Tag: garden planning

Hiring a Landscape Designer

We’ve been in our new house for about a year and I’m ready to start on the garden. We’ve got a blank slate so it is going to be a pretty big job. I received a design from the architecture firm that drew up the house, but am looking for a company to install it. Do you have any tips that will help me make a good choice?

Whether you are establishing a new flowerbed, transplanting a shrub or installing a detailed garden plan the person you choose to handle the job can make or break the results. A mistake may not be noticeable until weeks or months later so it is important to be confident in the help you receive from the start.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you look for someone to help you in the garden.

  • Write out exactly what you want the landscape professional to do.
  • Check with local utility companies to make sure there are no electric, gas or telephone lines running underground in the area.
  • Clearly mark the area you want prepared.
  • If sod, rocks or debris are to be removed, give instructions if you want those items hauled away.
  • Independently investigate what soil amendments your garden requires.

The landscape professional/designer you hire should be:

  • Insured and properly bonded.
  • Properly licensed for landscape maintenance work.
  • Willing to furnish you several current and past references with similar projects.
  • Knowledgeable about soil preparation and horticulture.

Before you finalize the deal:

  • Negotiate a clear, detailed agreement in writing. Do not accept verbal agreements.
  • If a contract is involved read it over carefully. Understand its terms and conditions including payment schedule and guarantees on plants. Ensure all documents are correctly signed and dated by involved parties.
  • Verify licenses and check with your state’s Contractors Board and the Better Business Bureau for any complaints against the contractors.
  • Secure payment and performance bonds from the landscape professional.

After the project is complete:

  • Inspect the work to make sure it was done to specifications.
  • Schedule a walk through/review with the landscape professional to go over any care instructions or discuss potential problems.
    I encourage you to check out the P. Allen Smith & Associates website!

Planning for the Fall Garden

While the calendar may still read summer, autumn is right around the corner and it is time to start gearing up for the season. By planting a few seasonal super stars now you can extend your garden’s beauty until winter’s first hard frost.

Perennials – Each season has its own color palette and fall is one of the richest of them all. There are perennials that you can add to your garden now that will bolster autumn’s tapestry. Purple asters and blue salvias are wonderful color complements to the red, orange and gold foliage of the season.

And if you are a savvy shopper then you know that garden centers offer end-of-the-season prices to reduce their inventory before winter sets in. This means now is the time to get some great deals on plants that have yet to shine.

Here is a short list of some of my favorite autumn super stars:
Goldenrod ‘Fireworks’ (perennial)
Aster ‘Alma Potchke’ (perennial)
Salvia vanhouttii ‘Paul’ (perennial)
Japanese Anemone (perennial)
Hardy Begonia (perennial)
Arkansas Amsonia (perennial)
Autumn Fern (perennial)
Autumn Crocus (perennial bulb)
Lycoris (perennial bulb)
Nerine (perennial bulb)

Fall Flower BorderOrnamental Grasses – The texture and movement of ornamental grasses makes them well suited to the fall season. Look for varieties such as miscanthus ‘Morning Light’, calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and dwarf fountain grass ‘Little Bunny’.

Annuals – When it comes to pumping up the color in your garden it is hard to beat annuals. You can breathe new life into your summer annuals by applying a liquid fertilizer every 7 to 10 days and cutting back those that have grown leggy.

If you live in a region where warm summer weather extends well into fall, sow a second wave of fast growing annual flowers such as cosmos, gomphrena and celosia.

And save room for cool season favorites such as violas, pansies and snapdragons.

Container Gardens – Plan on revamping your container gardens for fall with a few “slip- in” plants. These are the plants you can add now to replace tired-looking summer flowers. Some substitutes I rely on are kale, pansies, snapdragons or ornamental grasses. Small trees and shrubs with striking foliage also a nice choice for giving your container gardens an autumnal glow. Try Virginia sweet spire, euonymus, Japanese maple, dwarf crape myrtle and fothergilla. At the end of the season, before the ground freezes you can transplant these into your garden’s flower borders.

Shrubs and Trees – The true stars of the fall landscape are those trees and shrubs that produce brilliantly colored foliage.

In Northern regions plant trees and shrubs in the ground well before the first frost date in your area so they can get established before cold weather sets in. Warm climate gardeners should wait until the heat breaks in the fall before planting. You will find that the cooler temperatures and more plentiful rain of autumn make the job of caring for newly planted trees and shrubs much easier.

Vegetables – Like the early days of spring, the cool temperatures in fall are ideal for growing certain vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Now is the time to get out your seed catalogs and place your order for lettuce, spinach and arugula. Vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage are better started from transplants purchased at a local garden center. In my mid-South zone 7 garden I begin planting as soon as I sense that the heat is about the break, which is usually late August to mid-September.

When determining your planting date and selecting crops for your vegetable garden, you need to know the number of days it will take for a plant to mature and the first frost date of the season. You might think the best way to know when to plant is to take your average frost date and backup the number of days until maturity. But this doesn’t take into account the cooler and shorter days to come. It’s actually better to come up with an imaginary harvest date a few weeks before frost and back up from there.

Estimated First Frost Dates by Zone
Zone 3 – September 1st – 30th
Zone 4 – September 1st – 30th
Zone 5 – September 30th – October 30th
Zone 6 – September 30th – October 30th
Zone 7 – October 15th – November 15th
Zone 8 – October 30th – November 30th
Zone 9 – November 30th – December 30th
Zone 10 – November 30th – December 30th
Zone 11 – Frost Free

Learn more about growing fall vegetables by watching the video below!

The Many Definitions of Shade

I’m confused about all the terminology that is used to define shade. How do I differentiate between all the types of shade?

The word shade by definition means absence of light. However, in an outdoor setting there are many different kinds of shade including dappled, partial, deep, and even wet or dry. It is important to take the time to determine what type of shade you have in your yard so you can select the plants that will thrive in your conditions. Happy, healthy plants require a lot less work and worry.

Dappled Shade – This type of shade occurs when there is a moving pattern of sunlight and shadow created by the open branching of shrubs and trees. Because this is the lightest type of shade, it offers the widest range of plant choices.

Partial Shade – There are several ways to define partial shade, but I think of it in terms of how the sun moves through the sky. Depending on the time of day, plants may be in either sun or shade. When plants get direct sun in early morning or late afternoon with shade through most of the day, that creates a “partial shade” environment.

Deep Shade – You will find deep shade conditions under evergreen trees, in dense woodlands, along tall fences and shrubs or on north-facing areas of the house.

Dry or Wet – Moisture is also an important factor in a reduced light area. As you select a shade plant, be sure to check the label to see if it grows best in wet areas or is more drought tolerant.

To learn more about shade gardens, check out the video below!

What to Plant Now for Fall Color

Can it really be summer already? It seems just yesterday I was gazing out of the window at my ice-encrusted garden, wondering if I would ever see my plants stand tall and wear green again.

During those dimly lit winter days it felt as though time was moving as slow as cold molasses. With the arrival of spring the clock seemed to speed up, and now, on the summer solstice, time is racing by like a runaway horse with me in hot pursuit yelling, “Wait! Not so fast!”

The summer solstice is my cue to make sure my garden is ready for the next season with plants that are autumn showstoppers. Here are 10 of my favorites.

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)

Zones 8-11; 36-48 inches tall, 24-36 inches wide; flowers late summer into fall; pineapple-scented leaves are edible.

‘Prince’ Fountain Grass (Pennisetum)

Zones 8-11; 60-72 inches tall, 24-36 inches wide; excellent for fall arrangements.

Luscious®; Citrus Blend™; Lantana

Annual except in zones 9-11; 24-36 inches tall, 20-30 inches wide; blooms spring through fall; attracts butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

The Knock Out®; Family of Roses

Zones 5-11; 3-4 feet tall, 3-4 feet wide; blooms spring through fall; Sunny Knock Out®; produces hips too.

Blueberries (Vaccinium sp.)

Zone hardiness and size depend on type and variety; blooms in spring with berries following; outstanding fall color on a low-maintenance shrub.

Japanese Anemone (Anemone x hybrida)

Zones 4-8; 24-36 inches tall; 18-24 inches wide; blooms late summer into fall; will grow in partial shade.

ColorBlaze®; Dipt in Wine Coleus

Annual except in zones 10-11; 20-36 inches tall; 12-14 inches wide; great color combination for autumn.

Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale)

Zones 4-9; 4-12 inches tall, 4 inches wide; blooms in fall; leaves appear after flowers fade.

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana)

Zones 6-10; 4-6 feet tall, 4-6 feet wide; blooms in summer; yellow fall foliage paired with bright purple berries.

Starting from Scratch

There are few things more daunting than starting a garden from scratch. Whether you’ve just moved into a newly constructed home with a few basic plantings, or you want to refresh your garden by starting over, or you’ve inherited an older house with a lawn but no landscaping, these four basic steps will help you through the process:

1. Define the purpose. Imagine that you’re moving into a home without any interior walls. One of the first things you’d do is decide where to put your furniture and appliances, such as the bed, sofa, and stove. Placing these items throughout the house would help you identify a purpose for each area. Then, by adding walls between those spaces, you could clearly define rooms for sleeping, relaxing, or cooking.

In the same way, you can transform the open, undefined space in your yard into “rooms” that match your lifestyle and interests. Think about how you’ll want to use your yard. Do you need a patio big enough for two people, or would you like to entertain larger groups outdoors? Do you need a stretch of open lawn where children and pets can play? Is it important to you to have a quiet sanctuary somewhere in the garden where you can relax and read?

Garden Room
There are several advantages to starting this way rather than immediately running out and buying plants you like. It creates more manageable-sized spaces, it expands your home’s living area, and it helps unify your home and garden. And when it comes to buying plants and art for these rooms, you’ll find it easier to choose items based on the setting’s function and color theme.

2. Evaluate potential problems. As you consider creating garden rooms in your yard, think about modifications that will make each area match its purpose. The best time to address these issues is before you start planting. For example, perhaps you long for a cozy place to put up your feet and relax, but your yard borders a busy street. A fast-growing hedge and a bubbling water feature can provide privacy and a soothing sound to mask the noise. In other areas, you may need shade for a dining area, a screen to block an unsightly view, plants that provide protection from the wind, or tile to drain a wet area. By considering these elements in the beginning, your garden will be a place where you’ll enjoy spending time.
When starting a new garden, one of the best ways investments of your time and money is soil preparation. This is particularly important if you live in a newly constructed home surrounded by soil that’s been disturbed and compacted by construction equipment. Plants can survive in bad soil, but they won’t flourish. Before planting anything, buy good topsoil and compost and work it into garden beds or even better, have your soil tested by your local Cooperative Extension Service or buy a commercial soil testing kit.

Allen Planting His Rondel Borders 3. Create a plan. When you know the purpose of each garden room and what modifications to make, you’re ready to outline the boundaries of each area. Some people find it helpful to photocopy their plot plan and sketch in plants, art, paths, and other garden elements directly on the plan. Others prefer to mark areas in the yard using surveyor flags (found in home and garden centers) or with sections of garden hose.
Be sure to give yourself enough room for the activity you plan. For instance, if you’re creating a dining area, set up a table and chairs in the setting to see whether they fit. If you’re planning to add a children’s sandbox and play area, measure equipment ahead of time to make sure it fits in the space with some room around the edges.

To define the boundaries of the area, plan some pretty plant borders. In a small yard, 2- to 3-foot-wide borders make the most sense, but if you want the look of an English cottage garden, the borders should be 6 to 10 feet deep to accommodate plants with varying heights and continuous bloom. As you plan the outline your plant borders, create shapes that you can easily mow around to avoid extra trimming.

To decide whether your garden should have a formal or informal design, take a look at your home’s architecture. If your home’s windows are equally spaced on either side of a centered front door, your house has a symmetric or formal design.  A garden that uses geometric shapes and bold symmetrical plantings looks best with that style. If you have a bungalow or ranch house with off-center doors, windows, chimneys or porches, an informal garden with sinuous curves and relaxed, loose plantings would look right at home.

Garden Along City Side Walk 4. Finish one room at a time. Budget and time may not allow you to install all the plantings and hardscaping at once. Instead of trying to plant your entire yard and becoming overwhelmed, finish one garden room or area at a time and feel good about your accomplishment. Tackle another one next month or next season.

Start defining the room’s framework with a fence, hedge, flower border, or screening plantings, as well as paths and hardscaping. Trees and shrubs take the most time to mature, so plant those first. I like to create borders that combine trees, shrubs, and long-lasting perennials so you don’t need to replant each year. To fill in the gaps as these plants develop, use colorful annuals, large containers, and vertical structures such as obelisks. Choose styles and colors that match your home’s décor to unify the design.

Fill in the Gap
While you’re waiting for your trees, shrubs and perennials to grow in, your beds may look a bit sparse. Try some of these annuals to help plump up your garden with color.

Annuals for sun

Annuals for shade or partial shade
New Guinea impatiens
Wishbone plant (Torenia spp.)
Calico plant (Alternanthera)

Annuals for moist locations
Angel trumpet (Datura spp.)
Sedge (Carex flagellifera)
Forget-me-not (Myosotis spp.)

Annuals for poor soil texture
Bachelor button (Centaurea)
California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
Calliopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria)
Feather cockscomb (Celosia plumose)
Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus)

Annual vines for sun
Climbing nasturtium
Hyacinth bean vine (Dolichos)
Morning Glory

Annuals for dry conditions
Strawflower (Bracteantha)
Diamond Frost® Euphorbia
Four o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa)
Moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora)

Good to Know: Soil Test

Fill a quart jar mid-way with water and add soil until the jar is nearly full. Screw the lid on tight and shake the jar until the mixture is well combined. Let the soil settle and measure the layers. Sand will be on the bottom, silt in the middle and clay on top. If the soil is less than 25% silt or more than 25% clay, add 2 or 3 inches of compost, humus, or manure to your soil. If you have more than 30% sand, add 4 to 6 inches of organic plant matter.

Plant Names

When the name of a plant has an “x” in it, what does the it mean and how does one say the “x”? I would like to sound like I know what I’m talking about with more knowledgeable gardening friends. Thank you. Love your program!!!!!

The “x” in a plant name signifies that it is a hybrid, or cross, between two plants of one genus. For instance, lavender is a member of the genus Lavandula. Two species of Lavandula are L. angustifolia (commonly known as English lavender) and L. latifolia (commonly known as spike lavender). Plant breeders crossed these two species to create Lavandula x intermedia, which contains characteristics of both parents.

When you are discussing a hybrid plant you can either drop the “x” from the name or substitute the word species. For example I would say Lavandula intermedia or Lavandula species intermedia.

Gardening with Arthritis

My arthritis is keeping me from spending as much time in my garden as I would like. Do you have any gardening suggestions for those of us who can’t get around like we used to?

For many of us spring means getting outdoors and enjoying all the pleasures gardening can bring. But for over 47 million Americans, arthritis makes gardening much more of a challenge.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, gardening can be a great activity for maintaining joint flexibility, range in motion as well as a better quality of life.

By following a few basic rules of thumb, time spent in the garden can be more enjoyable for those who suffer with this disease.

Do your work in the garden during the time you feel best, but always warm up your joints and muscles first by walking or stretching. And avoid doing the same task in the same position for too long.

Save your energy by keeping your water source nearby to minimize carrying watering cans or hoses. And make sure your tools are kept in a place close at hand to avoid hauling them back and forth. If you have an old children’s wagon around, you will find it ideal for transporting tools around the garden. And rather than hauling heavy bags of soil or mulch in a wheelbarrow, use a dolly. This will prevent heavy lifting.

Also you’ll find gardening in raised beds and containers can make tending a garden easier by minimizing bending over.

Here’s something else to keep in mind, enlarging the handles of tools with either grip tape or foam rubber can actually make them easier to handle and keeping them sharp always makes cutting easier. You will also find many companies are offering gardening tools that are ergonomically designed, which makes them easier to use and reduces fatigue.

These are just a few suggestions that can benefit any gardener but particularly those who may be suffering from arthritis.

If you’d like a more detailed list of tips, visit the Arthritis Foundation online at www.arthritis.org.

There is no reason to give up the pleasures of the garden just because arthritis has come into the picture.

Gardening by the Moon

My mother plants seeds in her gardens and asks if planting them when there is a full moon is beneficial or if that is just folklore. Thank you.

The theory is that anything that grows above the ground should be planted while the moon is waxing, or becoming full, and anything that grows beneath the ground (carrots, potatoes, radishes, flowering bulbs) should be planted while the moon is waning as the lighted surface decreases in size until it becomes dark in its New Moon phase.

One explanation is that seeds sown during a waxing moon will come into flower sooner, therefore producing more vegetation, while those sown while the moon is getting smaller will be limited in their reproductive growth, concentrating most of their energy toward root development.

Another thought is that the moon has a pull on the water content of plants somehow affecting their growth.

Then there is the idea that increased insect and pest problems are related to the phases of the moon. If your seeds are germinating during a period of heightened pest activity, you will see a lower yield on your plants.

I cannot personally vouch for gardening by moon phases but I do believe that, when it comes to gardening, if you have a system that works – stick to it.