University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime News Article


GARDENING TIPS FROM DESIGNERS
 
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
       
Here are a few easy tips on garden maintenance from professionals that can make your own landscape more beautiful and successful.
           
Have upright plants that tend to flop or get out of control?  Then wrap with monofilament fishing line to keep their shape.
           
Leave seedheads on your perennials, unless of course their seeding such as with mallows will take over your garden.  Leaving these seedheads is attractive in fall and with early winter snows.  Think of them as dried flower arrangements.  I especially like the tall, whitish seedheads of eulalia (Miscanthus) grasses in my garden backlit by the late afternoon sun.  And leaving seeds is good for the environment by providing food for birds. 
           
To keep some perennials such as Russian sage and some spreading yarrow in shape and bounds, dig up their suckers coming up from around the bases of the plants.  These can then be moved elsewhere or given to friends.
          
If you have plants such as beardtongue (Penstemon) and tickseed that need good drainage, or if you have heavy clay soil, consider amending it with sand and gravel.  Add these to garden soil (half soil, half sand gravel mixture in equal parts) to make it fast draining, what you see in English books called "sharp" soil.  Best is to make a berm of this mixture to plant in, on top of the existing poor soil.
           
If some taller perennials such as Queen of the Meadow (Filipendula) become unattractive late in the season, cut stems back nearly to the ground.  This will encourage new basal growth from which the new plants appear in spring.  If in doubt whether to cut back, look for these new shoots at the base in fall.
           
If deer and rabbits browse your plants, consider planting a border of sage and artemisias around the desirable ones. By first meeting up with aromatic plants (many other herbs work too), such visitors may be discouraged from eating further into your garden.
           
If you have named varieties in your garden, other than just a red this or white that, keep them labeled.  This way you know what you like and that grows best, and aren't stumped when guests ask you about a particular plant.  Many professionals use oil-based markers, which last much longer compared to regular markers.  Others, including myself, find a pencil holds up better than most inks including the "permanent" ones.
           
Some shrubs or small trees such as smoketrees (Cotinus) and willows (Salix) can be cut back almost to the ground level, preferably in winter or early spring.  This type of pruning is termed "coppicing" and results in a dense and lower habit of growth.
           
A tip I learned from a pro some years ago, and see recommended by others, is the pot-in-pot method of gardening.  This involves sinking a pot (generally plastic) in the ground of the same size as the plant you want in your garden.  You then slip the potted plant into the in-ground pot.  This allows you to switch perennials such as daylilies out when finished blooming, to replace with another in bloom.  It allows you also to have tender perennials in your garden during the summer, and easily bring them in to a cool but non-freezing location to overwinter.  You can hide the pot rims with soil or mulch.  I even use this method in large containers.
           
If you're like many in New England, you may have rocks in your landscape.  If so, consider creating a rock garden.  One of the keys to a realistic appearance is to not just pile the rocks on the ground, but to bury them by one-third of their height.  An easy way to do this, especially if adding such a garden as a raised bed on top of poor soil, is to place the rocks and then add soil around and among them making sure they are partially buried.
           
If you have average to dry soil, but want moisture-loving plants, just make a shallow depression in your garden.  This may be all that is needed to hold some extra water for such plants as sedges (Carex) and groundsel (Ligularia).  If not, or the plants need more water, consider lining the depression first with plastic (containing a few holes for minimal drainage).  If for bog plants, consider adding a good dose of peat moss to the shallow basin.
           
Other tips from professionals including many on garden design, as well as simple plant combinations,  can be found in the book from Storey Publishing by Scott Calhoun, Designer Plant Combinations.
   

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