Taking Stock in the Garden

Posted: August 30, 2011

A Love - Hate Relationship

I hate gardening. At least, I hate gardening during the six weeks or so of the hottest summer weather when the amount of rainfall seems to be inverse to the level of humidity. But now, with a hint of autumn in the air, we’ve had some rain, the grass is green again, it’s a little cooler, and you can work outside for more than 5 minutes without dripping in sweat. So, I love gardening again. This is a good time of year to take stock in the garden, to begin planning improvements and changes for next year’s garden, which is, of course, always going to be the best garden ever.

Thinking back to the hottest, driest summer weather of a few weeks ago, consider which plants in your landscape were unaffected and which plants struggled as you attempted to keep them watered. In my own garden, I noticed that, among others, hollies, both deciduous and evergreen, and conifers did not seem affected by the heat or dry soil. As I happen to really like both hollies and conifers, this means I’ll plan to plant more of them, replacing some plants that fizzled in the heat and drought.

If a plant is a maintenance headache and doesn’t perform well, replace it! I know some of my Master Gardeners may disagree with me on this, but there is no rule that states you have to keep a plant until it dies. I look at getting rid of a miserable plant as an opportunity for improvement. If your time and water are limited, select ornamental plants that will be attractive through several seasons; that are adapted to the site conditions; that won’t become invasive; and that won’t require constant coddling to stay alive through the worst of summer’s weather. If you need help with some suggestions, contact me at the Extension office.

The expression “fall is for planting” is true up to a point: early autumn (until about October 15 at the latest) is a great time to plant ornamental trees and shrubs, since the weather is cooler with usually more consistent rainfall. But a plant is only as good as its planting, so even the best plant will not live up to its potential if it is poorly planted and not given some TLC in its early life.

Trees and shrubs planted in fall will need consistent moisture to their roots until the ground freezes in winter and then through the following spring and summer at least. Depending on the weather, you have to be prepared to water for at least the first year, often even longer. Particularly with conifers or broad-leaved evergreens, which lose moisture through their foliage even when the ground is frozen, if you cannot water the plants well and consistently, wait until spring to plant when rainfall is usually more reliable and the roots have a longer growing season to get established.

I find it distressing to see the number of trees and shrubs planted in community developments or at commercial sites that start dying as soon as they are planted. Not because the particular species was a poor choice for the site, although that’s a possibility, but because the tree was poorly planted and never watered or maintained properly afterward. It’s even worse if the tree was planted as a memorial to a loved one, and it’s dead within a year or two.