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Dreaming of Gardens: A Design and Care Primer

(ARA) - Does walking into a nursery or browsing through plant catalogs give you a headache? Do you agonize over where to start? Do you wonder how can you get your plants to look like, or somewhat like, those in the catalogs?

Planning next season's garden does not need to be a chore. Getting your plants to respond well is within your ability. Several general steps, some that you are probably already doing, can get you the results you want.


Draw a diagram of your lot. Include your house, drive, walks, patios and other hardscape (permanent) fixtures. Also, include any buried pipes and wires, plus any overhead wires that may interfere with any work you will do. This map of hardscape features is the backbone of your design.

Now, add the large shrubs and trees that are permanent fixtures in your yard. Note their height. Note distinctive shady and sunny areas and mark where they reach. Use this information to help influence your plant selections.

Walk around and view different parts of your landscape. Take note of the paths you use and the views from these areas. Go to places from where you will view your plant beds, including inside your house. How wide is your view? How deep is it? Is it shady (lighten the area with light colored shade plants) or sunny? Measure the size of these planting beds.

Choosing Plants

Now you are ready to select plants. Remember, you are the one who will be looking at these plants. So pick plants that you will enjoy!

* Annual plants generally have more color and "pop." Perennials provide stability and anchor your landscape design.

* Do you want to vary color, leaf size (plant texture), height and density, or do you want a smooth flow?

* Consider the soil type, slope, and micro-climate for each part of your yard. These will indicate what plants do well in each part of your yard.

* How much work and money do you want to put into your landscape?

Reaching Potential

To make sure your plants reach their full potential, you will need to water and fertilize to meet each plant's needs.


Each kind of plant will have its own needs as to frequency and amount of watering. For easier care, put plants with similar water requirements near each other.

"Deep watering" means watering to full rooting depth. This encourages deep rooting. It is done relatively infrequently. Let the soil dry out somewhat between watering.

"Frequent watering" usually means the plant has shallow roots or is a big user of water. Daily watering of these plants may be necessary during hot, dry summer weather.


Landscape plants respond very well to fertilizers with a high percent of slow release organic nitrogen. This slow release nitrogen gradually releases as plants need it. Plants aren't "pushed" to grow faster than they should, and don't end up with unsightly, leggy growth.

Fertilizers such as Milorganite GardenCare 6-2-0 contain over 85 percent slow release organic nitrogen. This nitrogen is released only as plants need it.

According to Melinda Myers, horticulture author and speaker, "Milorganite products, including Milorganite GardenCare 6-2-0, provide organic nitrogen for even feeding. Milorganite products, with their high percent of slow release organic nitrogen, help plants overcome the stress of summer heat and dry weather. They also add non-staining iron, which helps make sure that plants reach their full potential for deep, green color."


Annual plants, growing faster than perennials, respond faster to fertilizer applications. General recommendations are to fertilize at seeding or planting, and again when buds are set. Using slow-release fertilizer results in steady growth and full blooms. Deadhead spent flowers to help many annuals continue to bud and flower.


Fertilize perennials when you first transplant. Mix your slow release fertilizer into the soil with the roots. Use non-burning fertilizers, like Milorganite GardenCare 6-2-0, so you don't harm tender roots. Fertilize perennials again in mid-summer and, if you have flowering perennials, fertilize at bud set. A final application about 45 days before perennials go into winter dormancy gives them time to store adequate nutrients to survive the winter.

As always, look for plant-specific information. Plant tags, your local nursery, and your county horticulture extension agent are excellent sources. Don't forget that your personal experience , the amount of growth you want, the type of soil you have and the micro-climate you live in will dictate your plant selections.

Courtesy of ARA Content

For more information on planning your garden please read this article on installing an automatic drip irrigation system.

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