Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Horticulture News
Re-designing the Landscape - Is a Make-Over In Order?
Re-engineering is a popular buzz word today. Corporations use it to describe changes they are making in their market focus or their corporate structure. Basically, it means taking a look at where you are and reassessing what you can do to capitalize on what you have. What holds true for established multinational corporations also holds true for the established home garden.
As landscapes matures, things change. Trees get taller and cast more shade, while bushes may outgrow their original places in the garden. Lifestyles change, and the area dedicated to a sandbox or a swing set may no longer be needed. In other instances, you may have purchased an older home with mature plantings that are no longer appealing, or at least not for you. Or you may just simply want a change. The time comes in almost every landscape plan when "re-engineering" is the way to go.
To start re-engineering a garden you need to take a hard, honest look at what you have. Because changes in the garden can happen subtly over years, you might overlook the obvious, such as an increase in shade or a physical change in your garden. For example, maybe you added a deck and now traffic patterns have changed. Pretend you are the new owner of the house and garden you are surveying, and look at it with as much objectivity as you can.
Is there an orderly look to your garden, or has it just "happened" over time? Even "natural" gardens have a plan behind them that keeps them looking natural instead of wild. If there hasn't been a plan, this the place to start. Depending on the size of your landscape and how elaborate you want to make it, you can plan it yourself or seek professional help. Take one area at a time and think about how you want that to look, and then move on to the next area. If your garden doesn't naturally break into "areas," consider creating them by varying garden bed sizes, shapes and what plants they will contain. You may want to add a garden bed or two, or take some beds out.
A planned garden doesn't have to happen all at once. If you develop an overall plan, you can work on one or two areas at a time, and save work on other areas later or even the next season.
In evaluating your existing garden, you may find that some plants don't perform as well as they used to. It could be that they need more light. Consider moving these to another area of the garden and finding new shade tolerant plants to replace them. Begonias, impatiens and other shade tolerant plants can give a bright show of color where marigolds and zinnias no longer perform well.
If you are uncertain about how well a plant will perform, seek advice from your local garden shop or nursery. The Hendry County Extension Office can also provide valuable information on plant characteristics and site preferences.
One of the biggest changes in a garden is the slow inexorable growth of trees and shrubs. They not only grow taller and larger, but also influence what can or can't grow under or around them. Trees can be trimmed to thin out branches and allow more light to filter through to the ground. In extreme cases, removal of some of the trees in addition to trimming may be the answer.
Overgrown shrubs can also be trimmed back or removed entirely if no longer desirable. As much as it may hurt emotionally, severe pruning can often rejuvenate old and woody shrubs. Late fall and early winter is often a good time to do severe trimming, because the shrub may be "shutting down" for the winter, and will send up new shoots in the spring. Once they begin growing again you can prune to control future shaping.
Plants planted around the base of a tree compete with the tree roots for water and nutrients. Creating raised beds for plants will reduce this competition, and can add a new feature to your garden. If raised beds are not practical put the annual plants in pots and then sink the pots in holes around the tree. This, too, will reduce competition.
Almost every home has a problem area. Frequently, a simple cleanup is the first order of business. For example, once cleaned up, a dirt pathway can be spruced up with mulch or a layer of gravel and the addition of stepping stones. Alternating tall and short containers, and varying plant types and colors can turn a formerly drab area into a "secret garden."
A coordinated color scheme can pull a garden together and refresh one that may have gone stale. Use a combination of three or four colors to create a color theme. Red, white and blue make your garden patriotic. Pink, white and green is cool and refreshing. Yellow, blue and white is a bright summery combination. You can break the scheme every now and then when you have a great plant that doesn't fit the "rules," and then it becomes the exception that points out what your theme is.
Re-engineering doesn't always have to be a major undertaking. Once you have a plan in place, small adjustments every year or two will keep you from having to start from scratch.
Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service. Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975, e-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 863-674-4092 or 863-983-1598. You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle. Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.
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