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The Attention Your Landscape Needs

Part of the joy of landscaping is the care and maintenance you give to your yard. Depending on the type of plantings and the size, some gardens can require constant full-time care. If you not a big fan of yard maintenance, it might be wise to design a yard that’s easy to care for.

The first thing to remember with any “yardscape” is that it’s a living, breathing entity. Even the simplest, easy-to-care yard will need watering, feeding, cleaning, and disease prevention.

Consider the following list of projects around the yard:

Flower Beds and Planting Areas. The amount of time spent here will depend on your plantings. Some plants require constant attention; others are relatively maintenance free. Most flowerbeds contain perennials, which are plants that come back year after year—expect some to die off over the winter. Check the condition of plants during spring, and replace dead plants with new ones.

Cover ground with an organic mulch. This will help the soil retain moisture and keeps weeds to a minimum. Many flowers do best when you dead-head them (pinch off spent blooms), which encourages more flower growth. After the first hard freeze, cut back all the branches of your plants. And cover plants with mulch to protect them during the cold winter months.

Refuse Removal. During the fall, many plants lose their leaves. This leaf material makes a great natural mulch to cover and protect your plants against the cold winter. Remove all leaves from the lawn areas. The layer of leaves can restrict the amount of light reaching the lawn and trap water near the roots. If you have too many leaves, many cities offer leaf-pick-ups with their trash pick-ups.

Hedge and Tree Trimming. Shrubs and trees need seasonal trimming. Get a pruning instrument and cut off any dead branches. You may also need to prune back live branches that are getting out of control. Many hedges need to be re-shaped several times a summer. Electrical hedge sheers reduce a lot of arm strain on larger hedges. Do not prune or trim during the fall. This will stimulate growth during a time when the plants should be starting their dormant phase.

Insect Control. Nature has a cycle of life, and insects are a part of that. Most healthy plants stay relatively insect-free. For the occasional infestation, consider using natural methods of removal. Sometimes a plant can be washed down with a strong stream of water. Or many garden centers sell other insects (like ladybugs) to get rid of bugs and worms. Chemicals are also a choice; however, you should use extreme caution when applying them. They will not only harm “bad” bugs, but “good” bugs too. They can also harm household animals, birds, children and adults when applied incorrectly.

Consider using household “natural” chemicals to control insects. (For example, placing a shallow plate filled with beer in your slug-infested garden often will attract then kill the slimy critters who chew holes in leaves.)

Spring Clean-up. This rite of spring signals the start of the growing season. Most gardens will need a good raking to clean out the leftover leaves and trash that have built up over the cold months. Consider applying a fresh layer of mulch to protect the fresh shoots from a late zapping of frost. This mulch will also keep the ground moist and cool during the summer months and keep weeds at a minimum. And over time, the mulch will work its way into the soil and revitalize it. For best results, choose a mulch made of small organic pieces—”bark fines” or another material like recycled cocoa shells work well. Mulch made from larger wood pieces (like cedar strips or aspen) will take longer to break down into the soil.

Weeding. Ughhh! They just keep coming back! Removing the entire unwanted “weed” by its roots is the surest way to get rid of it. Herbicides do work, but use extreme caution when applying. They will not only kill the “weed” but also other nearby plants. In planting beds, you can keep weeds to a minimum by covering the soil with an inch or two of mulch.

Mowing. The frequency depends on how much you water and feed your lawn. Mowing once a week is typical. Don’t cut the blades of grass too short. Longer grass is healthier and retains water better. Many mowers come with “mulching” option that cuts the grass into tiny bits and returns them back to the lawn. This returns important nutrients back to the soil and reduces the amount of fertilizer you need. It also eliminates the need to bag the grass.

Sprinkler Maintenance. A well-designed, professionally-installed sprinkler system should need little maintenance over time. However, you will need to “winterize” it during the fall and start it up during the spring. You system has several pipes that can freeze and burst during winter. Either drain or “blow out” the water from the pipes in mid fall when your yard has gone dormant. Also turn off the timer so it can’t accidentally start during the winter. In the spring, you’ll need to re-start the system by turning on the timer and possibly turning on a master valve. (Check your system guide for details.)

Feeding. Your yard needs food! Depending on your climate, your lawn may need 2 to 5 feedings per growing season. And your growing beds could also use some food. Chemical fertilizers work, however there are several natural organic options too.

Weed prevention: An inch-thick layer of mulch will keep your planting beds relatively weed-free. The best weed-prevention for lawns is a healthy lawn. Grass is a plant that grows thick and bushy when healthy. This usually will choke out any other “weeds” that could grow there. Exceptions are plants like crabgrass. These grow from seed every year. Some chemical fertilizers come with a “pre-emergent” which kills the seeds in the spring when the plants are dormant.

Core Aeration. Aerate your lawn at least twice a year. This reduces the soil compaction and allows air and water to cycle in and out of the soil. Your lawn will thank you by growing thick and healthy every year.

Thatching. This is a layer of dead grass that builds up over time just above the soil surface and needs to be removed. Regular aeration often removes a lot of thatch. You can also “de-thatch” your lawn in the early spring with a special machine. Do it while the lawn is still dormant, or else you can damage your lawn.

Perenniel or Annual. When planning your flowerbeds, remember that a perennial plant is one that, once planted, will come back year after year, while an annual is one that is planted for only one season.

Landscaping Styles. Over the centuries, gardening has developed lots of landscaping specialties.

Here are a few to inspire you:

Topiary. Remember the movie Edward Scissorhands, about a young man who crafts amazing shapes and sculptures by trimming bushes and trees? Topiary design has been for years, and it’s largely popular in more formal gardens.

Shade gardening. Some plants do better with less sun. This has sparked a recent trend toward shade gardening. These types of plants and flowers do great under the large canopy of a shade tree or a man-made trellis.

Butterfly gardening. Dozens of butterfly or bird species common to your area make a welcome addition to many gardens. Certain species of plants provide a food source and are useful for attracting these flying friends. Create areas that are open yet protected from the wind.

Rock gardens. While rocks make a wonderful addition to any garden, some gardens are made entirely of rocks. They can be very natural looking. Create a Japanese-style rock garden or choose specific plants to fit between the cracks of the rocks.

Xeriscaping. As much as 50-percent of household water is used for the yard and garden. This landscape specialty includes lots of low-water plants and flowers as well as design ideas to reduce needless water evaporation.

Organic. It’s becoming a more popular trend to grow plants organically. That means no chemical fertilizers or sprays and an environmentally conscious way to create a beautiful outdoor living space.

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