6 Useful Tips for Landscaping Your Yard This Year

Spring 2020 is here! Yellow and purple flowering witch hazel are nearly done blooming here at the nursery, signaling winter’s end. Forsythia are beginning to lighten up our cloudy days, and my hellebores are now bringing flavorful color to the garden. Despite the tragic COVID-19 outbreak, warmer weather, singing birds, and new plant growth are underway. I’m optimistic.

Many of you are considering redoing parts of your yard this year. Or maybe you’re thinking of redoing it all. Our long winters give us a lot of time to think about the upcoming year. The newly encouraged “social distancing” is now giving us additional time for that. For me, these projects are exciting! But I also realize that many find it overwhelming. Don’t fear, we can help you!

For starters, here are 6 tips I compiled for you to consider in your home landscaping endeavors.

  1. Assess Cultural Needs

The most uttered request I receive from customers is “low maintenance.”  I get it. We all have busy lives. I can’t even imagine most horticulturists are seeking out high maintenance plants! I’ll tell you the first secret for a low-maintenance garden to get you started: plant according to a plant’s cultural needs. A healthy plant will be less fussy!

Assess the amount of sun and shade throughout the yard and remember that certain parts that are part-shade now may be sunnier as the days grow longer. Likewise, some areas that are sunny now may become shadier as trees leaf-out. Which spots are cool and which ones are like the Sahara?

Plan according to your yard’s conditions. This bed gets part sun so Hosta and Heuchera thrive whereas other desirable plants would be lethargic.

Assess the amount of water throughout yard. Are there dry spots? Is there one spot that is a swamp in the winter but clears up in summer?

Assess the soil. Spots with heavy clay should be planted with clay tolerant plants.

Consider writing these down. There are plants that will fit the bill for just about any spot. You don’t want to make your plants fight your yard’s conditions; that’s more maintenance! You want them to flourish with minimal care.

This cultivar of Ligularia called ‘Bottle Rocket’ is a good choice for a moist and shady area. There is a plant for just about any spot.

  1. Use Variety

The most professional landscapes typically use a mixed force of plants. Trees and vines give you height and structure. Shrubs anchor the yard. Ornamental grasses give you texture, line and motion. Perennials and annuals give you flower power, color, and pizzazz. Evergreen trees and shrubs give you year-round greenery while deciduous ones will usually give you more charm during the warmer months – the months you are outside the most.

This beautifully landscaped bed consists of trees, shrubs, grasses, perennials, and annuals. And believe it or not, all of them are easy to grow.

Avoid going with one group alone. Beds of annuals alone will look grand in July but will be bare five months of the year while landscapes of shrubs and mulch alone are reminiscent of those sad gas station landscapes. Don’t even get me started on yards that are all grass. You can do better!

You might also consider other objects to give your landscape some character, such as a fountain, some statuary, or a couple boulders. I promise it will be hard to kill these!

This petite garden utilizes dwarf shrubs, low perennials, and annuals for variety and color. Talk about a “wow” factor!

  1. Start Big and Give Space

A burning bush or a tricolored willow three feet from the walkway will require constant mutilation to keep in bounds. Talk about high maintenance! Give your plants plenty of space. I like to start by choosing my biggest plants first, notably trees, shrubs, and larger grasses. Give them the space they need at mature size and fill in the spaces around them with perennials and annuals. You can always move irises if you need to down the road but uprooting a misplaced 10-year-old lilac is no fun!

The hemlock and pine trees here may end up shading this landscape bed down the road. But for the next decade or so, plant some low-maintenance perennials and annuals for color and interest.

Find somewhere to add a vine! This is a great way to give some quick height without taking much space. It’s hard to go wrong with a clematis and I know a place where you can buy them!

Brother Stefan™ Clematis is a mild mannered vine, great for adding height in the back of the bed, especially in places too small for a tree.

  1. Use Repetition, Rhythm, and Groupings

One of the biggest landscape errors I see is the hodge-podge strategy. It’s hard to not want to plant one of everything (believe me, I know, I work in a garden center). When landscaping that one front bed, for example, consider using only 1-2 types of shrubs and 2-5 types of perennials and/or annuals. Like your inside décor, you want rhythm and repetition throughout the landscape. This will give more coherency to the bed(s) and be easier on the eye. Planting 7 daylilies of the same color, as opposed to 7 different colors, will help maintain repetition and rhythm.

This walkway utilizes a repetition of perennials and annuals which adds flow and rhythm. Notice how the bee balm and coleus are of one color.

Groupings of smaller plants typically add a more impactful presence to the landscape. You know those true-blue delphiniums on those garden magazine covers? I’m willing to bet there’s probably 5 or more in that planting. Planting one alone will look wimpy. One dianthus by itself will be totally lost. You’re paying money to make an impact in your landscape so don’t skimp!

Stand back and look at the landscape around your home during the process. Maybe even make a brief sketch to help keep you grounded. Try and see your landscape as a whole.

This cultivar of Heuchera called Dolce® ‘Spearmint’ makes more of an impact as a group than it would as a single plant.

  1. Layer Your Beds

If you’re landscape beds are on the narrow side, consider widening them. This will allow you to add “layers” to give more depth to your landscape. An example would be planting a shrub in back, perennials in the middle, and a low perennial or ground-cover in the front. This amount of depth not only looks nice but also tricks the eye into thinking the space is bigger than it really is. Talk about adding property value!

This layered mass planting utilizes trees, shrubs, and annuals.

What kind of width am I talking about? Every yard is different, but I’d say 4-5 feet wide is a good minimum but if you can do more, why not? This will also give your plants some breathing room where they won’t quickly outgrow the space as is often the problem with narrow beds. Remember, the less space a plant has, the more maintenance is required in pruning!

This layered bed utilizes trees, shrubs, and a flowering ground-cover shrub. The latter is a cultivar of our native chokeberry called ‘Ground Hog.’

  1. Year-Round Appeal

Most professional landscapes have some degree of year-round appeal. If all your flowers bloom in June and you have none that bloom in October, you’re missing out! Same goes for those yards of evergreen blobs that may have some winter interest but give no additional excitement for spring, summer, and fall.

Even during winter, there is excitement to be had – red and yellow twig dogwoods, the white bark of Himalayan birch and quaking aspen, the berries of native winterberry holly, the dried structure of ornamental grasses, and more. There are plants that shine in every season!

This red twig dogwood cultivar is called ‘Arctic Fire.’ Cold temperatures stimulate the red stem coloration which brings winter interest.

Don’t buy solely on what looks good in the season you are shopping in as there are three other seasons to consider – do some research ahead of the time so you can have a year-round interest landscape. Don’t be overwhelmed. We’ll help you along the way!

This layered bed consists of plants which will have fall and winter structure and interest.

                                                                                                                                                                                               

There are many more aspects to professional landscaping, but I wanted to pass on a few starters. As you get ready to begin, don’t hesitate to ask for help from our staff.  Provide photos in person, or via email, as these are very helpful! With over 10 acres of plants and a customer wish list that requires no commitment, we have an unbeatable selection for you to choose from.

A section of our 10 acre sales floor.

 

A redbud cultivar called ‘Forest Pansy’ is a top seller among the hundreds of varieties of trees we carry.

If you are more interested in a hands-off approach, we have two skilled landscape designers on staff in the landscaping department we can direct you to. They can create a professional drawing for you and a list of plants for you to choose from, as well as a crew who can carry out the work.

Stay safe at this perilous time and we hope to see you out soon!