Friday, January 14, 2011

Low Maintenance Shrub Gardens

As a rule of thumb shrubs tend to require less water and less maintenance than perennial or annual gardens (especially established shrubs). Well designed, low maintenance shrub gardens also have the added advantage of looking good year around.

Designing A Low Maintenance Shrub Garden:
  • Start by measuring the area.
  • Sketch out on paper the shape and layout you want for your new landscape. Perhaps you will be using an existing garden bed or maybe you want to completely redesign the area. Either way now is the time to make these decisions, as once your shrubs are planted and established it may be very difficult to change later on.
  • Next do a little research. What shrubs do you like? What would do well in the growing environment your garden has to provide? What is the care required? What are the various shrubs strengths and weaknesses? What shrubs would be well suited to your design (both visually and size wise)? Look through garden catalogues, landscaping and gardening magazines, the internet and books on the topic. Also be sure to visit your local garden center to see the plants up close and personal. Most garden centers carry the types of shrubs that are hardy to your zone so this exercise alone can help to narrow down your choices.
  • Prepare the garden bed prior to planting. Once you have decided on a plan and have selected the shrubs and any other plants you wish to include in your design it is the time to prepare the garden bed for planting. If you are changing the layout of the landscape you will need to make these changes first. Once the beds are in place dig them well and amend the soil to create a healthy growing environment for your investment. This is one of the most important steps.
How you amend your soil will depend on the type of soil that you are starting with. Is your soil texture sand, silt or clay? Is your soil acidic or alkaline. How much nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium will be available to plant roots? Perhaps your will need to begin with a soil test to help you determine the most beneficial amendments to add. As a rule of thumb you cannot go wrong with compost. Ensuring that your soil has plenty of organic matter will go a long way in insuring the health of your plantings. For more information on fertilizing and soil work check out these posts: Fertilizing Basics, Healthy Soil (Part 1), Healthy Soil (Part 2), Healthy Soil (Part 3), Healthy Soil (Part 4)
  • Layout your design before planting. Place all of your containered shrubs in the spot where they are to be planted. Laying out your planting first will allow to to make adjustments in placement before they are planted. Once you are please with the placement it is time to plant. Leave all of the plants in their postion and plant them one at a time.
  • Plant your shrubs following the growers' instructions. As a general guide dig a hole the depth of the root ball, plus 4" but dig the hole 1-2 times the width of the root ball. Add 4" of compost to the base of the hole and a small handful of bone meal. Next water the shrub well then remove it from the container checking to see that the whole root ball is well water (if not return to container and re-water until the root ball is completely moistened). Center the uncovered root ball in your hole and gently backfill the hole with your newly amended soil. Gently pack the soil around the shrub to ensure that there are not air pockets and water well. Note: (it is sometime advisable to create a basin around the shrub using soil. This is especially helpful when watering will be infrequent, the plant is on a slope or you have sandy soil).

Photo Credits: All photos by White Swan Properties

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