Pocket gardening:
Small steps, big changes or just a chunk at a time

June 19, 2008

Victoria County Master Gardener

Edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
Landscaping at the Friench Simpson Memorial Library in Hallettsville includes pocket gardens on various sides of the building
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Daunted by the prospect of putting in new flower beds or re-arranging the beds you have now? The amount of work and the amount of cash needed may seem overwhelming, but it does not have to be. Consider “pocket gardening” and break the work and the money into manageable chunks. You can spread your resources out over time and still achieve the look you want.

Design master plan

As in all design/re-design projects, you will need a master plan. Using a software program or gridded paper, put in the footstep of your house, driveways etc. Then add the landscape elements. At this point, you are going for the ideal – the size and shape that is your ultimate goal. It is OK to “think big” at this point. Make decisions about shrubs, areas for annuals and perennials, and hardscape elements such as statues, bird baths, and ponds. When you have all of the elements of your ideal landscape in place, put it away for a few days and then re-visit to see if you want to make any changes.

Divide plan into chunks

Now comes the difficult part. Even though it would be nice to be able to implement the entire plan, time, ability and budget always seem to get in the way. Plants, soil conditioners, tools, and other items needed have increased in price just as other products have. But if you look at your plan and divide it into chunks, you will create less of a burden on yourself and your budget.

Look at your entire plan, and divide it into manageable parts. Decide which areas will have the greatest visual impact, which areas are the core areas to which other garden elements can be added later or which areas will have a positive impact on your outdoor living area.

Determine budget

Once you have made the decision about where to start, the next step will be to decide on a budget. There are several factors that affect the price of planting materials: the size of the plant, whether the plant is a perennial, annual, or shrub/tree, and how exotic or unusual the plant is.

Generally speaking, annuals are less expensive than perennials. You can expect to pay $2.50 to $5 for a six pack of annuals, while a perennial or shrub in a one gallon container will run about $8. Larger 3 to 5 gallon containers for shrubs or trees will cost about $20.

But remember, annuals last one year only, so while your initial investment is smaller, planting annuals is a recurring cost. Once established, perennials and shrubs will last many years. Of course, the overall size of the planting area will be a major impact on the budget.

Start with backbone of design

There are several important factors to consider in choosing what plants and what types of plants to install first. The tendency is to go for immediate visual impact, so annuals are a natural choice. But, as pointed out previously, annuals are a short-term investment.

I think that most gardeners will recommend that you start with the backbone of your design. These will be the shrubs and trees and larger plants that will anchor the rest of the flower bed. These plants are very important, because they will provide shape and texture all year long. This too is where size is an important consideration. We want to save money, so we tend to buy smaller plants. But sometimes it is more cost effective to buy the larger shrub because it will have an immediate visual impact.

Consider light

Do not forget to choose plants that are appropriate for the area you are planting. The amount of sun and shade an area receives impacts plant selection. If you are unsure about choosing plants, talk to a nurseryman or look at gardens that have similar light conditions to the area you are planting. Choosing plants that will not perform well will drain your resources also.

Consider soil preparation

Another important budget consideration is the soil preparation cost. Although adding soil conditioners such as compost and fertilizer do not appear to add any bang for your buck, think of it as a long term investment that will improve the quality of all the plants in your flower beds. Expect to pay $4 to $5 per bag for garden soil or compost.

Mulch is another item that is frequently left out of the budget. A 2 to 3 cubic feet bag of mulch will run $3 to $5 per bag. Although there is a tendency to skimp on the mulch, be sure to add a 2 to 3 inch layer to save on water and to help eliminate weeds.

The fun part - Make a trip to the nursery

You now have your plan in place and have decided which part of the plan you will install. You have selected the plant materials that are appropriate for the area and have figured out how much compost and mulch you will need. You are now ready for the fun part – a trip to the nursery.

A chunk at a time

Installing new beds, or re-planting old ones, does not have to be a strain on the budget. Planning ahead, choosing appropriate plants, and preparing the planting beds well will ensure success. If you stretch it out, do it in chunks, and pace yourself, you can stretch your budget at the same time.
Various shades of hibiscus plants replace petunias as annual shrub plantings. They can survive direct sun and heat.
Dwarf yaupon and crape myrtles are the backbone plantings that anchor the rest of the flower bed. They provide shape and texture all year long.
The Gardeners’ Dirt is writ ten by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, Texas 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.