Every Plant has its Place: Low-Maintenance Gardening

Whew!  Just back from almost 3,000 miles of adventure and glorious landscape viewing!  We saw some awesome sights –


from the lush Missouri summer,

to the behemoth windmills of Kansas,   windmills

to the spruce, fir and aspen altitudes of Colorado mountains,    aspeneyes

and to the otherworldly desert arches of Utah. Arches

We were struck with how some plant species survive the most extreme conditions!  Some plants are familiar to Missouri, such as juniper, serviceberry, willow, prickly pear. PricklyPear

Some are not familiar to Missouri, such as sagebrush sagebrush, stick cactus, pinyon pine and gambel oak (‘scrub oak’).

We could see these plants are more-than-surviving, creating much beauty and even diversity, in the very harsh conditions of high heat and relentless sunshine, relative lack of water, cold winter temperatures and almost-soiless red sandstone.

archesyellowflower This gave us pause to think of how much water, care and pampering we give our plants to help them survive. Some plants require a lot more care than others to survive, especially non-native plants. It is hard to imagine moisture-appreciating plants like dogwood trees growing in the desert, or even the lupine we try to grow in Missouri, when lupine actually prefers cooler temperatures and higher elevation! coloradolupine

We are marketed to by companies trying to sell their beautiful plants, but every plant has it’s place, some more varied than others. Water, soil and weather conditions are the largest considerations for growing successful plants, and water usage is of primary concern in modern times.

In nature, plants come up from seed in the ground – the leaves and stem grow with the roots, establishing a balance of growth. When we do a garden landscape, we usually want to see the plant looking beautiful the first year.  This requires some TLC from the homeowner, due to the imbalance of the large amount of foliage and the potted up root system. Once established, native plants – with mulch and weed suppression – do very well. We have a wider array of beautiful native plants around us in Missouri than those in the desert conditions of the west.  Missouri’s lush variety is due to the various microclimates – prairie, forest, swamp, glade. As a designer, the key is to fit native and ornamental plants into the microclimate of someone’s home – sun/shade, southern slope/northern slope, different soil types – in addition to height variations, texture and color. I like to provide people with the plants and color they desire, balanced with the desire to use as many native plants as possible, due to their many benefits to the natural world. Such benefits include low water usage, no need for chemical fertilizers, pollination opportunities for plants, birds and insects, and habitat for wildlife. Chemical inputs, such as pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, can cause problems in the watershed and disruptions in the life-cycles of the natural world.

The natural world needs all the encouragement it can get from us, which is why I hope to encourage greater use of native plants in landscape gardening. We also like the idea of edible landscape gardens that actually produce something we can consume. The mantra “Grow Food, Not Lawns” is a fun way to think about how we can use our personal landscape space to create food for ourselves and the pollinators, thereby creating a better world.


And, take time to smell the flowers. ~ Rex

>>>>> Here’s a little of our car-stir-crazy poetry (and no, we won’t quit our day jobs!):

Traveling across the great plains autobahn,
where 85 miles per hour is the norm,
and the landscape is dotted with bright green corn*.
In blue-sky dust storm and spidery lightning display,
ghostly windmills glow in the big sky corridor.


*We decided that some discussion of corn is called-for, in a future post.  


Creating Solutions Through Sustainable Landscapes

Rex waterfallAccording to a recent symposium of Landscape Designers and Architects (link below), water is the critical issue facing humanity. Water resources are becoming increasingly burdened, with high population growth, water shortages and changing climate. I would also add that soil is paramount as well. We have lost much of our topsoil already, and water and wind erosion contribute greatly to our loss; however, soil loss and water run-off is really about our (human) practices. This, we can change.

Each of us must learn about water resources and make some changes: in how we use water and, in what water-intensive resources we use. We must also teach our children – well. Begin to implement small changes at home – by collecting rainwater for watering gardens and by using permaculture techniques, which protect water and soil. Educate ourselves about the manufactured products we use, the amount of water and chemicals inherent in their production.  Opt for recycling and upcycling wherever possible.  Choose wisely.

If you live on some wooded acreage, allow leaf mulch to collect and leave some standing dead wood and some fallen wood on the ground.  This is good for the decomposers, birds and mammals, and erosion control.  If you graze animals, please use good stewardship practices, such as grass finishing and pasture-rotation.  Try to grow native too!

Wildflower creek walk 2013Keep in mind entire systems – how everything works together.  I like to think – how would Nature do it?  Truthfully, if we do nothing, nature will take care of itself. However, we like our veggie gardens, shrubs and flower beds, as well as pathways that are not only aesthetically pleasing but that serve a purpose – allowing us to walk unimpeded by ticks, chiggers and snakes (at least, here in the country!).

2832917We now also need to remove invasive species of plants in order to help our natives survive and thrive , which includes some selective harvesting of trees.  My treehugging soul has fought admitting this for many years, and I still prefer to err on the side of keeping the trees and weeds as much as possible! Thankfully, Rex is patient with my process, always balancing our ethic of helping the earth with our ethic of “do no harm”. 🙂   Go here to see our Rogue’s Gallery of invasive plants.

rudbeckia and echinacea (640x480) (2)I would also suggest that big yards should be a thing of the past, opting for encouraging our vital pollinators with native – and sometimes ornamental – flowers and grasses, and importantly, for growing some of our own food plus a little extra. After all, more than six billion people rely on food grown on about 11% of the global land surface!  (from National Geographic “Our Good Earth”, September 2008).  Why not be a little independent of the box stores by growing our own greens?  Of course, try to buy at your local farmer’s market or small local stores when necessary.

U. S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The history of every nation is eventually written in the way in which it cares for its soil”.  And Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1746, “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water”.

Let us all determine ourselves to be part of the solution – for the water, for the soil, for ourselves and for each other.

~ Lorian

For more information on the water resource symposium, read up on it in The Dirt. http://dirt.asla.org/2013/04/24/what-is-the-most-critical-issue-designers-dont-even-know-exists/#like-13588.

February Landscape Tasks for Nature Lovers

February is an excellent time to work outside – cool temps, no bugs, no hurry.  Here in Missouri Zone 6, in the time of Imbolc (an ancient Gaelic celebration of Spring), just after The Day of Marmota Monax (according to him, Spring will be early this year)

Imageand well into the Mayan New Year,Image the sun is shining, the temperature is in the upper 40’s, and it is quite pleasant. Which brings us to how now is a good time of year to do a few things for your landscape, and your trees and shrubs will thank you.

Prune for Structure

If you haven’t already done so, corrective pruning works well now because the plant’s energy is still in the roots.  It is much less stressful for the plant or tree if you do a more vigorous pruning when the plant is dormant.  You can easily see the branching structure of your trees and shrubs, and at this time of year, you won’t have to dispose of all the leaves.  Be careful that you do not cut off your spring flowers, because many of the spring flowering plants are budded and just waiting for enough warmth to open up.  These particular plants (viburnum, lilac, azalea, etc.) should be pruned after flowering.  So, you don’t want to tip-cut the early blooming plants like this, but it is okay to remove old canes that are less vigorous. Cut those canes back as close to the ground as you can.   Keep in mind that maple pruning at this time will cause a lot of sap loss, unless you want to collect it in a bucket and cook it down for maple syrup!  It’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for dead wood and remove it when you see it. Dead limbs provide an entry into the live wood for insects and rot.

Cut Back Grasses

Now is a good time to cut your grass!  Ornamental grasses (such as liriope/monkey grass, maiden grass, fountain grass, etc.) should be cut back to about 6″ from the ground for larger grasses and about 2″ from the ground for smaller monkey grass.  When the dead or old grass blades are gone, the soil will warm up faster; the plant will begin to grow sooner Liriope Muscariand will look lovelier.

Transplant Plants

The spring digging season is about to begin.  Now is a good time for transplanting deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs, and to make arrangements to plant larger trees and shrubs that will be field dug at the nursery.  This timing will help you get better choices, as quality plants can get picked over by spring.  Also, early planting eliminates transplant shock when no foliage is exposed.  You will also be able to take advantage of the spring rains and have less watering and maintenance work.  If you have very little experience, I recommend you consult a Horticulturist for advice on transplant information regarding your specific plant or tree choice and your location and/or help in accomplishing your goals.

For the DIYer, some things to bear in mind, which is not total but will give you a good start when planting a new nursery tree or shrub:

1)  “Call Before You Dig”, that is, dial “811”;

2) Be certain that the plants you have chosen will work well in your landscape – Does it need well-drained or moist soil? Will the plant like the intense heat/sun on the western side of your house or does it prefer the sunny south or cooler north side, or what?

3) The width of the new hole you dig should be twice the size of the root ball, and the depth should be a little bit shallower.  If the root ball is planted in too much depth, the tree could drown; too high, it could dry out.  Create a little ring of dirt around the root ball that will bring some water to the roots and not dry out too fast.  Mulch and water it in.

4)  When digging out a shrub, keep as much of the soil and root base intact as possible.  Move root ball and place it in a newly dug hole that is well-aerated and larger than the root ball.  Then, you can fill it in with amended soil, if the original soil is not adequate.  Keep the base of the plant slightly higher than the surrounding dirt.  Mulch and water it in.

A Word About Natives

We really want to encourage  native plants and edibles instead of large areas of mono-culture non-native lawns.  In fact, check out this blog about starting a veggie garden (with great resources too!).  Also, read this article if you would like to know “How to Start an Organic Garden in 9 Easy Steps”.  Try to buy or grow as many native plants, shrubs and trees as you can; rudbeckia and echinacea (640x480) (2)they will attract all manner of birds, butterflies, bees, and dragonflies, will resist drought and require less water once established, and they do not require chemical inputs to survive.  Many natives are perennials or will reseed, giving you years of enjoyment from the original plant or seed.

Take Time for the Small Pleasures

Implementing these suggestions now will help you stay caught-up in your landscape gardening.  Instead of hurrying through spring with the usual business of over-burdened schedules and appointments and last-minute gardening, you can approach the excitement of spring in an unhurried manner, able to pay full attention and smile. 🙂