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By modigliani74
July 18, 2002

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I am a newly addicted gardening junkie with a new construction home (19 months old). DH and I have done considerable landscaping and gardening, In spite of my never having dug a hole in my life, pre-home ownership. I thought some of what I have learned may be useful, so here goes.

1. We drew out a to scale plan of our lot with the house on it and sidewalks, decks, patios, existing trees, rocks, water mains etc. This was boring to do, but I think in the end it saved us a ton of $ in buying the wrong plants.

2. We wander around regularly and have a good sense of where we get full sun (part of the north side of our lot actually), dappled shade (south side from trees) and full shade.

3. We dig here and there and have soil tests done wherever we have decided to put a bed. We discovered our builder compacted the *&^% out of the back yard, but part of the side still has original uncompacted topsoil, and that we are low on phosphorus all over, and need organic matter added in over 70% of our yard before landscaping. So we know to add organic matter and phosphorus when we plant, and that the hardest spot to plant is in the back. If we had not done this, we would have regularly bought plants that would have slowly died, a much bigger waste of $ than the cost of the soil tests.

4. Catalogs are your friend...for ideas of what grows where...wet vs. dry, fussy vs. low maintenance, sun vs. shade, can deal with our midwest clay soil or not. We buy some things from these catalogs of course but more frequently end up buying locally. I feel in most cases trees and shrubs especially are better from the local garden sources, while bulbs have been better for me from catalogs. Perennials I usually grow from catalog seeds because if I need 12 of the same plant, it is usually cheaper that way. And in landscaping, repetition is usually a big part of making it look nice. Never just one of anything, excluding shade trees.

5. Local botanical gardens are your friend. You can go weekly and see what they have planted and especially what grows well in your difficult season...for us hot humid summers are hard. You also get a sense of "oh, that is pretty but blooms only a week while I like that plant that has been blooming 3 weeks just as well." Universities often have tagged trees so you can see a mature specimen and then get details on it at home to see whether it actually suits your needs.

6. I actually love annuals, especially as you try to establish a perennial bed from tiny sprigs of plants to save cash...it can fill in until you have enough mature specimens to really put on a show. At $1.25 for a 6 pack or so vs. $4 and up per plant for perennials here, it is a good way to get an idea of what you like or don't like color-wise/design wise, and if some places have better worse dirt than others in your bed before planting the more costly perennials. You can correct if you salvia shrivels in the same sunlight conditions 15 ft into a bed by adding organic matter before you plant next year.

7. Swapping plants with neighbors is a great way to build your garden up.

8. Organic matter added to your soil fixes a whole lot of garden woes and saves you a whole lot of work trying to baby new plants. So does newspaper...it functions like landscape fabric, smothering our grass and weeds under mulch...for free.

9. City mulch in fall is often primarily leaf mould from fall rakings and can function as a compost for your plants before winter. Not the only food they need, but it decomposes quickly adding better soil texture and nutrients, and it's free in most cities.

10. Soaker hoses are great for newly planted beds for a year or two. Saves time and water.

11. Don't fight nature and your inclinations. Plant plants together with similar needs. For example we trenched the north side of our house and added peat moss to the soil we hauled in. We planted azaleas and rhododendrons all the way along it. I usually reserve my porch and driveway bed for my highest maintenance plantings, while the rear border is primarily shrubs and ornamental trees with some easy care perennials over 2' tall so we can see them from the house.

12. I honestly think in most cases the place to cheap it when you start no a bare plot from new construction is on the plants. The dirt/fertilizer/aeration doesn't disappear if you kill one plant, and sending money here tends to keep you from killing as many plants. So early on, spend your money there.

13. Decide how each area will function and plant accordingly. I have a year round driveway bed with everything from hellebores to spring bulbs to summer perennials to fall color since we see this spot every single day. My porch bed has spring bulbs and summer annuals because I don't like it to have an "off" time. These two planting are as "fussy" as I care to get. I see them daily so I don't forget to water, etc. We have a large shrub/small ornamental tree border at the back of our lot which is colorful from the house for the hot part of summer with lilies, English shrub roses, lavender, dames rocket and clematis, shrubs with good fall foliage color, and winter berries and evergreen foliage on some shrubs. We have spring and early summer plants all around since we tend to garden a lot and be in the yard from March until June, so can appreciate them while we wander.

14. Another tip for new homes. Concrete leaches into the soil and changes the chemistry, making it more alkaline. Often you can use acid loving plant foods on plants that are not acid lovers every few times you fertilize around driveways, the foundation, and patios.

15. Lightening foliage is usually a result of a) needing nitrogen, b) needing iron, 3) needing micronutrients (usually happens when you have been watering due to lack of rain, because tap water doesn't provide all of the micronutrients.

16. I see tons of people planting trees too close together and way too close to the house. A good rule of thumb is to check with your county extension for mature tree sizes and plant according to what they say it needs space wise. For a 2 story house a 30-50 ft tree is about as big of a tree as you need for a lot 1/2 acre or less, and usually look best if it is in the back yard or side yard (e.g. not right in front of your house). For a one-story house, ornamental trees of about 10-20 ft work best. They are in scale with most ranch houses. Also...if you spend money anywhere for professional advice and quality specimens, I think you want to with your trees. They are very costly to remove so are less forgiving than other potential mistakes you can make.

17. Know your USDA zone. Many, many garden centers sell perennials and shrubs a zone or so out of their range. With a warm winter it will come back, but inevitably will be killed by the elements at some point or require significantly more babying. So make sure you know your zone and buy accordingly.

That's all from me. Hope this helps some gardening newbies, and any other tips you all have would be appreciated!


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