March 14, 2014

The Garden Guru: The spring edit

After our frosty winter, most North Texas landscapes will need changes — so start with a plan, then get to work on revisions.

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With the rough winter behind us, perhaps it’s time to do some serious planning of where we want our landscaping to take us.

Many of us lost cold-sensitive plants over the past several months. Others of us have plantings that have been sheared a few times too many over the past few years. But whatever the reason, we find ourselves wanting some changes. This could be your time.

Begin by assessing your landscaping goals and how they might have changed since things were first planted. Perhaps it’s time to repurpose the sandbox and convert it into a raised bed for perennials. Maybe it’s time for the spa or pool you’ve always wanted, or maybe you want to convert a vegetable plot into space for a hobby greenhouse.

Make a list of goals and set your priorities.

Mixed in with that, make note of those really special plants that are on the “protected” list — the trees and shrubs that are healthy and vigorous, properly placed, and still contributing to their parts of the gardens. They’re the plants that will stay. They’re the plants around which your new landscaping will form.

Certain parts of your “hardscaping” will also remain, but remember that it’s not difficult to remove and replace walks, patios and even driveways if the old ones are too restricting for your new landscaping dreams. Leave as many options open as possible.

If you’re fairly skilled at room design, you’ll probably find planning a landscape makeover to be exciting. For some, however, it’s an overwhelming task, and that’s the time to call on a professional designer at your favorite local nursery, or perhaps even a licensed landscape architect.

That person will ask many of the questions we’ve just addressed. Once they have the answers from you, their creative juices will start to flow.

These landscaping second chances are your best opportunity to break away from the boringly straight rows of shrubs that do nothing more than repeat the architectural lines of your house. This is your chance to develop curved beds with flair toward the more relaxed, natural look.

This is when you can remove the one or two plant species that made up most of your landscape and replace them with five to seven types of plants in natural-looking clusters and groups. You’ll be amazed at how good it can look if you strive for simple and natural (not formally trimmed) results.

Looking for filler

One of the most difficult situations gardeners face is when one plant or cluster of plants dies (from cold, drought, foundation repairs, etc.), leaving healthy plants alongside the voids. Often the surviving shrubs are bare-sided due to shading and crowding, and it’s hard to know what would look best in the gap.

A friend was showing me the inevitable phone-photos of such a hole in her landscape. Three oleanders had died to the ground, and she was wondering whether she should wait on them to regrow or to replant with something different.

Looking at her photos as best I could on that small screen, and seeing the naked sides of her Burford hollies, I suggested a pretty major redo of the entire bed. I told her that the hollies would probably never fill in again down at their bases, and this would be the time to widen the bed, plant all new plants and focus on types that would be better suited over the long haul.

Her oleanders would just continue to freeze, and her Burford hollies were always going to be too tall. I suggested Sea Green junipers, compact nandinas and shorter types of hollies.

How to choose

If you’re planning landscaping revisions this spring, there are three other things to consider.

First, stick with plants listed as winter-hardy to Zone 7 and northward. While the USDA 2012 Plant Hardiness Zone Map shows us to be in Zone 8, those figures were skewed by many warm winters in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Gardenias, oleanders, loquats, fatsias, pittosporums, star jasmine and the unrelated primrose jasmine, all Zone 8 plants, were killed by the cold. Stick with Zone 7 whenever possible.

Second, relative to drought, check your local water restrictions. You’re going to be watering the new plantings by hand anyway for the first couple of years, and that kind of irrigation is allowed under most areas’ rules. But find out beforehand.

Finally, there is a temptation to lean heavily on West Texas natives in these dry times, but we need to remember that those plants are not native here, and that there must be a reason. Often that reason is that they can’t survive the extended rainy spells we do have from time to time.

This is a wonderful time to be gardening in North Central Texas. Perhaps what has happened in the past three or four months can be converted into something positive. This is a good time to start making that happen.

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