Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Gardening Mistakes 101 What this Artist has Learned

When we purchased our antique home six years ago  in northern Connecticut, the third of an acre yard was pretty much a blank slate to fill. There were some pockets of impacted Day Lillies and Russian Iris and English Ivy that were a bear to dig up, but otherwise, it was a huge space begging for color, texture, and butterfly/bee friendly plants. I couldn't wait to order plants.

So I ordered plants online and went happily shopping at local nurseries. Unfortunately, I made a lot of mistakes because I didn't know what I was doing. I paid for expensive shrubs that didn't survive a cold Connecticut winter, I planted Hostas that overtook an area garden, though I gave away most of the invasive Day Lillies and Russian Iris, I transplanted some only to wish I gave them away too. I also fell in love with plants that just don't go with our circa 1600 home nor the cottage garden theme of my area gardens, now I'm digging up the ethereal, even alien-looking Sea Holly that riveted my attention at Walmart a year ago. I also made the mistake of believing online descriptions and found the two Dappled Willows I planted would grow to be much BIGGER than promised, and I planted them too close together.

I also purchased the wrong mulch. Our first year here, due to a day job in another county, I had limited time to garden, so choices were made in haste. How I wished I did my google research. We bought two raised garden boxes, I filled with dirt, plunked in plants and finished off with black mulch. A week later our new neighbor told me not to grow vegetables in dyed mulch, as the dye leeches into the food. I also noticed, the plants just didn't do well, not only was the mulch dyed, it had chunks of lumber among bark that sucks nutrients away from plants, the shredded hardwood bark natural mulch is what one should use. Unfortunately, I ended up cleaning out all the old mulch and dirt, and starting over again. And I planted Hostas and Daffodils under an oak tree only to realize the tree sucked away most of the moisture and so they withered up. Angelina Sedum can grow around the tree and I just finished plunking in more to fill in at the base.

So now six years into gardening, with three years working out of my home now, I have more time to schedule gardening. I joined the Windsor Garden Club one year and found gardeners are generous with information and also with swapping plants, and I have some friends who graciously gave me freebies. I exercise more patience and control, just because I'm drawn to a beautiful plant, it doesn't mean it will work in my yard, so I don't buy it. I don't hastily transplant either, I allow ideas to sift down for awhile, this came after transplanting a Rose of Sharon five or six times.

Due to my hard work, that resulted in some pretty area gardens, I've picked up a sideline business of weeding gardens of local residents who need help. In the past few jobs I've completed where I endured a bout of poison ivy so bad I looked like Porky the Pig, and a bee sting that left me feeling groggy; I've learned, the mistakes a newbie gardener makes are always the same. Below is my list of DO NOT DO'S that novices make and then their pretty area garden becomes a wretched mess too overwhelming to deal with.

Suzanne's 12-Step Gardening Do NOT Do's!

1. Find out what the flowers are that seasoned gardeners hate. This list usually includes Day Lillies, fine for filling in a large area, BAD for area gardens. They over-naturalize and roots/bulbs get impacted, pulling these up are like pulling up thick blocks of cement. I also remembered how members of my local Garden Club groaned when someone mentioned Russian Iris, they get out of hand, FAST.

2. Stick with stand alone perennials, I think some novice gardeners buy invasive plants thinking it will grow fast, fill up space and Voila! instant garden. Instead the invasive shit takes over, in this case the Chameleon Plant groundcover that one customer planted, it totally destroyed her garden, and yellow jackets loved the stuff, this is how I got stung, wretched stuff. She bought other invasive plants and I dug them up tossed away and recommended she replace with Coneflower, Stonecrop, nice plants that are sturdy and don't take over and are drought tolerant.

3. If you insist on buying something invasive, PUT IT IN A PLANTER, NOT IN THE GROUND, you will thank me over and over for this warning. And practice sheet mulching! Lay down huge sheets of wet newspaper-(I also use cardboard and plastic bags too, better than that cheesy weed blocker fabric), the worms love it, then cover with mulch, great weed blocker and if some weeds do poke through, they're so easy to pull out! I used newspapers in hope of blocking any roots of invasive plants I overlooked in said customer's garden.

4. Don't plant flimsy stuff, I know some gardeners who like tall flowers that gently wave in the summer breeze, this is fine, but after a rainfall will flowers flop over and lie forlornly on the ground like fainting goats? Why plant something that can't withstand a little rain, or will need the assistance of an ugly stake?

5. Dirt should be brown not flowers. I'm not a fan of ferns that turn brown. Nothing is uglier than dried up flora. If your ferns are more brown, or anything that you plant dries up and turns ugly on you, yank them out and plant a drought tolerant perennial in it's place.

6. Stick with what works, rinse and repeat. Hydrangeas, Coneflowers, Stonecrop, Corabells, Hyssop, Hosta (The blue leaf variety has thicker leaves slugs can't chew through) do well in my yard, so I use them a lot, no need to show off how many different kinds of plants I can successfully grow, stick with what works. Keep your garden-scape design simple, don't get lured by colorful catalog pictures to buy all kinds of stuff. Also, Hydrangeas have a very long blooming season, I select plants that offer me color for as long as possible, after all I did the grunt work to get them into the ground, I want to be entertained for as long as possible.

7. If you don't know where to transplant or plant it, do what I do, create a space to harbor these plants until a plan forms in your mind. I have an area behind our barn, with pots where I stick the plants until I can figure out a place for them.

8. Don't plant ornamental grass that re-seeds to the point they take over, this too was a mistake a customer of mine made, I ended up digging the whole lot as again, a second area garden was overtaken with this stuff, to the point I discovered a lovely hidden rose bush. Another customer had non-bearing raspberry plants that I yanked out to find a gorgeous Japanese painted fern hiding underneath.

9. Check for what plants are considered an invasive species in your state. I have two in our yard and plan to replace them as budget permits, the Multiflora Rose a wild rose, and a huge, beautiful Burning Bush. People told me to pull up the Rose bush and burn it, I can't do this, I plan to give it to a beekeeper friend as the flowers smell wonderful. The Burning Bush? It will be hard to let go.

10. Check Craigslist for people who sell plants in your area. I discovered Helayna, a lovely Ukrainian lady in my own town who sells organically grown plants from her own area gardens. In fact, I'm now sending my customers to her. Her prices are very, very reasonable.

11. It's easy to want to plunk in colorful plants right away, but save some money for the bones of your yard, if you need privacy trees to screen a neighbor's driveway, or to cut traffic noise, be sure to budget for some in the beginning. I wish I had.

12. Consider rockscaping to break up the monotony of mulch, rocks also keep bugs from entering your house if you have them by your foundation, the rocks are too hot in summertime for bugs to rest on. And definitely check out my Pinterest Board for more Cool and Exciting Gardening Ideas!

So there you have it! My tips to avoid huge pitfalls in your outdoor flora wonderland. Hopefully this post will also save you some money and trouble. Happy Gardening!

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