Tag Archives: garden tips

Gardening…One Step at a Time…One Plant at a Time…

Kris' Sunny Border - Planters InterspersedAre you frustrated with your gardening efforts…or lack thereof? Recently a friend and I were discussing work issues we encounter in our respective jobs when this subject came up. “Kris, I see what other people are doing in their gardens, and I look at mine and get so frustrated. Then I waste a bunch of time on Facebook and feel even worse.”

I told her quite quickly that, as smart as she was, she shouldn’t be so self-defeating. “Take one step at a time , one plant at a time,”, I said. I should have added that there is no “right” way to create a garden. “Garden design” is such an intimidating notion for many. Who is the arbiter of good garden design anyway?  It’s your garden; do with it what you like and don’t be afraid of the garden police!Kris' Woodland Garden

Of course, you want to do your homework if you’re planning to plant a tree or a lot of shrubs. No one should put a tree that will eventually grow  50′ tall three feet from their house or sun loving shrubs in the shade. Even if you’re a free gardening spirit, certain things must be thought out!

But choosing to create a path through your garden, deciding whether you’d like a bird bath to attract more feathered friends,  contemplating where to put a piece of garden art you bought on a whim..,This is all part of creating your own garden space that reflects your personality.

A Path Through the Garden...It’s so easy to become paralyzed with indecision before you take a first step, but, once that hurdle is jumped, the next one is easier. Think of it as gardening building blocks. Once you have the path, where does it lead and what can you discover at the end? Sometimes the hardest choices, once made, lead to more discovery.Olive Jar in the Garden...

For others, it’s not so much indecision as lack of time or interest. New parents have young children to take care of; others are empty nesters and may be traveling and away from any garden activities for long stretches of time. For them, the ready-made landscape of a garden home or condo is just right for where they are in their lives.

Art in the Garden - BuddhaBut for so many, like my friend, creating a beautiful outdoor home environment is a somewhat anxious endeavor that eventually simply  immobilizes them. If you’re feeling this way, always remember it only takes one step, one plant, then the next step…small steps at a time. Learn what your plants need and provide that as best you can. Once you’ve been successful at one thing, try another. And you’ll find that, just like those building blocks, eventually something amazing will be your  reward.

Summer Watering Tips for Your New & Established Plantings

photo (63)With 2013 beginning with a wet, cool spring and the rain continuing into early summer, it seemed like we’d been transported into a different universe than Alabama, didn’t it? All the rain may have caused some complacency – everything seems so much lusher than it usually is this time of year…now the heat is here, though, and it seems certain we’ll be entering our usual summer pattern of hit and miss rain showers with lots of warmth and humidity…

photo (62)Established plantings in your landscape should be doing well, but be aware that new plantings of shrubs, trees and perennials will need supplemental watering this first summer – pay attention to them. The requirement for new plantings is an inch of water each week.

It’s also a good idea to group plants together that need the same amounts of moisture. For example, you wouldn’t want to place a water loving Japanese Iris in the same bed as sedums…one will surely die from too much,  while the other may not receive enough. Either way, it’s not a good scenario!

When you determine that new plantings or even established ones in your landscape need water, remember that the early morning hours are the best time. If you have an irrigation system, schedule it to run between 4 a.m and 7 a.m. or handwater as early in the day as you can.

All gardeners should be aware of conserving water, and an easy way to save water and money, if you have an irrigation system, is to install a water sensor. It will detect when the landscape is receiving moisture and will shut off your system, so you’re not one of those watering your lawn when it’s raining! It’s one of those easy fixes everyone with an irrigation system should be aware of.photo (64)

If you handwater using a hose, direct the water onto the soil, not over the foliage of the plant. The goal is to water deeply but infrequently, so the roots of your plants travel down into the soil looking for moisture. Too many short  watering cycles will create shallow root systems that are less able to withstand dry periods.


A very good resource for irrigation and other landscape information is available at  http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1359/index2.tmpl, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Manual on Alabama Smart Yards, authored by Dr. Ken Tilt of Auburn.



Perennial To-Dos For A Great Garden…

Perennial chrysanthemums benefit from being cut back once or twice or they tend to get lanky with fewer blooms.

Perennial chrysanthemums benefit from being cut back once or twice or they tend to get lanky with fewer blooms.

May and June are key months to keep an eye on your perennials as they’re coming up and (hopefully) growing like gangbusters.  A few tasks to do now involve some summer perennials and many of your late blooming fall plants. Of course, the  following tips are not something you have to do, but are only suggestions gleaned from my gardening experiences through the years. Remember, gardening is not one-size-fits-all!

Do you have summer phlox in your garden? Now is the perfect time to selectively thin your clumps, especially if they’re large. (If they are outgrowing their space or haven’t been blooming well, divide them this fall.)

To thin your summer phlox, simply reach into the clump and pull out the smallest stems. This effectively allows better air circulation – which in turn leads to a healthier clump less prone to mildew problems. At the same time, cut back by half some of the remaining stems. A longer bloom period will be the result…

Perennial sunflower - just about to be cut back in late May.

Perennial sunflower – just about to be cut back in late May.

Asters in front of Texas sage in late May after their first cut-back. Hedge shears do a great job quickly!

Asters in front of Texas sage in late May after their first cut-back. Hedge shears do a great job quickly!








For more blooms on your late blooming perennial sunflowers, salvias, asters, Joe pye weed and chrysanthemums,  now is the perfect time to get in the garden and cut them back – if you have large areas, use a hedge clipper and cut them back by half. (Hedge clippers – the old fashioned manual ones –  work best on asters and perennial mums.) When you cut a stem, it will respond by creating two stems, so you’ll have a fuller, shorter plant with more flowers later.

Perennial sunflower getting cut back. It will create two stems here - more blooms!

Perennial sunflower getting cut back. It will create two stems here – more blooms!

Now you don’t have to do this, (I’m not the garden police!) and, if you don’t, they’ll just be taller and bloom earlier in the fall, growing to their full height in your garden.
I do like cutting mine back now though. I also make a second cut-back on half the clumps about a month later. This effectively “staggers” the bloom time – those not cut back this second time will bloom first, and be a bit taller, and the plants that are cut back the second time will bloom a bit later.  More blooms, longer! It’s a win win!

Late blooming Salvia madrensis - forsythia sage...cut back at least 3 times during the growing season.

Late blooming Salvia madrensis – forsythia sage…cut back at least 3 times during the growing season. Shown here just beginning to bloom – this will turn into a mass of yellow salvia blooms…

Many southern gardeners say “Don’t cut late blooming perennials back after July 4th”.

Rule breaker that I am, I have cut perennial mums, asters and sunflowers back as late as mid-July and had no ill-effect. But I like extending my blooms well into fall – it’s one of my favorite times of the year!

Perennial sunflower - 'Marc's Apollo' beginning to bloom in mid-September...

Perennial sunflower – ‘Marc’s Apollo’ beginning to bloom in mid-September…




Above all, enjoy your garden – after all, that’s what you planted it for, right? Hopefully by following these tips you’ll be able to enjoy it even longer!

***One of my absolute favorite reference books on perennial gardening is The Well-Tended Perennial Garden by my friend, Tracy DiSabato-Aust. If you enjoy perennials and gardening, this is a must have!!!


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