Sunday, April 10, 2016

Early Spring Garden Chores: Purge, Divide, Conquer!

My landscape garden (Zone 7A) is mature, and late winter/early spring is an excellent time to take care of any desired plant removals in the garden. In early March, not only did we have a dying tree on the riverbank cut down, but I took advantage of some good weather and good, hired help to purge a few things in my landscape that had become overgrown clutter. 
Boxelder tree - before - late winter, 2016
Boxelder tree - after (gone) - early March, 2016 (ground stump visible behind leaf blower)
First, in the back landscape, I originally had seven Endless Summer hydrangea bushes (2004). Two + years ago, I had one removed to free up some of the summer overgrowth. In early March, I had three more removed, as pictured below. It is evident in the 'before' that these blooming shrubs had grown up against the brick wall, to the point where it was nearly impossible to pass among them.
Before & After: thinning the hydrangea shrub area
Even though the 'after' may appear scant, trust me, these shrubs will fill in this space by June, along with all the other plants that grow in this area (see fully grown garden photo taken during early summer further in this post). The overview photo below shows that same area, before (top) and after (bottom) hydrangea removal.
Before, after hydrangeas removed, overview
Two other shrubs came out, from a different section of the landscape garden, behind the magnolia, near the courtyard gate entrance.
Snowflake viburnum shrub removal; disguising exhaust pipe with paint
These snowflake viburnums (above) were planted in the 2004 original plan, mostly just as fillers while the magnolia was a juvenile plant. The magnolia is now a tree. Also, the holly you see in the foreground of the right frame of the above photo is one of three, and together they provide privacy from the street when looking back to the courtyard gate. Notice also in the photo above, the gas furnace exhaust pipe that juts out from the side wall of the house (per code). It was painted this year to blend in with the brick. The trellis will eventually be covered in annual mandevilla plantings that grow from the four planted corners, while liriope and juniper will serve as ground coverings. If history repeats itself, it will eventually look like this (below):
Trellis area during full-growth, summer
One more clutter planting was removed from the back garden - a Rose of Sharon. I took a cutting from a friend five years ago, I believe, and it's gotten out of control. The photo below is a before and after appearance of winter to early summer of this corner. I originally planted the evening primrose cuttings from another friend, and they filled out the corner nicely. The Rose of Sharon was transplanted to the center of these for some height, after losing a birch tree from this general vicinity.
Winter (L) & early summer (R): Rose of Sharon, central to evening primrose patch
The photo below (left) shows the R of S while the evening primrose is in full bloom - green in a sea of yellow - and then later (right) - after the evening primrose is cut back and the R of S is blooming.
Summer: (L) Evening primrose full bloom; (R) Rose of Sharon in bloom, evening primrose cut back (container in foreground)
I decided last summer the R of S reseeds waaay too much in its maturity, so I whacked it down. No worries, I'm sure I'll have plenty of volunteers still this year (and years to come) for restarting if I have any regrets (doubt it), but meanwhile my evening primrose will have a better chance of uniform growth. I may plant an annual (Mexican sunflower) in the midst, but am currently still pondering it.

In late March, I tackled some mulching, division of perennials, and more mulching. I will typically have a dusting of mulch in the beds in fall and alternate with a heavier mulching in spring, or vice versa with the timing. This year, I really only needed a dusting in spring for the front beds, but a heavier mulching in back where the hydrangeas were removed. I took this and the following chores on myself.
Before and after: mulching back landscape where hydrangeas were removed
Ten bags of 2 cubic feet each were spread among the beds where the hydrangeas were removed. You can see in the photo above how bare it was before (left). I think I will actually add more, and then just lightly dust in other areas wherever there may be a trace of mud on my shoes as I walk the beds - that's my gauge for needing more mulch, lol. The paver stones you see in the above photo and closeup below are new this year, too. They frame an underground faucet that kept getting mulch down into the small well (brass trap door to faucet hookup is shown closed in photo below).
Underground water supply in back landscape
Once the hose is hooked up back in this area (I have three, 100' foot garden hoses strategically placed around the landscape), I leave the trap door to this particular underground faucet open, leaving the well exposed to rains and leaky hose gaskets, when the mulch runs amuck. Amuck, no more!

Checking things off the to-do list, I next tackled a few bare spots in the grass which are caused by the chaise lounges and yard umbrella. The photo below shows the garden in June from a couple years ago, and how the chaises and umbrella consume the grass area. The teak wood has slats, and the cast iron umbrella base has fretwork, and even though we don't leave the cushions out or the umbrella up all the time, the pieces are generally positioned in the same area each year, making grass go bare over the years.
Mid-summer landscape with outdoor furniture. Note mature growth in back.
So, I raked up the areas of moss and weeds that were growing instead of grass, added some top soil, and worked in grass seed, using the method I was successful with before - overseeding - as seen here, and in the photo below. With frequent rains in the upcoming forecast, this should grow in nicely within 2-3 weeks.
Grass patching by overseeding where lawn furniture displaced growth on lawn
After I patched grass, I was on a roll, and knew I wanted to transplant several plants from the back landscape beds, in the area near the Rose of Sharon extraction, and opposite the hydrangeas. The area had become very cluttered and random, simultaneously, as evidenced by the photo below, and noticeably unattractive toward the end of winter. In summer it's less noticeable, as the butterfly bushes grow and blooms fill in. I place a large container of annuals on that concrete block you see in the picture below (on the right).
Before: targeted, clutter area in back landscape, with labels
Our birch tree in the middle of this area had died a few years ago, and that started a ripple of changes, going from part-sun to full-sun, against a brick wall. A rhododendron suffered a heat stroke without shade, was cut down (not dug out), and then rose again like a phoenix, but very chlorotic-looking. My once hefty under-tree coverage of snowflake anemones became thin patches, here and there. A few Otto Luykens (English laurel) shrubs were transplanted from another landscape area but only two did well, one scraggly. This area then became my starting ground for various plants I would purchase or take from friends. I bought several lavender plants after the winter of 2013 damaged a few in the courtyard, and bought a dwarf lilac the year before that.

I started first with the lilac and lavender. Once I transplanted the lilac to just beside the garden flagpole at the center area, that freed the space immediately behind the flagpole to be replanted with the largest lavender. I moved the other two lavender (both white flowering) to the opposite side of the landscape, in front of my season statues by the larger Otto Luykens shrub grouping.
Clockwise, top L: (1) before lavender & anemones transplanted; (2) lilac transplanted back to front; (3) largest lavender transplanted to behind lilac; (4) remaining two lavender transplanted to statue & shrub area
I next transplanted some of the snowflake anemones out of the cluttered area, planting some in front of the other pair of seasonal statues, just in front of the clutter. I transplanted several more anemones on the opposite section of the back landscape, diagonal from my hydrangeas, and behind my hostas, making an overall symmetrical planting. These plants should spread naturally, but mine were left stunted from being unattended for several years. Hopefully, this will correct the problem, and I'll see better growth in future years.
Top to bottom: (1) anemones transplanted to another statue area; (2) more anemones transplanted to behind hostas, diagonal from hydrangeas; (3) anemone transplants viewed from back corner (L), closeup (R)
So, the photo below gives a look at the before (top) and after (bottom) of that cluttered, targeted area. You cannot readily see it, but I also transplanted the one scraggly Otto Luykens plant into the area between the two thriving there. Oh, and that rhododendron? After it blooms (if  it does), it will be dug up, and I may plant it on the riverbank. The desired end result will be the Otto Luykens growing into an arc formation, and the anemones filling in surrounding grounds.
Before (top): targeted clutter area; After (bottom): shaping up the area 
I also worked in the front garden landscape section, where I had planted a type of cornflower - Mountain Bluet - between my azaleas. My goal was to see the perennial spread in the open area behind the azaleas, near the clematis trellis and Rozanne geranium. These are all blue/purple blooms - timed to bloom after the white azaleas played out - but the bluets grew into the azaleas, not away from them, and were lost in the undergrowth. I divided the bluets, and planted them in a semi-circle around the concrete pedestal holding the sundial, hoping they'll thrive and be more visible now, and in years following.
Clockwise (top L): (1) mountain bluet (foreground) before division: (2) divided bluets planted in semicircle around concrete pedestal); (3) view from ground level of transplanted bluets
Lastly, I worked top soil into the existing dirt, filling in holes remaining from my transplants. My ground soil is, overall, very rich and healthy, easy to work, and I turned over a buffet of worms for industrious robins. I purchased another 10 bags (20 cubic feet) of mulch, and lightly dusted all the areas worked. I was highly satisfied with my results. And sore the next couple of days,
Clockwise (top L): (1) after transplants & mulching, view from center back landscape; (2) after dust mulching left landscape bed; (3) after dust mulching front landscape bed; (3) early spring, view of back landscape, lawn from front
I promised myself I was scaling back a bit in my garden this year - purging, in effect - and I've gotten a decent start to it. Now, if I can just refrain from planting a lot of new things and, instead, tend to existing plant structure and appearance. I have given away several nandina, anemones, and black-eyed Susan plants in the past, and my gardener who helps me seasonally salvaged the hydrangeas this year. I'm still debating whether I'll nurture all of my Lord Baltimore hibiscus plants this gardening season, It's a big job staking them, and it's two groupings of three mature plants, front left landscape, and back right corner. I may cut back and/or divide one plant from each section. Somehow, the garden beckons my hand, and I end up playing in dirt for hours.

I did refrain from getting any poison ivy rash throughout these early spring chores, and that's a huge plus. It's a lot easier to see what's in the ground when it's just emerging. It's also a lot more fun to work in the garden when the temps are cool in the morning. However, the weekend's chaotic mix of high winds, freezing temps, and snow flying was just a tad extreme.
Overview of landscape, April 9, 2016 - Sprinter - Spring & Winter
I'm hoping my plants have survived, as well as the buds on my azaleas. The next week will be telling. Soon, it will be lazy days on the chaise lounge, watching the grass grow. I hope we see more springtime weather before then. :)

Thank you for joining me on my landscape spring chores recap! Your readership and comments are always welcomed and appreciated.
Rita C. at Panoply