Saturday, August 13, 2011

Perfect Cornucopia Advice

Perfect Cornucopia advice... for your garden.... for your life...
What do you need? What is working? What is not? What will you keep? What will you eliminate?

Thank you Dan Gill.

Take stock of your landscape
Published: Thursday, August 11, 2011, 8:00 PM
By Dan Gill, Times-Picayune garden columnist

It's really too hot to do much of anything strenuous in the garden this time of the year.

I would certainly put off labor-intensive jobs such as creating new beds (or even reworking old beds), building structures like decks and arbors or major landscape plantings.

About all I feel like doing now is slowly strolling around my gardens in the early morning or late evening when the temperatures are somewhat cooler. Oh, I'll stop to take care of some weed issues (that never ends). Still, I try to keep the physical activity to a minimum. But, I'm not wasting time.

I'm doing three important things as I ramble around my landscape.

First, I'm enjoying it. I'm appreciating the beautiful flowers and bright colors of summer bedding plants and tropicals blooming this time of year. I'm sticking my nose into the flowers of butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium) and devouring the wonderful fragrance. You work hard to create and maintain your gardens -- don't forget to appreciate and enjoy them.

Second, I'm evaluating. I'm looking carefully at how well new plants are doing in this stressful late-summer weather. I'm also scrutinizing new plantings to see if plant and color combinations look as good in the garden as they did in my mind.

Finally, I'm re-evaluating my landscape. I tend to do this fairly constantly to some degree, but this time of the year I like to put a little extra thought into it. This is a good thing for everyone to do.

Why re-evaluate

As landscapes mature, things change. Trees get taller and cast deeper shade, and bushes can become overgrown.

People's lifestyles also change, and that area given over to a sandbox or a swing set may no longer be needed. Or you may have purchased an older home with mature plantings that no longer work well, or at least they don't satisfy you. Maybe the arrival of a new baby limits the amount of time you once had to maintain your gardens.

Whatever the reason, reevaluation is an important part of maintaining a landscape that is attractive and provides for the current needs of a family.

To start re-evaluating a landscape, you have to take a hard, honest look at what you have.

Changes in the garden can happen subtly over years, and you might overlook the obvious, such as an increase in shade or a physical change in your garden, unless you really focus.

Or, there are more sudden changes that haven't been properly integrated into the landscape. Maybe you added a deck, for instance, and traffic patterns have changed, but you haven't reworked the walkways.

Pretend you are the new owner of the house and garden you are surveying, and look at it with as much objectivity as you can.


One of the biggest changes that can creep up silently on a landscape over time is the growth of trees. They not only grow taller and larger, but they can dramatically influence what can or can't grow under or around them.

If your landscape has been planted for a number of years, you may find that some plants don't perform as well as they used to.

You might notice, for instance, that a bed of azaleas that has bloomed well for many years is no longer doing so, and the plants look leggy and thin. It could be that they need more light. Trees that were smaller when the azaleas were planted will grow larger over the years and cast more and deeper shade.

Lawns also often succumb to shade from a tree that has grown large over the years.

When shade makes existing plants grow poorly and look bad, consider removing those plants and replacing them with something more shade-tolerant. Plant areas where grass will not grow with shade-loving ground covers such as monkey grass or Asiatic jasmine.

In a few rare circumstances, you may decide that too many trees were planted in the landscape (easy to do, since trees are small when first planted). Sometimes it's necessary to make the difficult decision to remove a tree.


Overgrown shrubs can be trimmed back, trimmed up or removed entirely if no longer desirable.

It can be visually unattractive for a while, but a severe trimming can rejuvenate some types of old shrubs.

Hard pruning is best done just before shrubs start active growth. February or March is a good time to hard-prune shrubs that bloom in the summer. Prune spring-flowering shrubs in late March or April after they flower.

Once they begin growing again, you can control their size with regular pruning.

In other cases, if height is not an issue, you can trim a shrub up. To do this, selectively remove the lower branches of an overgrown shrub, training it into a small tree-form. This opens up space under and around the plant, making it less dominant.

Do you find yourself constantly pruning back shrubs that are too large for the area where they are planted? This is a fight you will never win. Often, removing and replacing these shrubs is the best idea. If you do decide to do this, make sure that you select new shrubs that will not grow too large for their location.

Planning ahead

The best time for planting hardy trees, shrubs ground covers and perennials in the landscape is November through March, with fall and early winter being best. That's why now is a good time to start doing this type of re-evaluation.

It gives you plenty of time to rethink your landscape and make plans for what needs to be done when the weather turns cooler.

And it's a great way to avoid working hard out in this hot weather, while still doing something important.

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