Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could enjoy an attractive, colorful garden without spending all of your free time working at it? Well, it can be done. All it takes is some knowledge about the right plants with the right mountain gardening techniques. Do your research for the best easy-care trees, shrubs, and perennials BEFORE you plant and you'll save time and money now and for years into the future of your landscape.
When considering hassle free landscaping, the six cardinal principles in order of importance are: 1) Choose plants that are known to be reliable and problem free for your area and won't outgrow their allotted spaces. 2) Reduce the size of your lawn or eliminate it entirely. 3) Prepare mountain soils before planting so plants get a strong start. 4) Use shredded cedar bark to discourage weeds and bugs and to conserve soil moisture. 5) Feed often with slow release organic fertilizers. 6) Install an automatic drip irrigation system.
Use the right plant in the right place. Considering the bewildering array of plants available at the garden center right now, making the best choice will require a little research. Start by making a list of plants you like, even look around your neighborhood for interesting options. Consult gardening books and magazine articles to learn about the plants on your list, and ask the staff at your favorite garden center to learn how well local conditions suit the plants that have caught your eye. Take quick pictures of your landscape spot, the plants you like, the plants you dislike, and share them with the horticulturalist working with you. A picture is worth a thousand words and helps to narrow down recommendations.
A common mistake is to choose plants that look just right on planting day then rapidly outgrow their allotted space, creating a continual maintenance headache. Allow enough space for the size of each plant at its maturity. Unlike an interior design that looks best the day it is installed, a landscape design should look its best about five years later.
Some plant varieties have resistance to pests and diseases that plague their particular species. For example, 'Prairie Fire crabapple' is resistant to both apple scab and fire blight. 'Flower Carpet' and 'Knockout' roses are rarely troubled by black spot, mildew, or thrips, problems common to other landscape shrubs. Choosing disease resistant varieties will result in fewer pests and ultimately will translate into lower maintenance.
Dwarf varieties such as Alberta Spruce grow very slowly, as little as an inch per year. Such slow growers are more expensive initially because a plant that is 4-6' tall may be 15 years old. Growers have invested as much time and materials in these as in faster growing varieties that are much larger. But the initial extra cost pays off over time because such plants need minimal if any pruning. Other good dwarf varieties are petite blue butterfly bush, abbotswood potentilla, acoma crape myrtle, boulder blue fescue, crimson ruby barberry, flame maple, sand cherry, and gilded edge silverberry.
Even if plants require only minimal maintenance, fertilizer and water still are essential to healthy growth. Amending the planting hole with composted mulch provides just the boost new plants need. To make fertilizing a snap, use all natural plant foods that release over an extended period of time. I created "All Purpose Plant Food" 7-4-4 for mountain gardens. It not only feeds the plants, but also feeds the soil so plants want to root deeper into our mountain soils. Healthier, deeper roots translate into a healthier plant.
So there you have it. Follow these simple suggestions and you almost can ignore your garden and enjoy it, too. Ask for my newly created "Preferred Plant Guide" for a list of best local landscape plants. Of course, it's free for the asking when you visit the garden center.
To say that the 'Garden Wonder' dahlia has impressive flowers is a gross understatement. Over mint-like foliage the plant's red flowers explode into dinner plate size blossoms! The plant is generous with its beauty, blooming continuously now through fall. Standing almost 3' tall with such spectacular humongous blossoms, even hardcore gardeners find this specimen awe- inspiring. Garden Wonders are oh-so-easy to grow in containers, raised beds, or directly in the ground. No other flower shows off as well. This spectacular plant is made for giving, and is an especially good idea for a house-warming gift.
Here's an insider's tip on Garden Wonder dahlias: Although they are sold as annuals at your local garden center, you can get them to act as perennials. At the end of the year, cut back the foliage to ground level and cover the roots with a three inch layer of shredded cedar bark. In full sun locations this garden trick prevents roots from freezing so that this impressive flower comes back each spring. Just by using this simple technique some of my dahlias are now over five years old.
Garden Alert! - Tent caterpillars are taking over! Look for a football-sized nest in the canopy of trees such as our native oaks and fruit trees; this spring even pines have been invaded. These ferocious little eating machines strip plants of vital spring foliage. The solution to eradicate these pests is a two step process. First spray the foliage until dripping wet with 'Spreader Sticker', especially the nesting area. Immediately follow this foliar spray with my best caterpillar killer, 'Captain Jack's Dead Bug Brew". Within days your trees will be clean and the insects gone.
Until next week, I'll see you at the Garden Center.
Ken Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd, Prescott, or contacted through his web site at wattersgardencenter.com