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There is always something to do in the garden even at Christmas
Don GardnerColor
Don Gardner

If you are reading this the night before Christmas, you are one organized individual. That, or you are looking for a distraction from the holiday hubbub.

In either case, I hope this fills the bill for you. There is always something to do in the yard or garden, even if the weather is bad. In that case, yardwork can be done almost entirely indoors with as little as a peak out a window. Planning the garden for the coming year is a well-trampled path.

These days it can be done on your computer, from planning through ordering your plants, materials, equipment and tools. With the right software, one can even design or redesign one’s home landscape.

I want to discuss the need for periodic updating of your home landscape. Anyway, now, in winter, is the best time to do it.

The initial landscaping that came with your house is probably not adequate today for several reasons. First and most obvious, maybe you don’t like the landscaping and want a design that meets your needs. A redesign is in order, and there are a lot of landscape companies that can do the design now and do the installation in the spring.

Second, people want a minimum level of green in their home landscape for a number of social and psychological reasons. Builders, developers and landscape architects understand that a house without a minimum amount of landscaping does not sell.

The brand-new, small shrubs installed at construction do not have enough mass of green to meet the minimum coverage buyers want. So builders usually install twice as many shrubs as the landscape bed should have upon maturity, all to entice you to buy the house. As the shrubs mature, they have too much competition from their neighbors. This results in stunted, stressed plants that are more prone to disease and insect problems. So as shrubs mature, some thinning or transplanting is in order to maintain plant health.

As trees grow, they shade more land. Trees expand their root systems as well as their leaf canopy. This is a problem for lawn grasses. Even the most shade-tolerant grass requires 5½ hours of direct sunlight per day. As shrubs and trees on the east, south and west sides of a lawn grow and mature, they block the sunlight, often to the point that lawns fade away.

No amount of fertilizer, water or pesticides can replace the need for sunlight. Generally, the ground under the shade canopy of a tree should be a mulch bed rather than turfgrass. Even trees shading each other can be a problem. Two examples: first, that live oak and crape myrtle planted next to each other 10 years ago have undergone a shift in their balance of power. When planted, they each had enough room to have adequate soil and light, but now the live oak is shading the crape myrtle. Crape myrtles need full sun to perform best. Just like the crowded shrubs, shaded crapes have fewer blooms and more disease and insect problems. Mutilating the canopy of a $2,000 live oak to get light to a
$200 crape myrtle is fiscally irresponsible.

The plants in your landscape may be the wrong variety, the wrong number or in the wrong place. Even in an expertly designed landscape, the maturation of the landscape requires periodic realignment of planting and mulch beds. Winter is the best time to do this work. Installing edging, realigning irrigation lines, patio and deck construction all damage root systems of plants.

Woody shrubs and trees are growing their roots in the winter here in coastal Georgia. This is the time of year woody roots can best repair construction injuries. Now is a great time to analyze your landscape or have the landscape architect of your choice update your landscape to improve its performance, add to your property value and reduce maintenance costs. There is always something to do in the garden.

Gardner is an Extension agent who lives in Ellabell.

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