It takes time to care for plants

Gardens should not be stagnant. They are living creations that change on their own and need to be physically controlled or guided.

Gardens should not be stagnant. They are living creations that change on their own and need to be physically controlled or guided.

Plants that become too large should be cut back or removed. When plants or part of the garden becomes an eyesore, make changes. As lifestyles change, the garden must also change. It, like the interior of the house, it reflects who you are.

Assess the garden on a regular basis. How regular depends on time, commitments and the love of gardening. Start with the trees and shrubs. Are they attractive and healthy or are they crowded and overgrown? Were they initially planted in the correct location?

The majority of trees and shrubs are small when they are planted. A common mistake is to plant them where they look good at pot size as opposed to mature size. As the plants grow and mature they outgrow their location and at best look awkward. At worst, they rub against the house, or make the house and yard, appear very small. It is not unheard of to have one large tree dominate the back yard.

Trees can be pruned on a regular basis to keep them smaller. Large trees can not be made smaller and still be attractive. Cutting trees back to large stumps, pollarding, is unattractive and detrimental to the tree. The top of spruce trees should not be cut off to make them shorter. This opens the tree to insects and weather. As a result the tree is more likely to come down in a wind storm than trees that are left intact. If a large tree is a problem, remove it at the ground.

Shrubs are more versatile plants springing back from all sorts of neglect. While they do best if they are pruned on a regular basis it is possible to take an old, half-dead shrub and rejuvenate it over three or four years. The old parts of the plant must be systematically removed to allow new growth to form.

It is hard, next to impossible to rejuvenate evergreens such as junipers and cedars. If their needles or scales die they turn brown, detracting from the plants naturally green foliage. The brown needs to be removed which can leave the plants strangely shaped and unsightly. Leave the dead in cedars until mid-summer as they might produce new growth. Bottom branches that die, either due to lack of sunlight or become lunch for deer, will not grow back. The plants will always look leggy. While it is possible to camouflage this during the growing season. In winter the trunks are visible.

As gardens in this area are stark from October until April, it is important that the mainstays, trees and shrubs are attractive.

Once the trees and shrubs have been assessed, look at the flowerbeds and pots. Were they attractive last year? Would they look better if the beds were larger? Do they take up too much time? Do the colours of the plants compliment the house?

If the beds were attractive all season they can be left as is. If they only bloomed for two of the four months, then new plants should be added, ones that bloom at the appropriate times. The size of the flowerbed makes a difference in how they look and how easy they are to plant and maintain. A narrow or strip flowerbed usually only holds one height and variety of plants. When that plant is not blooming, it isn’t attractive. The narrow strip is also more likely to dry out than a wider one.

Landscapers recommend that a flower border be at least five feet (1.5 metres) in depth. This allows for a multitude of different plants each with their own height, shape and blooming time. When planted properly, border will always have an area of interest.

The same concept of larger is better works for pots. The larger the pot, the more plants, the more soil and the less often it needs to be watered.

As for the colour of the flowers, choose ones that complement the house.

Time is a big factor. If there isn’t time to take care of the plants, remove them. Plants that are neglected are not attractive. It is better to take good care of a little area than neglect a large one.

Planning now makes future decisions easier.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at

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