Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
January, 2006
Regional Report

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Good planning helped this gardener transform a boring front yard into a beautiful landscape.

Plan Before You Plant

The fall and winter seasons are prime times for establishing a new landscape or renovating an existing one. A well-designed landscape can add considerable value to a home. It can be a source of satisfaction and years of enjoyment.

Perhaps you are planning some landscape changes this year. Watch a few gardening programs on television, go visit a home and garden show, or glance through some gardening books and magazines and you'll gain a lot of inspiration. However, when spring fever hits, the inspiration to get out there and plant can lead to some hasty decisions and ill-fated efforts. One of the most common mistakes made in landscaping is failure to start with a plan.

Oh, how we love to buy new plants! Walk me through a garden center and I can show you dozens of things I just must have. We plant people badly need a 12-step program. Plant people become plant collectors. We need one of everything -- maybe two or three. We buy a plant because we want that plant, not because we have a place for it. We can fill up the entire property really fast. Then it looks like a hodge-podge rather than a design. Failure to begin with a plan results in a lack of continuity in the landscape design.

Some of this is due to impulse buying and some to just jumping off into building a planting bed without knowing why it is there. Just because you have plants is no reason to build a bed. Such an approach results in those "postage stamp" beds lost out in a sea of turf or set in the corner where the curb meets the driveway. They typically end up being either an eyesore or a maintenance headache.

Now I am the first to understand the desire to gather all those great new plants you can't live without. But we just need to recognize that plant collecting and landscaping are two different things. Lack of planning results in other maintenance headaches. For example, a landscape with lots of angles may become a mowing headache. The more beds you put in, the more edging you will have to do every time you mow.

Where to Start
When you plan a landscape, start with the foundational features -- the meat and potatoes -- rather than the dessert. Turf areas, a few basic beds, some shade trees, ground covers and evergreens all form a foundation. Then perennial beds, annual color beds, and other features -- the dessert, if you will -- can be added.

I know it's more fun to go buy a few flats of flowers and head home to make a flower bed, but the end results are not as effective as if you get the foundation set and then add some well-planned extras to enhance the design. Figure out what you want it to look like, draw out the beds, and decide on the appropriate plants. Then you can do your shopping with much better long-term return on your time and money.

One more planning tip is to consider the four seasons. Everything looks good in the spring. Don't put all your money into spring color. What looks good in summer? What about fall? There are plenty of late-season bloomers and even some leaf color choices for fall. Then consider winter. This is where evergreens really earn their keep, as do plants with berries. Have you spread them out or are they all on one side of the landscape? There's time to fix that if you plan before you plant!

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