The Garden Guru: Landscapes mature much like families
Like any other living, breathing being, your landscape will go through phases. Over the years, your needs and expectations will change. And, likely, so will the plantings you made 10 or 20 years earlier.
This is the same thing that happens to the inside of your house. The baby's room becomes a home office because the baby just left for college. The shag carpet finally makes its way to the landfill (or wherever shag carpet crawls off to die).
Things just change, and it's those changes in your landscape that make gardening such an enjoyable hobby. You're never really finished. There's always something to fuel the fire of landscaping excitement. Let's look at some of the most noticeable shifts you're likely to encounter.
Sooner or later, if you live in a house long enough, those little trees that you planted will grow into magnificent specimens, taking their place in our vast urban forest. You wanted shade, and that's just what they're bringing. Heavy shade. Kill-the-grass shade. Shade that makes you cry out for an entirely new group of plants that won't need sunlight to survive.
It's not uncommon, when trees grow to full size, for gardeners to have to redesign beds to conceal big patches of bare ground. St. Augustine is our most shade-tolerant turfgrass, but even it has to have four to six hours of full, direct sunlight each day -- and that's just to hold its own.
If the dead areas in your turf align proportionately with the shadier spots, you need to switch over to mondograss, liriope or some other shade-tolerant groundcover. Even purple wintercreeper euonymus and Asian jasmine, normally thought of as full-sun plants, will outperform grass in heavy shade.
Roses give way to hollies, and lantanas and copper plants make room for begonias and ferns. The look of the landscape must be tweaked and fine-tuned to fit the surroundings.
Taming the tall plants
Like children, young plants look handsome and harmless. Then they become teenagers, and your struggles begin. Both plants and children become large and boisterous. We do our best to control them. Try as we will, they seem to ignore all efforts to guide them.
There are several good reasons that we end up with the wrong plants for our spaces. Maybe we never looked at the plant tag to see how tall or wide it would grow. We probably never sought help from a Texas Master Certified Nursery Professional. Or maybe we just assumed we could keep a plant in bounds by pruning as needed. We soon discovered that "as needed" had turned into a weekly chore.
If you have an 8-foot shrub where a 4-foot one would do, rather than pruning incessantly, maybe you should dig and remove it. That gives you the chance to choose a species better suited to the space.
The past 10 or 15 years have seen a massive number of new plants brought into the market. Some are types we've never seen before, but many are improved selections of old favorites. Many are trademarked hybrids, chosen both for their unique habits and for the grower's ability to claim royalties on a plant no one else has.
These new types of plants deserve your consideration. You'll find new crotons, colocasias and coleus, and you'll run into unusual abelias, nandinas, crape myrtles and hollies. In just about any plant group, you'll find something new and exciting. They're a great way of creating a fresh look in your gardens.
Room for recreation
How your family uses its landscape shifts as kids mature. Where you once built a playhouse, now you want a flower garden or greenhouse. Our lives and expectations change as we and the people around us mature or move on. Your landscape is there to serve you. Repurpose your property so that it will provide for your needs.
Scaling things down
Many of us develop a few frailties as we stack on the years. We decide that it's just fine to shrink the size of our color beds, and we opt for a few herbs and vegetables instead of a farm garden. Many of us have found, through trying to keep up with old dreams, that it's a lot easier on our minds and our bodies if we simplify and go back to the basics. Low-maintenance, trouble-free plants in gentle garden designs -- it's really a pretty good concept.
Neil Sperry publishes "Gardens" magazine and hosts Texas Gardening from 8 to 11 a.m. Sundays on WBAP AM/FM. Reach him during those hours at 800-288-9227 or 214-787-1820.