Thursday, October 04, 2007

Tall, slim plants work best in narrow spaces

Unusual or oddly-shaped spaces can create landscaping challenges, as this reader has discovered.

QUESTION: “I need advice on planting bushes or something in a small space. We have a strip along the side of our house that is about 22" wide and 160" long, so as you can tell, it is pretty long and narrow. On top of that, there is a tree roughly half way in between that we would really like to keep.

“We are not sure what to plant there and we are hoping to plant something that might provide color year round. We have thought about evergreens but don't know if that would look right with a different tree in the middle.” – Andrea Deaver

ANSWER: 22 inches is a very narrow space for most shrubs as their roots will probably spread more than that width. Stay with narrower-growing plants such as the sky pencil holly, which will give height, but not width. Varied heights of ornamental grasses are gorgeous, too.

Throwing in some very low growing shrubs and perennials will also spice the area up. Choose shrubs and perennials that flower or produce bright colors throughout the seasons. Select different plants for color, height, and texture and you should be able to create an interesting foundation planting.

QUESTION: “I am considering planting Purple Wintercreeper (along with drifts of other varieties of groundcovers and shrubs) on a large, steep, south-facing bank but I am concerned about its aggressively invasive character. Will the garden center-type lawn edging that you suggest in your article on groundcovers actually work to contain Purple Wintercreeper's spread? Thank you for your advice.” – Douglas Barker

ANSWER: Yes, lawn edging will work because Purple Wintercreeper is somewhat shallow rooted. It will usually take hold not from the roots but more from the tops that hang over the edging. That is not a big deal if you keep it trimmed once or twice at the most per season with a weed whacker.

QUESTION: “What can I do to get more flowers on my Hydrangea plants? They are so leafy and now the flowers are turning brown.” – Diana

ANSWER: Usually plants that have been fed a lot of high nitrogen fertilizer experience a lot of foliage growth but not many blooms. This could be the reason, if you have been fertilizing them. Hold off the fertilizer and see if they come back with better blooms next season.

QUESTION: “My lawn has begun to showsigns of browning. In fact, two of the outer edges appear to have completely died with just dirt remaining. I have read articles stating that I should just water once a week... but deeply! Is this true? “I will admit that I have been watering at night at about 11 p.m. then again around 6 a.m. This sounds like a mistake according to what I have read. Can you give me a simple 1, 2, 3 on how much, and when to water my lawn. Thanks! Joe Castillo

ANSWER: You don’t mention where you are located, but with your grass going dormant at this time, I’m guessing you have cool season grass. By nature, cool season grass will slow up to the point, sometimes, of going dormant during the heat of summer and then perk back up as the weather begins to cool down.

Regardless of whether you are in the north with cool season grass or in the south with warm season grass, your watering schedule is too frequent. Actually it is better to water a lawn once every 5-7 days and water it longer rather than shorter, more frequent waterings.

Stressing the grass out over a longer period will grow grass with a deeper root system and it will be able to withstand any serious weather problems that may arise, including utility-imposed watering restrictions.

Below is a link to the University of Illinois Extension site on lawn care. It is extremely informative and will help guide you through this period as well as set you up for next spring/summer.

http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/lawnchallenge/lesson4.html

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to steve@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org