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Where you should (and shouldn’t) spend your landscaping money

Want to plant a garden but aren’t trying to rip up your whole yard at once? Try this strategy

Learn a simple, add-as-you-go strategy for building a backyard oasis.
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Learn a simple, add-as-you-go strategy for building a backyard oasis.

A friend asked me about a particular gardening product the other day. Because he was a friend, and because I knew he wouldn’t go out and broadcast my comments, I told him, “That thing is a big hunk of junk.” And so, I think I saved him some money.

It makes me sad when I see gardeners wasting their money and soon thereafter dashing their dreams with plants, products and processes that aren’t going to work. I thought maybe I could share a few of those thoughts with you now.

The best landscaping expenditures

Landscape plans. Do you remember the “olden days” before GPS devices? You had folding roadmaps, and you actually used them to plan every journey. You knew that you had to, because without a trip plan to guide you, you’d soon go off course. Well, gardener, it’s exactly the same now with your landscape. The plan is your roadmap, and it ensures you will get to the right destination. If it’s drawn to scale, and if the person doing the drawing is skilled at assembling the course, the journey will be pleasant and highly rewarding.

Best possible plant species. If you hire a plumber, he or she will show up with all the right wrenches. And if you hire a piano tuner, it will be another set of wrenches or whatever it is that they use – it will be the right tools for the job. You and your landscape designer need to know the plants you’ll be choosing. Can they survive the sun, the heat and the cold and the soil you can provide for them? Do they grow the right size, and are they prone to pests that might ruin them? Will they look good together? Those are all questions that will need to be answered.

Do the best possible bed preparation. This is equivalent to laying a good foundation for a new house. The better the foundation, the better the house. If you’re preparing a bed for groundcover, annuals, perennials or even small shrubs, rototill to a depth of 10 to 12 inches, blending in 5 or 6 inches of sphagnum peat moss, finely ground pine bark mulch, rotted manure, compost and expanded shade. That will provide almost potting-soil-like soil, and it will ensure outstanding drainage at the same time.

Care for your plants after planting. Oh, so many people fall down on this one. Stake and guy new trees to keep them plumb. Protect their trunks so the cables won’t rub through them. Wrap the trunks of new red oaks, chinquapin oaks and Chinese pistachios with paper tree wrap to protect against sunscald and borer invasion for their first year or two. And above all, water all new plants by hand with a water breaker and water wand. Water deeply and twice weekly to be sure they don’t dry out. Sprinkler irrigation alone will not be sufficient. This is the single biggest cause of plant loss in the first year.

The worst landscaping expenditures

Cheap plants. “Bargain” plants rarely are a good bargain. Shop at reputable, full-time retail garden centers that will be there to stand behind their plants should they run into problems. Bagged perennials hanging off racks inside stores are shaky investments. That’s where you get inferior, under-sized bulbs or dried-out perennials that probably weren’t all that well adapted anyway. Container-grown plants that are healthy and vigorous are much better. Invest in the best.

Fast-growing trees. There is no good, fast-growing shade tree! They all have at least one fatal flaw that will kill them within 10 to 25 years. “Fast shade” soon becomes “dead shade.” Invest in quality: oaks, pecans, cedar elm, Chinese pistachios, magnolias, eastern redcedar junipers. Buy healthy, vigorous trees from reputable nurseries. Look for trees that have no trunk damage. Plant them as soon as you get them home. Set them at the same depth at which they were growing in the nursery. Your moderate-growing tree will take off and out-perform the fast trees every time.

Cheap tools. Gardening in Texas is rough work. It calls for tough tools. Reinforced handles. Strong blades. Good tools are made to last for several times longer than cheap equipment and to work better and more easily than cheap tools in the process. Your body will appreciate the investment you’ll make.

Wrong pest control products. Know the plants that you’re growing. That’s the first step in identifying their problems. What impacts one type of plant won’t bother another. Learn the early symptoms of outbreaks and know what product is best to control it. Apply it at first signs of an invasion. Repeat the treatment if necessary a week or two later. Don’t let problems get ahead of you.

You can hear Neil Sperry on KLIF 570AM on Saturday afternoons 1-3 pm and on WBAP 820AM Sunday mornings 8-10 am. Join him at www.neilsperry.com and follow him on Facebook.

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