Different varieties of plants have widely differing water needs. Knowing which plants are more drought tolerant in your garden helps you know how much to water them. Keep in mind that all young plants require more frequent watering than mature plants. Plants typically require about half as much water as turf. A twice per week watering the soaks the root zone of plants well is typical.
A good rule of thumb for pruning is “don’t prune just for the sake of it – only prune when you need to.” The best time of year to prune deciduous trees is late winter to early spring. Flowering shrubs should be pruned after the plant blooms, so you can enjoy the full beauty of the plant, remove any spent blossoms and do not cut off new buds that will be forming. Never remove more than 1/3 of the foliage at any time.
Always prune dead branches off trees and shrubs. For deciduous trees, you can thin out the interior branches and remove crossing branches. Do not top trees (remove the main leader) as the tree will grow back more rapidly and in an unattractive manner. Do not remove the central leader of an evergreen tree. Pruning on evergreens should only be to remove lower branches for clearance or visibility.
Try to prune the tree or shrub into the shape of its natural growth pattern. Consider replacing plants as opposed to regular pruning. Too much pruning is labor intensive and often harms the overall health of the plant.
The exception to this would be perennials, which should be cut down to the ground in the fall and have the branches removed to prevent rot and fungus. Dead heading (the removal of spent blossoms) enhances the beauty of your garden as well as promotes further blooming by stopping the plant from going to seed.
Poor Drainage and Inorganic Soil
Poor drainage and inorganic soil (The typical soil found when native topsoil is bulldozed off in the process of building a home) is a leading cause of poor plant health in the Northwest. Whenever possible, renovate beds by removing plants, tilling in a good quality soil and replanting. Where this is not possible, and you are adding plants, dig the hole twice as big as the root ball, add quality soil and install the plant a bit above the grade of the adjacent bed. This will allow the roots to grow into good soil and keep them from drowning.
Plants growing in good soil need little if any fertilizer, but as soils in many gardens are less than optimum, adding nutrients is necessary for plant health. A 15-15-15 or similar fertilizer, applied in the Spring and/or Fall will do the trick. Plants can be damaged if they are over fertilized, so always read the directions carefully.
An organic mulch, like compost or sawdust mixed with organic matter applied every other year will also add nutrients to plants without need of additional fertilizers.
Insects and Disease
While there are various insects and diseases that can affect plants, control is often difficult or environmentally undesirable with insecticides and fungicides. Often, the best treatment is simply keeping the plants in good shape with the above tips as healthy plants are less susceptible to damage than unhealthy plants. Some tree and shrub varieties are more susceptible to damage – consider replacing them with more resistant varieties as opposed to spending time and money on chemical control.
While there are environmentally sensitive products available, utilizing resistant varieties and keeping them healthy is often a better approach. There is a natural balance between plant damaging insects and their predators, and some amount of damage is to be expected and is not indicative of the plant being harmed.
Weed Control in Beds
Installing groups of plants that fill in, but do not quickly outgrow their spaces is a good way to minimize weed growth. Mulches also keep weed growth down. Some have sought to minimize time spent on weed control through the use of Groundcovers. While Groundcovers have their use when suitable varieties are used in appropriate places, they often contribute to a greater problem than they seek to solve due to the persistence of weeds that grow through the Groundcover and the difficulty of hand weeding them when this occurs.
Weed barriers are ineffective as weeds grow in the soil or decaying mulch on top of the barrier, and the barrier inevitably works its way to the surface creating an unattractive look and difficulty in cutting through the barrier when installing new shrubs.
With this being said, there will still be weed growth. Hand pulling can be effective, but only if done regularly. Hand pulling a year’s worth of growth over a weekend is nobody’s idea of fun, as well as the fact that the yard looks poor for the better part of the year.
Pre-emergent herbicides are granular herbicides that do not kill existing weeds; but can help keep them from germinating.
Liquid herbicides like Round Up are effective, especially when applied to weeds that are small – this reduces the amount of product used, cuts down the time spent applying it and kills the weeds more quickly. When small weeds die, they disintegrate quickly which eliminates the need to hand remove the dead weed.
Moss Control in Beds
Moss control in beds is best achieved by replenishing mulch in beds regularly as moss does not form on fresh mulch. Hand removal of moss with the use of a scuffle how is also effective. Some people like the look of moss in beds, and as the moss is not damaging, this personal preference is viable.
Mulching is the practice of applying organic materials to the surface of landscape beds. The benefits are significant. Mulch helps keep moisture around plants which conserves water and helps protect against drought. Mulching also insulates roots from extreme or rapid changes of temperature as well as adding valuable nutrients to planting beds. Installing fresh mulch creates a sharp backdrop for shrubs to really stand out, makes a landscape look fresh and neat and helps reduce maintenance time by discouraging weed germination.
Bark mulch is typically the least expensive and most commonly used form of mulch. Bark provides the most effective control of weed germination in beds. Organic mulches (compost or mixes of sawdust and organic content) add valuable nutrients to the soil, but due to their high organic content typically do not control weed growth as well as bark.