Phase II of the Garden: Perennials and Other Good Junque

| 7/23/2009 12:40:45 PM

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgI finished the hillside garden near the end of May. In my post, "Phase I of the Garden: The Bare Bones," I laid out the structure of the garden with shrubs – many of which can be considered groundcovers.

Groundcovers by definition can be as small as less than an inch in height, to about four feet tall. They can be herbaceous or woody, clumping or spreading. Once they are established, they require little maintenance in comparison to turf, prevent erosion, enrich the soil, and cool the air. They can be mixed, with attention given to their growth habits. Pairing plants with incompatible growth rates will result in the more aggressive spreader taking over slower growing plants.

With the shrubs planted, the garden is ready for the other groundcovers: the perennials. Perennials can be purchased in different sizes – everything from tiny plugs up to 3 gallon pots. They can be planted at any time, with the exception of plugs, which shouldn’t be planted in late fall. The roots of these small plants won’t have time to establish themselves in the soil, and the freeze and thaw cycles of winter can actually heave them from the ground. Because the garden is a large vista, I chose quarts, and 1 to 3 gallon-sized plants – anything smaller would have got lost in the expanse, and left the garden looking naked.

A common mistake when landscaping is choosing plants too small for the landscape in order to save money. Smaller plants will fill in, of course ... eventually. But until they do – especially in foundation plantings around a house – the garden will look out of proportion. When the scale is large, it’s best to budget for one or two larger plants and a few of the smaller sizes, rather than a bunch of little plants.

I mentioned in “Phase I,” that the garden is comprised of poor soils and will receive infrequent watering once the plants are established. As I did with the shrubs, I had to choose perennials that will survive these conditions. There are many plants that will tolerate dry shade and are low maintenance.

I used a mix of native and non-native perennials. There are a couple of things to keep in mind when gardening with native plants. Remember that just because a plant grows in the wild in your area, doesn’t mean it’ll grow in your garden. Soil and moisture conditions must be taken into account. Always purchase your plants from reputable sources. Digging a plant from its native habitat can disturb the ecosystem, and in many cases, these plants are protected; taking them from the area can result in fines. The natives I included are wild ginger, false Solomon’s seal, Christmas fern, and mayapple. The mayapple is an experiment; I know it normally likes a more humus-rich soil, but I wanted it for nostalgic reasons; it reminds me of walks in the woods with my Dad who showed us how to lift the umbrella-like leaves to find the flowers, and “apples” hiding beneath. For this, I broke my rule of not using soil amendments, and added compost and worm castings to enrich the soil.

Cindy Murphy
7/27/2009 6:34:47 PM

ARGH! Just to finish what I started.... Big step for me is using grub control - I have a thing for fireflies; summer is just not summer without them, and yes, they start out as grubs. So I've decided to just spot-treat with Sevin the lawn for chafer grubs. I know which areas they're in - it's easy enough to tell - and hope I don't get the firefly grubs in the process. The latest batch of chafer grubs should start hatching in August; wish me luck.

Cindy Murphy
7/27/2009 6:32:55 PM

I'm sorry about your peppers, Dave. But being smothered by over-zealous tomatoes...that doesn't sound like such a bad way to go, unless we're talking really bad B-horror flick material here. And yes, European chafers look like June bugs - mini June bugs; they're about a third of the size. They're so gross, Dave, I'm having a hard time with this one. I don't use pesticides except on three things: the grape vine, the purple-leafed sandcherry, and the roses next to it. All three are Japanese beetle magnets; none are in flower when the beetles come out of the ground except the roses. Kind of an interesting thing - when they hybridized the heck out of roses, they bred the scent right out of them, and the need for them to be pollinated. Bees and butterflies will not visit a flower without a scent. I don't use pesticides because I don't want to harm the bees and butterflies. As bad as the Japanese beetles are, (I don't think you have them out there? A nursery customer from Oklahoma vacationing in this area once asked me what all the pretty little bugs were), they are nothing compared to the European chafers. They swarm at night; not only are they devouring my plants, we can't even sit on the front porch without getting pelted. Ting, ting, ting - they hit the siding of the house, making it sound like someone is throwing pebbles at it. I sweep piles of them off the porch in the morning. Yuck! I tolerate the Japanese beetles to an extent. I've lived with the moles, (although there was that one time I attacked the big one I call Mozilla with a tripod sprinkler, stabbing it into the ground when he had the audacity to tunnel in my flower bed right in front of my eyes. I missed.). I can't live any longer with the chafers and not to something about it. I sprayed the non-flowering plants they're attacking, and will sacrifice the flowering ones. Big step for me is using grub control - I have a thi

Nebraska Dave
7/26/2009 6:28:57 PM

Cindy, it really does sound like the war is on in your yard. Bugs and critters can be relentless. I am always amazed at how they can harvest a plant in a single night and most times right at the time when the plants look their best. My earth bound garden has had issues as well this year. The green pepper plants are a total loss. My mother-in-law has started to harvest her peppers so I receive some of that bounty. Mine have either been smothered by the zealous tomato plants or have been munched to the ground by either bugs, critters, or both. The night time marauders have not bothered much in my yard this year. It may be due to Zoe and Wriggly, the dogs next door that stand guard over all the territory that they can see. If critters are in my yard I have given permission for the neighbors to “let out the dogs” in my yard as it drives them crazy to see the critters in my yard and not be able to chase them. As a result there hasn’t been a large amount of rabbits or squirrels in my yard this year. Yea!! You made me laugh with your description of sleuthing about for the European chafers. You really should have had Mission Impossible music playing in the background. I looked up an article about these little buggers. They look like what in Nebraska we would call a June-bug which starts life by being a grub in the lawn just like the chafer. It could be the same thing. Moles think these little guys are quite tasty, but the mole cure is worse than the problem cause in addition to grubs the moles kinda like plants bulbs too. I went hard core and Grubx-ed the whole yard a couple times which killed the grubs and ruined the buffet for the moles. They traveled over to the neighbor’s yard. Some days you’re the bug and some days you’re the windshield. ~ Unknown Tis better to be a young June-bug than an old bird of paradise ~ Mark Twain

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