Lawn and Garden – Misc Notes

2011-07-20 Updated

2010-09-08 Initial Post

MISC

• During the first spring/summer after the tree leaves have grown back in, make a note of how much sunlight each area of your property gets per day. You’d want to check this in the spring/summer when all the trees are full of leaves because that will block the sun to certain areas. Even if you don’t plan to plant anything right away, you’ll have this information so you can start making plans regarding which types of plants will do well in which areas. This is important because some plants require a lot of sunlight and some are shade-tolerant.

The easiest way to document the sunlight hours is to take pictures of your house from the front and back, every hour from morning until evening. Do this on a sunny day when it's not very windy outside. I took pictures from the front right corner and the rear right corner, which pretty much covered all major areas on my 1/5 acre property.

• Utilize your local Cooperative Extension for free information/advice on lawn and garden care. A Cooperative Extension is a government/university sponsored program and should be available in most areas. In my area, the co-op ext is at the county level and is run by a state university.

• You can get a soil test kit from Scotts. It cost $15, which was the same price that my local co-op ext charged. With the local co-op ext kit, I’d have to drive over 15 minutes to pick up the kit and the sample would need to be mailed to a lab anyway. The kits are a good way to determine what your lawn needs instead of just blindly utilizing fertilizer.

LANDSCAPE DESIGN

• Pick plants that are appropriate for the location. Some plants need several hours of sun, so don't put them in a location that only gets 2 hours of sun. If the plants don’t get the required sunlight hours, most will probably be hardy enough to grow anyway, but won’t grow to their full potential.

• Check the mature size of the plant to determine how much space to give it. I see many trees that have mature heights and widths of over 20 ft being planted 5 ft from a house. Once the tree has established itself after a few years, transplanting it might not be feasible and letting it grow will result in the branches interfering with windows, gutters, etc.

• In general, plant taller plants behind shorter plants (this refers to MATURE height, so things might not look right during the first few seasons).

• If you pick plants with different bloom times and put them close to each other, you’ll have color for longer periods of time. For example, if all your plants bloom in the spring, then the rest of the time everything will just be plain green, which is not very pleasing to look at.

• Regarding smaller plants and shrubs, it looks very messy if the plants are planted closely together and not pruned and maintained. Also, dense areas of plants can be used as cover by vermin and even criminals. Also, plants that are too close to each other will have to compete for water and nutrients. You should plant at least as wide apart as necessary for the mature width of the largest plant.

• The local nurseries normally only carry plants that will do well in the local area, so you normally don’t need to worry about selecting something that's good for your area.

• When shopping for plants, I make note of only these four things: 1.) name, 2.) mature size, 3.) bloom time, and 4.) sun requirements.

PLANTING

• When planting, always dig at deep as the container/root ball and at least twice as wide as the container/root ball. For tress, the trunk flare (the section where the base of the trunk starts to widen) should be visible and slightly above ground level—you can leave it 1 - 2 in above ground level to compensate for settling. I find that it’s easier to first dig the hole to the desired depth and then widen it.

• Shrubs/bushes actually take a little more time to plant because the multiple, low lying, stems make it harder to fill in the hole and to mulch around. I found this out when I planted some azaleas.

• Do not mulch directly up to the base of the plant. Always leave a mulch-free ring around the plant. Depending on the size of the plant, the ring can be a few inches to a foot wide. Mulch to a depth of 2 – 4 in—more for coarsely textured mulch and less for finely textured mulch. Cedar mulch is resistant to insects (termites). Note that there are brands of mulch which have cedar mulch “blends” which means they’re not 100% cedar, so read the fine print!

• Do not use rubber or non-organic matter as mulch around plants. One reason for using mulch is to provide nutrients for the plants. If the mulch is made of rubber or stone, it will never break down to provide nutrients to the plant. Stone mulch can retain a lot of heat and doesn’t help retain as much water as wood chips, so stone is actually very bad as a plant mulch. Remember, mulching is not just for decorative reasons—it provides many benefits to the plants when applied properly.

• Don’t use plastic as a weed barrier for ornamental plants; use weed block fabric, which allows air and water to pass down into the soil. Plastic does have some use in vegetable gardens.

• Use both landscape fabric and mulch to make it tougher for weeds to grow through. The fabric is not expensive and is easy to work with. It’ll take a bit of time to adjust and trim the fabric, but it’ll save time from having to weed later on. Weed block fabric will not prevent 100% of weed growth, but will cut down a significant amount.

MAINTENANCE

• Prune during dormant periods such as start of fall. You don’t want to prune when the plant is actively growing, such as during the late spring.

• Remove side shoots from trees (branches that start growing from the side). The reason for doing this is aesthetic as well as helping the tree to focus more on growing the top and roots. The side branches can eventually get very large, so remove them as soon as you see them growing out.

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