By: Jeff Rugg
Question: I am slowly landscaping my backyard. I am seeing what grows best in what amount of sunlight and moving things around while they’re still in the containers in which they come. Can I spray weed killer first? I need to fill in and level the ground. Do I use sand, topsoil or potting soil? Does the weed blocker that comes on rolls go before or after the fill? Can I dig through the weed block material? I want to add plants a little at a time and maybe some sod.
Answer: It sounds like you have the makings of a great beginning gardener. Most gardeners will experiment with placing plants in different locations and moving them when they don’t seem to do very well. I must mention that either the label that came with the plant or somewhere in a book will state of how much sun the plant needs. In other words, the research has already been done.
I think the biggest problem I would have with your testing of the locations is that you are leaving the plants in the pot. That isn’t a fair test. The plants will need more attention to their watering and fertilizing needs in the pot than in the ground. So, a plant that isn’t doing well during the test may be perfectly suited for that spot if it was planted there.
Set the plants next to each other to see how they look. Check to see if they form a nice combination of colors and visual textures. And then look at the plant label to see how big they grow and plant them appropriately.
Whenever you determine a good combination and location to plant, you will need to prepare the surroundings for the new plants. If there are weeds or lawn grasses in that area, they need to be sprayed or transplanted. Weed killers take a few days to over a week to soak into the whole root system.
If the weeds are all low (or can be mowed down), you can cover the whole area in half a dozen sheets of newspaper, up to a quarter inch thick. Wet the ground first and then wet the papers after they are laid out. The paper needs to be weighted down with a couple inches worth of compost, leaves or mulch. After a couple of weeks, most plants under the cover will be dead and you won’t have used an herbicide. You can plant into the area before or after the papers are installed.
Before planting, create the proper slope and elevation changes to get drainage away from the house and to fill in any low spots. The soil used should be similar in make up to the soil that already exists. If the existing soil is sandy and you add topsoil to a low spot, the two soil types are not going to drain the same and you will be creating more problems. Potting soil is designed for containers and it is more like an organic amendment than a true soil.
If you can till in new soil to create a blended soil over a larger area, then by all means bring in as much good soil as you can. You only get one chance to add soil. After the plants are installed all you can do is add topdressings.
Rolls of cloth types of weed blocker are very useful in some situations and not so good in others. They can do a good job slowing weed growth in flowerbeds, but when organic mulch material or soil is added on top of them, weeds can grow just fine on top of the weed blocker. Weed blocker materials are at their best when used under gravel mulch. They prevent weeds from coming up and prevent the stones from sinking down into the soil underneath.
The most important part of adding a few plants to your landscape at a time is to have a plan. If you know what goes where, you will end up with a great landscape. If not, it will just be an eclectic collection of plants (which can be fun for a gardener, but it drives other people crazy). The planning can be as simple as knowing that the plant in the corner needs to be taller than the plant it replaced, that it needs to have big leaves to offset the small leaves on another plant and that it needs to tolerate sunlight and wet soil. That way when you see a plant that only fits a couple of those requirements you can pass it up as not being the right plant for the plan.
The official plan is fun to create and then you really know what goes where but even then rules can sometimes be broken. So get out there and have some fun.
Email questions to Jeff Rugg at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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