January 2006
Victoria County Master Gardener Association
Ground rules and tools for January
  Draw a plan first to avoid rushing through your landscaping this spring

January 5, 2006
MARCE LUCKE - Victoria County master gardener

The holiday rush is over, and we all seem to settle into the calmer days of the New Year. This should also be the case when it comes to gardening and planning for your spring garden. In fact, you should take your time and not rush into it - or through it.

Now that winter is officially here, we can start thinking about our spring display of flowers and early vegetables. Maybe we will plant some new flowering shrubs and, of course, some of those new annuals that we see in the catalogues. Before we do all that we need to really look at our yard and see what needs to be replaced, removed and put in a better position. Since most plants have shed some foliage, we can see what needs to be shaped or pruned. Note: if plants are spring-flowering shrubs, do not prune until after the blooming period.

If you have not done so lately, this is the time to review your whole yard and make a good landscape plan that will save you time and money and help your plants begin their growth in the best environment. Enlist the help of your family - children especially like to help in measuring the flowerbeds and using a compass to get the proper locations. You need to make note of the amount of sun and shade available; do this several times during the year because of the changes in the sun's position. I have deciduous trees in my back yard, so I have lots of shade in the summer but I am able to plant winter and spring vegetables and flowers there. When making a yard plan, always try to note the variations in sun and shade patterns caused by fences and trees and other structures. These can also cause a difference in the amount of wind and the temperature in the area. Water features, driveways, walks and differences in terrain can cause changes also.

Drawing a landscape plan sounds like a lot of work but it can be as simple or as detailed as you like. The main things you need are measurements and compass directions, marking the permanent structures and large trees. You might even need to check on deed restrictions, easement and setback requirements. Underground and overhead utilities should be noted also.

Make your plans in the way the yard will be seen. The front of the house and its landscape is usually seen from the street or if set back, from the driveway. Here are the more formal or more welcoming plantings, the "showy" shrubs and flowers. In my own landscape, I do not plant side yards, which are narrow. One side has a walkway and a bed with groundcover; the other side yard has only lawn. At the back of my house I use a narrow bed with ground cover. Since I usually see the yard from the windows or the deck, I do not want any shrubs in my view. The back fences have shrubs and the deck holds the pots and hanging baskets. I can plant these areas with whatever I want to experiment with and try out new things before I put them in a permanent place.

Start your plan with the outline of your lot, using what you know of utility lines, fences and other permanent structures. Mark your compass points with north at the top. Put in the house and driveway and walkways, adding locations of doors and windows. Give measurements from the structures to the property line in several locations. Put in existing trees and estimate their mature size. You can use small annuals to fill in while the permanent plants gain their full growth. Measure all existing flowerbeds and shrub borders; mark play and pet areas and any other special features. Show all water connections, too. Add the prevailing winds and sun and shade conditions. This will give you an overall rough draft of your lot and will provide you with the amount of space with which you will be working.

Now you can get out the graph paper and draw your new beds to scale. Make a list of all the materials you think you will need and get some input as to what your family will want in the new landscape plans. You may be surprised at the attention that family members will give to the landscape if they realize they have real impact. This is where books and magazines and driving around the area will give you new ideas. Look carefully at what you have and how to use your plants to their advantage. Sometimes just changing the accent plants will use your existing plants to their best advantage. Also, try to imagine your arrangements at the growth of 20 years. Make up each large area on separate sheets so that you get a larger scale to work with. In flowerbeds you may want to show different colors in different seasons, with annuals, bulbs and perennials. Look at your plans not only from different times of the year, but from different directions. Consider what plants will be near areas of play or unloading the car or coming to the front door. These are not places for thorny bushes or unruly vines or very tender plants.

Take your time perfecting your plans. New ideas will come to you readily with so many new plants coming on the market. You can find many places to look for ideas - the library, nurseries, bookstores, magazines, catalogs and the Internet. Victoria County Extension at its new office site, 442 Foster Field Drive at Victoria Regional Airport, has several booklets with recommended landscape plants for our area. Most will give good information about sizes, sun and shade requirements, help in planting and maintaining good growth, pruning and pest control.

Don't rush out to start buying plants. Wait a few weeks. Begin the preparations on the beds you have outlined, working up the soil, adding humus and fertilizer, then allowing the beds to settle. Look at your plans again and start marking off places for shrubs, allowing plenty of space, then for annuals and perennials for both filler and color.

This is not the time for a rush job. Good planning and good growing conditions will keep the overall plans intact. You will be able to make changes as needed, making room for new plants as you discover them, and making sure that whatever you plant has optimum growing conditions.

Make a carefully planned and cared for landscape among your New Year's resolutions. It will be well worth your efforts in return.