Garden Dirt | Winter: The Season to Plan | Greenstreet Gardens

Garden Dirt | Winter: The Season to Plan

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Dreaming of a new garden? Or does a tired landscape need rejuvenating? Snowy winter days are the perfect time to jump-start a landscape project (or learn how to protect your plants from frost). When spring arrives and the nursery is stocked with gorgeous new plants, you’ll be ready to plant.

Here are some ideas to help DIY’ers get started.

The first step in designing a new garden is deciding where you want to locate it. Will it be a part of your existing landscape or a brand new area?

Don’t overlook the “edges” of your yard. Soften a walkway or patio with a bed of small shrubs, perennials and annuals. Add a garden tree for shade. Dress up a fence with a mixed shrub and perennial border. Too much lawn? Break it up with an island bed, also useful for screening a road – or your neighbor.

Now determine the area’s environment. Watch how the sun light falls on the piece of ground, when and for how long. Is it shady all day, or does it get some sun? Morning sun or afternoon sun? Or all day? The amount and intensity of the sun will play a big part in choosing the right plants.

Is the site is dry, wet or average? A rain garden will grow in a soggy patch; a dry hillside is good for a rock and succulent garden. Ground under mature trees will likely be dry since tree roots are notorious water gluttons.
Use a garden hose to play with shapes and sizes of the planting area. Try gentle curves instead of straight lines. A planting bed needs to be at least four feet deep to accommodate most plantings. Plants should be placed so that when reach their mature size, they are a foot away from any structure. The bed may look sparse now, but in a few years you’ll be glad you thought ahead. If the planting bed is next to a lawn, make sure the lay-out will be easy to mow around. Again – you’ll be glad you planned ahead!

Site Preparation

Preparing the planting bed before planting is a task too often skipped. But even the highest quality plants won’t thrive in poor soil. Add much needed nutrients to the soil with compost, homegrown or bagged. Our favorite is Bumper Crop. It’s made with everything a plant needs to form strong roots – the baseline for healthy, optimal growth.

Add compost in a 70/30 mix (70% existing soil to 30% compost) for new plants; top dress existing plantings with a half inch or so of compost, raking it into the soil. The nutrients will leach into the soil when watered.

Use spray paint to outline the planting area. Remove any unwanted vegetation. Hand-held sod stripping tools do a good job for small areas. For larger areas, you may want to rent a sod remover or use a product like Round-Up (always follow manufacturer’s directions). Remember anything left in the ground will continue to grow – especially weeds and grass!

Till in the compost. Break up big clumps of soil and work the compost down a foot or more, the deeper the better.

Give the prepared bed a crisp, professional edge with an edging shovel (flat, sharp edge). Follow the bed line, digging straight down 4 to 5 inches below the sod line. Push the soil out towards the bed, creating a little gulch between the lawn and the bed. This deep cut edging keeps grass from growing back into the bed. Grass grows horizontal, and it won’t grow through air. Keep “mulch out of the gulch” – as mulch breaks down, grass will grow through it and back into the garden.


Now when Mother Nature gives her “thumbs up” you’ll be ready to visit the nursery.

Plant Selection

With thousands of possible plant combinations, choosing plants can be overwhelming. Here area few guidelines to help navigate the rows of plants at the nursery:

+ Choose plants that are suited to the environment and a realistic level of “sweat equity.” Some plants thrive with little care, others need TLC.
+ How much space do you have? Look overhead for eaves, large trees and power lines. Bring the dimensions with you to the nursery.
+ Strive for year-round interest with a mix of evergreen and deciduous shrubs, and small garden trees. These will be the garden “bones.”
+ Select plants for a variety of size, texture and color. Don’t be afraid of color opposites. Purple and orange together give an instant “wow” factor.
+ Think outside the box and include vegetables, fruit or herbs. Small fruit trees or bushes give a garden its bones – and grow tasty summer treats.
+ To get a succession of color all season, visit the nurseryonce a month. What’s blooming there will bloom at the same time in your garden.
+ Seek advice. My garden center staff loves to talk about plants – and they’ll help you make well-informed choices.

Finishing Touches

Birdbaths, trellises and statuary bring structure to a garden. When it comes to ornamentation, less is more – a flock of pink flamingos may bring a chuckle, but I wouldn’t suggest making them permanent!

A large colorful pot set into the garden brings instant color and structure. Introduce the sound of water with a bubbling birdbath or fountain but remember water pumps need electricity and regular maintenance to keep the water flowing.

Happy planning!


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