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Spring is coming; time for a garden makeover

  • Karen Gideon
  • Did you inherit an overgrown garden when you bought your house? Lose track of your garden as the kids grew up? Let Mother Nature maintain your garden for the last few years?

    Regardless of the reason, you may need a garden makeover. Unfortunately, Ellen or Oprah won’t be knocking at your door with a team of professionals to fast forward the transformation. While it will take some effort to rehab a problem garden there are simple steps that will make the process easier.

    A stroll through your garden is a good first step. Bring gloves, pruners, paper, pencil, flagging tape and a clipboard. Gardens are typically made up of “rooms” or areas with a common microclimate and purpose. Map your garden with circles representing each room, noting plants, irrigation and hardscape that currently exist. In overgrown knots of shrubs and bushes, use your pruners to trim back gently, reducing the size of the plants. Note any discoveries, such as shade-loving plants, smaller shrubs and hardscape that were not apparent in the overgrowth. Flag dead plants, invasives and misfits for removal.

    Note existing irrigation tubing, heads, drip-zones, valves and areas with poor drainage, where water pools in the winter. Look for evidence of erosion and crumbling hillsides. In lawn areas, consider turf removal and repurposing.

    After your walk, you’ll have a sense of the scope of your rehab. Write down goals for your garden. Perhaps you envision a lush, intimate garden with flowering plants and ferns. Perhaps you want groomed areas that maximize sunshine and openness. Once you have an idea of what you desire, you can begin the next stage of the process — prioritization.

    You’ll want to organize the “rooms and microclimates” in order of urgency and functionality. Perhaps the area by the front door, where your guests enter, is No. 1. Considering the tomato season is right around the corner, the raised beds you need to build are the next priority. Divide and conquer makes the project more manageable and the decision-making less overwhelming.

    Once dead and undesirable plants have been cleared, you’ll need to evaluate the soil. Use a test kit to determine the amount of nutrients in the soil for your plants. Minimize soil disturbance as you grade the earth, mounding or flattening, depending on the function of the area and amend the soil according to the results of your soil test.

    Evaluate the condition of the hardscape in the area. This is your chance to fix, or replace, or build areas with bricks, rocks and patio material. Save materials that are no longer useful for walkways, paths or dry streams. Consider adding art or an object that has meaning for you.

    Develop a plant list for each room based on your vision. Note the amount of sunshine, shade and moisture the area receives. Group together plants you desire by common water needs and add plants to existing plant communities. If an area is experimental, consider the use of pots — which can be moved and repurposed if the plants don’t thrive. Finish planting with a deep watering, a layer of compost and mulch the area to preserve moisture and retard weed growth. Test the irrigation system to ensure appropriate coverage.

    While thinking through plant choices, include plants that attract beneficial bugs and birds to help with pest control. These beneficials can reduce or eliminate the need to use pesticides and invite wildlife into your garden. Also, it’s a great opportunity to add native plants to your garden, which provide sustainability and a home for the beneficial pest patrollers.

    Garden rehabilitation can be overwhelming. By taking renovation one area at a time, you can keep the project bite-sized and learn along the way. You and future generations will enjoy the fruits of your labor!