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My husband and I are looking to buy a new home and it will probably be one in a new development. What suggestions can you make for choices for new shrubs, trees, flowers, etc. to get the most bang for your buck? I imagine we won't have much spare change to devote to landscaping right away. - L.G. -
If you don't know where to start and aren't familiar with landscape plants, the best investment is in books, time on line, a class, or commissioning a landscape design. Every dollar spent is a dollar wasted if that shrub or tree dies, becomes too large or fails to produce the desired floral or foliage effects. Worse, poor landscape choices cost us time since it often takes years to realize that a surviving plant won't fulfill expectations.
Books and classes might cost 50 or several hundred dollars plus 50 or more hours of your time to take a class at a school or on-line. A designer's bill can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on lot size and the complexity of your landscape objectives.
To measure the return on that investment, divide dollars and hours spent between all the plants in your yard and all the years that landscape will serve you. Add an intangible dividend for pleasure derived from surroundings that were not stamped from a cookie cutter but arranged to fit your particular tastes and needs.
Many garden centers and landscaping firms offer design services. Shop among available designers as you would for any other personal service. Ask others in the market for recommendations and interview potential providers. Obtain referrals and go see examples of a designer's work that are at least two years old.
Two more suggestions.
First, avoid choosing all your landscape plants during spring. Trees and shrubs put on marvelous vernal shows. You will probably want such a show but selecting solely for the glory of a two-week display often nets a fifty-week disappointment. Plants that impress you in May can still be obtained in summer, fall or next spring. So note names and locations of what you like in spring then revisit them in at least one other season to see if the attraction continues with good shape, leaf color, attractive fruit, fall color or interesting bark.
Second, think small. Dwarf conifers and perennial plants are playing far greater roles in the landscapes of the enlightened, for good reason. Although an unplanted yard seems huge a single shade tree and handful of shrubs can overfill it quickly and unexpectedly. (More shrubs grow to 15 feet tall than remain at five feet!) Dwarf conifers and perennials can involve less pruning, offer greater winter interest, provide more interesting floral displays and satisfy a wider range of special interests.
Finally, don't forget the Garden A to Z Forum, where you can ask questions and post photos for consideration by instructors from the gardening school we ran for a dozen years as well as many other helpful, experienced gardener-members. They are generous with advice and enthusiastic when it comes to answering illustrated questions.
On your radio show a while ago you described a small variegated tree for a partly shaded area, one that blooms in August. I thought you called it an aralia dogwood. I can't find anything like that in my books or catalogs. - L.D. -
Dogwoods are great small trees but the latest-blooming species is the kousa dogwood, also called Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa) which blooms in late May or early June and may coninue in color for four weeks.
The tree you heard us describe was almost certainly a variegated aralia, Aralia elata 'Variegata.' It's not a common item at local garden centers but you can order it from Forestfarm, 990 Tetherow Road, Williams, Oregon 97544.
...are flying in spring, so cover kale and other members of the mustard family as you set them out in your vegetable garden. Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts can be protected with floating row cover, available at garden centers. This gauzy material lets light and air through but keeps moth eggs off the plants.
...for early June planting-out. Put a one- or two inch layer of soilless mix into a 6" pot. Set a tuber on that mix and barely cover it. No light is necessary at first, just warmth and moisture. When growth begins and the shoot rises, keep covering that sprout with additional layers of soilless mix. Move the pot into the light when the sprout reaches the top of the pot.
...to monthly showering of rhododendrons, azaleas, and holly with a fertilizer solution that also provides micronutrients. Both foliage and roots can absorb that form of fertilizer.
...to that shoehorn you're using to fit new plants into existing beds. You know they need more room than that! Take something out so a new recruit has a fighting chance.
First published 4/29/00, updated 4/22/13