or directing attention away from it.
Trees are a coveted asset to the landscape. They offer structure, shade, fall color and often lovely bark. When researching a tree for your yard, always consider it’s desired growing conditions and mature size. There are a few trees that you’ll want to avoid because they invade and prevent native plants from thriving, are poisonous, very dirty or have other undesirable characteristics for a home landscape.
Bradford or Callery pear tree: At first glance, these seem like a beneficial tree with three seasons of interest….lovely spring flowers, fruits that are eaten by birds, and a nice fall foliage. The pitfalls, unfortunately, far outweigh the positives. The branching is week and easily breaks in severe weather. Flowers have an unappealing, fishy smell. Most importantly, it is an invasive species, filling all open fields and hillsides, preventing native trees from growing. Consequently, local insects, birds, and mammals have less access to native food sources.
Norway Maple: Norway maple self-seeds everywhere and, like the Bradford pear, has become an invasive species. The shallow root system makes it impossible for plants to grow beneath the canopy. To combat invasiveness, varieties have been developed such as Crimson King, which according to a Penn State study, has less than a 1% viable seed than the original species does. Acer platanoides 'Medzam' (Medallion maple) is a virtually-seedless cultivar of Norway maple.
Sweet Gum: This tree produces seed pods that look like spiky gumballs which fall in autumn. Not only are they difficult to rake, their sharp, round exterior are dangerous to pedestrians.
Silver Maple: This fast-growing shade trees has a shallow root system that causes turf and concrete issues. Snow and wind easily damage it’s branches, causing them to break and fall.
Female Ginko (maidenhair tree): The male Ginko tree sports lovely, leathery leaves that feel and look pre-historic. The spectacular branching and yellow fall color attract the choicest buyer. It also resists diseases and insects. However, the female Ginko bears small round fruits that are not only slippery and fleshy but emit a foul odor. Be sure you know what sex you are purchasing.
Weeping Willow: This is a beautiful tree to plant along a lake or stream because it's extensive root system searches for water. In fact, this tree’s roots will go anywhere in search of water including sewer lines and septic tanks. It’s branches are also messy and break easily during windy weather.
Walnut Tree: Black Walnut is a lovely shade tree that provides a nutritious food source for native animals. It is a wonderful choice for woodlands and very large spaces. In addition, Black Walnut tolerates drought. Unfortunately, it's roots, leaves and nuts produce a chemical called juglone which is highly toxic to a wide range of desirable plants and vegetables. The husks of the nuts stain clothing, sidewalks, and driveways. Like the Sweet Gum tree, it's fallen fruits are dangerous for pedestrians. In researching this tree I found an article debunking the perceived myths of the Walnut tree. It is worth a read if you've got Walnut trees near or around your property. For me the verdict is still undecided. Plants are too expensive to risk advising clients to install shrubs and flowers that might die from exposure to juglone.
There are many excellent choices of trees you can choose to enhance your landscape. Just be sure to select one that matches what you want for mature height and shade requirements. In addition to online sources, you might want to consult the quintessential illustrated encyclopedia, "Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs" by Michael A. Dirr.
Depending on your experience, you most likely have formed an opinion on the perceived benefits of using landscape fabric in installations. This fabric is designed to inhibit weeds and keep soil from drying out. I'll clue you in on the pros versus the cons.
Landscapers and property owners need to weigh the initial benefits against the long-term problems when deciding to use landscaping fabric. Landscaping fabric is constructed from fibers woven into a solid sheet with perforated holes to allow water to soak through. Some offer UV protection to reduce deterioration. Once installed with pins, the fabric can be covered with mulch. Some of the benefits:
The pros seem to offer compelling reasons for using landscape fabric. However, a sustainable and healthy landscape or vegetable/flower garden eventually suffers from its use. Here's why:
Landscaping Fabric Alternatives:
Certainly, landscape fabric has it's fans. If this advice hasn't changed your mind, that's o.k. The intention here is to point out the flaws and offer helpful alternatives for erosion control, stabilization and weed prevention.
Common Mulch Mistakes
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