plants/ flowers on front yard berm

bacon13(4)February 9, 2012

I have this berm in my front yard. It has river birch and juniper (i believe) planted. I would like to replace all or most of the juniper with something else. Any suggestions...... please? I am in Minnesota by the way.

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designoline6(Z6)

Junipers are evergreen plant,I suggest you retain some.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2012 at 5:24PM
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yardvaark

bacon, what are your goals? what are you trying to accomplish? What are your parameters? Are you trying to "undo" so much privacy created by a previous homeowner?

    Bookmark   February 9, 2012 at 9:19PM
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adriennemb2(z3/4)

I actually really like what you already have. On the side of the berm facing your deck, I would personally put in a dry creek bed with shady woodland perennial plants and just leave the public side as is.

But it's really about what you want to do. Just be aware that both the birch and juniper will have well established superficial root systems and that you might very well lose both if you were to disturb that network. Also, planting in the new bed afterward will be no fun at all.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2012 at 10:59AM
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duluthinbloomz4

With the juniper so out of control, it's hard to tell just how many of them there are. My first thought was to simply clean them up - cut anything dead out and trim down* (see below) the highest fly away branches. A lot of the low branches are just ground trailers and those can be trimmed back to a joint too. Deep digging in an attempt to remove them might impact the birches.

End of winter is the best time to prune junipers, although they also can be pruned through spring into early summer.
*The best way to control growth is to follow a too-long branch back underneath surrounding growth to where it attaches to a bigger branch. Then snip it off at the joint. This hides the cut and lets you shrink the size without it looking like you did anything.
Prune junipers with hand-pruners and loppers - don't shear them with a hedge trimmer.

You might like the look better after giving them some attention. The private side looks to have room for some spring bulbs; a scattering of perennials or annuals (or both); maybe even a Northern Lights Azalea or two.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2012 at 12:50PM
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nandina(8b)

Suggest that you pause a moment and appreciate what you have there. River birch is a water hog, developing a massive root structure that wrings the soil dry around it for quite a distance. Best that you give the junipers a haircut as suggested above. They deserve to live as they have survived a very adverse growing situation. How 'bout large pots of colorful shade/partial shade annuals standing about in that bare semicircle in the berm. A wonderful space to use creatively. Think texture.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2012 at 1:56PM
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pbl_ge(5/6)

I'll also add that if you find the junipers ho-hum, they would make a lovely backdrop against which you could plant showier things. Maybe some nice leaf contrast, such as heucheras or hostas? (I've never seen hostas happier than in MN.) I love the texture of River birch, too, so I would be thinking of ways to highlight it.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2012 at 6:59PM
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bacon13(4)

Thank you everyone for your thoughts. I am just trying to "clean" it up a little bit. I think you are right about starting by thinning out the junipers and see what that does. I would love to add something to bring out some more color.

I like the dry river bed idea on the private side. What type of plants would go along that?

I was thinking about putting in some native grass on the driveway corner around the mailbox. Then adding some larger boulders. Would native grasses go well in the berm in some places with the juniper and birch?

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 8:36PM
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Jon

http://www.flickr.com/photos/66008695@N06/6269091480/in/photostream

My berm. A ho-hum Blue Point Juniper that I trimmed to give it a little character. On the hidden side is a globus yellow Chamaecyparis to give it a little color contrast. In the front is a Hinolki and in the forefront is a bloodgood Japanese Maple. I am not a designer only a gardener who is sharing my thoughts to try and help you.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 12:48PM
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yardvaark

Bacon13, again, I ask, are you trying to increase privacy, keep it the same, or diminish it? ...or don't know? And is it that you don't like Juniper, or don't like the indistinct appearance of the whole mass?

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 1:49PM
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adriennemb2(z3/4)

I'm glad that you liked the dry river bed idea on the private side of the berm. I think that it could look so cool. Try this link...
http://www.finegardening.com/design/articles/dry-stream-bed.aspx

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 10:06PM
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adriennemb2(z3/4)

Okay, let me try to link this again...

Here is a link that might be useful: Dry stream bed

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 10:12PM
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bacon13(4)

Yardvaark

I'm trying to keep it the same. I don't mind juniper but I think the whole thing looks neglected and plain. I would like to make it look nice from the public side and maybe a different look on the private side.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 9:07PM
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yardvaark

but I think the whole thing looks neglected and plain

I agree with you that it looks neglected. It is neglected! Wherever it happens that shrubs grow up into trees, the look is usually that of neglect. Fortunately, it's readily remedied.

On another subject, what's your general impression of the attractiveness of the girl in this picture?:

When you look through the hair, she actually is an attractive girl. But this impression only comes with study, not immediate perception. I see your house in the same situation. The front is so covered up, that the house is the smaller factor in the "curb appeal" of this property.

For a minute, imagine that all houses in the neighborhood are gone. Here is berm covered in juniper with birch trees growing out of it. Is it ugly? I find the combination not only attractive, but fairly powerful. How does it stack up compared to the neighbor's 3 pansies at the mailbox? If one ran into this in the middle of a wheat field, I think it would be seen as something special. With some tidying up, it could work in the burbs. And that's where I'd start. Before I'd take a chance on making things worse by adding other plants with the possibility of junking it up, I'd clean up what you have and re-evaluate it... with a good chance of killing two birds with one stone.

You want to keep the same amount of privacy, but unless you get rid of the bushes growing up into other larger bushes (yes, you're not growing the birches as trees; you're growing them as giant bushes) you will be unable to get rid of the neglectful look. There must be distinct separation between the two. Select a horizontal line somewhere within the roof level. It can be high up near the ridge or low at the eave, but it must be carpenter-level level. Remove ALL birch limbs and foliage at that imaginary line and below. The birch trunks should be clear of branches or stubs. (Don't de-shag the bark.) This will have an added benefit of giving the junipers more light and allowing them to grow better. (I'm surprised they're doing as well as they are.) The junipers could be modestly and evenly trimmed, if desired, but overall, to get the privacy back, you need to let them grow higher. The landscape is dynamic. You have to envision where you want things to "go" and then help them along in that direction.

On the backside of the berm, I rather like Adrienne's dry stream idea. I'd consider also doing the "water" out of very low groundcover with some very large boulders.

This whole thing could be quite stunning and absolutely the lowest maintenance ever. With better pictures, and after a clean-up, it's possible that there could be some plants added for more pizzazz.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 11:07PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Two cautions:

With respect to a dry stream bed, two words: "birch leaves." And actually, that's not all they drop - at least the birches I am familiar with. Not sure how to mitigate that problem if you want rocks, perhaps with fairly large rocks? And don't put landscape fabric underneath, so that the debris can fall through and decompose.

With respect to separating the junipers from the birch branches, the gap you create may not grow closed again in a hurry. Tidying up in that manner has to be traded off against the privacy you will lose by doing so. I would be trying to prune the junipers down more than prune the tree canopy up.

My feeling about the whole composition is that the junipers are sort of the wrong kind for the spot because they are growing up. But as Nandina says, the advantage of them being established is not to be sneezed at,so I would work with them. What you might consider is some other low-growing groundcover, shrubby or otherwise, perhaps epimedium, to tie the junipers better to the berm.

Karin L

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 6:37PM
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adriennemb2(z3/4)

Hee, the dreaded birch tree poop.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 7:59PM
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yardvaark

If I wasn't clear about the gap between trees and junipers, I'm suggesting that the trees be limbed up to a uniform height in order to eliminate the unkempt appearance. ("Smoothing out" the juniper--a little--will help with this, too.) Then the juniper will grow higher to get back the privacy that was lost when the tree canopy raised. At a certain point down the road, all the privacy will come from the junipers. If the bottom of the tree canopy isn't separated from the junipers and raised, the junipers will not be as happy. They like lots of light.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 11:36PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I'd also recommend neatening up the appearance of the massed junipers by light shearing to approximate the shape of the berm. I'm not as certain that the birches being limbed up would be an improvement, but maybe so if more view between street and house is desirable. You might consider continuing the theme of few plant types used in mass to complement the strong effects you already have. Using an appropriate clumping grass at the street side would provide a great textural and color contrast to the junipers. On the interior side using a bolder/softer foliage massed planting such as shade tolerant hostas could work beautifully. If the various Cornus stolonifera cultivars are hardy to your zone, you could use them as some winter textural/color contrasts against the dark green junipers. The twigginess of the Cornus stolonifera
would also visually relate to the birches.

I also think the concept of adding some boulders or a field of large river washed cobbles could work well within the existing mix. You'll definitely find a leaf blower a useful tool if you use rock as a groundcover below trees! A last thought here, there are many different juniper cultivars which are both lower growing ground cover typys with varying shades of foliage in a range from golds to blues to light greens which could complement what you've got. Mass plantings of a contrasting flowering perennial could also look spectacular against that juniper backdrop. Perhaps fall blooming Asters or something like Sedum spectabile. I can't really offer more specific plant suggestions because I'm not really versed with planting design for your part of the country.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 12:36AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I have been thinking about this situation a bit more and realized there are two items that have not been addressed.

First, you mentioned wanting to plant near the mailbox. It might actually not be such a bad idea to put something somewhere else just to relieve this particular planting of the entire responsibility of being your landscaping. Perhaps more to the point, when there is nothing else to look at, all attention goes to the juniper/birch combination. Sitting as it does at the top of the berm, and being in the middle of the yard, it has a bit of a sore thumb impact no matter how nice, or nicely kept, it is.

I would not consider the mailbox in deciding where other plants should go. Mailboxes and such things exert a certain gravitational effect when people are trying to decide where to put plants, but such plantings do not really meet the needs of either the mailbox (to be visible and accessible) or of the plantings (to screen, to welcome, to frame, to balance, etc). So feel free to put any other plantings where they make sense, and leave your mailbox in peace!

Second, about the "nicely kept." Every landscape installation has a lifespan, at least it does on a residential property even if it might live forever in the wild. It is possible that this installation, or a part of it, is reaching the limits of its useful lifespan.

The junipers can be pruned, but I am not sure for how long or to how good an effect. Definitely worth trying. But you might want to ponder a plan B. If this planting were to go, what would you want to do instead? Sometimes it is easier to see that a landscape installation is "over" if you find a new vision to get excited about. It might be just to replace the junipers and leave the birches. It might be hard to establish something new under them, but perhaps not impossible. Say, a microbiota or two? Or whatever else appeals. Probably not something that grows up into the birch foliage though.

Even the birches will probably not be left there forever, by you or a future owner.

Karin L

    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 11:19AM
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