Landscaping Ideas for Backyard - Privacy (cont.)

pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)March 26, 2012

It looks I reached the maximum number of posts on the original thread, so I'll repeat my question here:

I have a questions concerning mulching the beds....I'm assuming I need to remove the sod from the beds and then lay mulch, correct? How do we handle the transition between the redbuds and beauty bushes and the firepit area (mulch to stone/crushed brick)? Any other tips when it comes to mulching?

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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Perhaps the two of you should continue the conversation privately.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2012 at 1:11PM
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To handle choosing two separate mediums for mulch without them mixing will require a divider of some sort. Plastic edging is often used to separate a bed from grass. It's approximately 6 inches high and has a thickened top. If you were to look at it from the side it looks like a lollipop but comes in various lenghts. The bottom portion goes into the ground and the lip sits on top helping to keep various mediums separated. Can be purchased at any box store. It can be a tripping hazard if used the way I think your looking to do A better and more attractive way to separate the different mediums would be to put down a stone path the length of the area you want to separate. A picture of the area would be helpful if I've misunderstood your needs.


    Bookmark   March 26, 2012 at 4:58PM
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As far as existing sod in the future bed areas is concerned, by far the easiest way to deal with it is spray kill it with herbicide once you have the bed edges marked out. Leave it in place and just cover it with mulch in a couple of weeks. You would set the edging at the proper level to contain the lawn and just bring mulch to the top (or nearly) of it on the landscape bed side... which means excavating a little of the bed area near the edge. You'd toss the excavated part further back into the bed area. You might fade an excavation back 2' or so into the bed.

It's actually quite common to do this same thing using no purchased edging at all. In that case the mulch meets the vertical cut edge of the lawn.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2012 at 8:53PM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

That's exactly what I was looking for Yardvaark (I was going to dig up all the sod). Any specific herbicide I should use (I don't want to kill the trees and may need to plant in areas where I'll have already sprayed the herbicide)? Any other tips as I don't want to harm the trees?

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 8:34AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Use an herbicide which is non-residual such as Roundup or similar, taking care to apply it on a windless day or protect tree trunks so they don't get accidentally sprayed. If you're dealing with more resistant types of grass such as St Augustine or Bermuda grass it may take more than one application for complete kill.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2012 at 7:38PM
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Pmsmith, my landscaping 'guy' thought the best thing would be to dig up ALL the St. Augustine, if that's what you have. Since it was my whole back yard I wanted to do away with, using Round-up was out of the question~3 young, strong guys did it all in about 5 hours. I honestly wouldn't waste the money unless u can get a 2for1 deal on the Round-up. Maybe you have a couple of high school boys who would like to earn a little extra money as well as get in shape during the summer. ;o)

Sounds like you're doing pretty much the same as me~~several beds are what i'm going for, so am also doing various mediums for mulch. Have you considered crushed limestone or pea gravel?

Now I need to find you're original post!

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 12:24AM
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Nononono limestone or pea gravel!

Pine bark is great. Do that. :-)

    Bookmark   April 29, 2012 at 12:15AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Hi everyone. Just thought I'd check-in and give an update on the backyard landscaping project I had posted on a few months ago. First, here is a picture of the design we are using for those of you not familiar with our project:

Here is our progress and some observations (hopefully they can help others):

1. We have planted all trees and shrubs with the exception of the Annabelle hydrangea. The beautybush we ordered died but are going to be replaced by the vendor. One of the river birch (planted in groups of 3) also died and will be replaced down the road.

2. We spread two truckloads of mulch (total of 20 yards). I rented a sod cutter before we spread it but now have found new grass is still coming up through the mulch. I am just spot killing the new grass with roundup. Looking back, it probably would have been best to kill all grass with roundup first.

3. We used balsams for the area where "spruces" are designated and a viburnum where bottlebrush buckeye is designated. We also planted balsams along the back of the yard between the pool and fence. We know they will have to be moved or cut down but haven't made a final decision on this area yet.

4. We have begun building the deck which is placed on the southwest corner of the pool.

5. Japanese maple leaves were severly damaged by frost/freezes but new ones seem to be regrowing. This seems to be the most sensative of the trees we planted.

I will post pictures in the next few days! I also wanted to thank again everyone that helped us with advice and plants! We've learned so much from this site!

Finally, as many of you know, I always have new questions. On that note, does anyone have any suggestions on perennials to incorporate in the plan? Thanks as always!

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 3:31PM
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Smitty, good to hear from you! I was wondering how your project was coming along and it sounds like you're making progress. Am surprised you are as far along as you are. Hope some of it has been FUN...not just all work!

So this is the plan you finally came up with? It looks remarkably like the how-to-draw-a-plan example I submitted! Well, pay your money and take your chances, I guess. : )

It is not abnormal for emerging leaves to be killed by a late frost. Most plants carry right on.

I'm curious, besides the areas that were unresolved, did there turn out to be areas that are a problem for one reason or another?

There are so many great perennials. I'd start with some of the tried and true and expand afterward into anything your heart desires. Some great basic ones are:

Hybrid or fancy Daylilies (Hemerocallis)
Siberian Iris ('Caesar's Brother' is common and pretty, too)
herbaceous Peonies
Hosta (shade)
Astilbe (shade)
Russian sage (Perovskia)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
Pink or purple coneflower
Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis)
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Perennial Salvia (Salvia nemorosa)
Liatris (buy as bulbs)
Pink or purple fountain grass (Pennisetum)

I was going to put asterisk by the ones that are "must have," but it would be all of them. Will give Russian Sage a double asterisk for its dramatic abilities. I'd find a place for every single one even if it's just temporary. In the next two years you can move them to where they're best suited after you get a chance to appraise their performance and abilities. (You will need to create some of the places for them.)

Grass by the pool: you might start with Miscanthus sinensis, either 'Gracillimus' or 'Morning Light', and also get a start of 'Strictus' or 'Zebrinus'

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 11:26PM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Thanks Yardvaark! I will update some of the challenges we've faced in a bit, but for the time being here are some pics:

Southwest corner of backyard (along back deck)

Northwest corner of backyard (along back deck)

Back deck

Back of house

North side of backyard (river birches)

Northeast corner of backyard

Another shot of northeast corner of backyard

East side of backyard (back) facing south

East side of backyard (back) facing north

Start of deck construction (16' long by 12' wide) facing east

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 8:49AM
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I envisioned the bed line on the side (where the Birch trees are) to be a little more fluid feeling. (See my picture below.) But whether it's worth changing is something I can't say. What you have may work fine for you; I can't see the overall of how it ties in with the rest of the yard . (If you altered it, you'd need to alter the Birch placement.)

Since you have weeds/grass coming up, it's a blessing that you don't have groundcover in the way of the Roundup treatments. But soon... during the summer if you can water it regularly, or maybe in the fall if you can't, you'll want to install some groundcover. Eventually, the mulch will wear thin and invite more weeds if there is not groundcover already smothering out their attempts to invade.

It's hard to see many of the plants so not much comment for those. To the left of deck (as facing it from the back yard) it looks like the shrubs (Hydrangea) may be too close to the house wall. Their centers should be between 2' - 3' off the wall (uniformly, of course.) If the Potentilla in the same vicinity is running at an angle (as it appears) I'd straighten it up in line with the deck. If you're trying to round the lines out a bit, I'd do it instead with the addition of perennials filling in the corner space.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 11:32AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Here's a more detailed recap of issues/observations area by area:

1. North lot line - River birch were planted in 7 clumps of three trees each. The clump that is to the furthest southwest position (front left in picture above) was a transplant from another area in the yard. It has been growing for 4 years or so (ordered as bare-root 2'), is approximately 7' tall, and is by far the fullest clump. The other two southmost clumps (hard to see but closest clumps in above picture) were bought a month ago as 2' bare-root. The 4 northmost clumps are comprised of two 2' bare root trees each and one donated tree each from Kevin. The donated trees are VERY tall (approximately 30' tall). One of them just died, but the other three are doing well. These donated trees are rather bare of leaves (especially down low) but I imagine they will fill in next year now that they are not in a "forest-type" environment. I know that I have a widely varied size/maturity of birches, and not sure how/when to prune to create a more uniformed look.

2. North lot line (Japanese Maples) - Kevin donated a beautiful Japanese maple that, like I said previously, was affected by the frost/freezes. It seems to be getting new leaves now. There is room for another Japanese maple which we still need to buy (I would imagine we need to wait until next spring now).

3. North lot line (Pogoda Dogwood) - Seems to be doing well. The leaves were slightly affected by the cold but seem to be okay otherwise.

4. Northeast corner. We moved the swingset slightly away from the fence and turned it. We planted two Oakleaf hydrangea on either side of the three trees in the back corner and they seem to be doing well. They are a bit sparse/tall but I'd imagine they'll fill over time? We ended up planting three different trees in the back corner (burr oak, red oak and hickory) because they were donated.

5. East lot line - Three balsam were planted in the area designated as "Spruce". They are about 2' tall and don't have the greatest shape (transplants from northern Wisconsin) but I'd imagine we can prune them as they grow. We planted two 4' Viburnum in a clump where Bottlebrush Buckeye were specified. It needs to be moved as spacing isn't correct but I'd imagine we should wait until next spring? Balsams were then planted in the area between the pool and fence. We planted them temporarily in case all the transplants didn't survive. We haven't decided if we'll leave them but understand that they will eventually have to be moved, or cut down when they get to be too big.

6. Pool deck - We decided to place the pool deck on the south west corner of the pool. It will run 16' from north to south (about half way across pool) and 12' east to west (most of that length will extend out into the yard.

7. South lot line - The area between the pool and south lot line is open and will eventually have solar panels located there. The beautybush we ordered online died but will be replaced. It probably is for the best as their placement may have to be tweaked once the deck is finished. Not sure how they will be placed as we don't want them blocking access beween fence and the deck (10-12' away from fence). The firepit area hasn't been started and may have to wait until next year. The area does seem kind of small so we'll have to see once the deck is finished.

8. Southwest corner - One mature redbud was donated and planted and is doing well. Six 2' bare root redbuds were ordered and planted and are growing. I'm still not happy with the spacing so I may need to make some modifications.

9. Deck area - Two Endless Summer hydrangeas were planted in the area designated as "Big Leaf Hydrangea" (south of deck along foundation). Three Goldfinger potentillas were planted along the south side of deck, one at the southeast corner (to the south of the stairs) three along the east side of the deck, and three to the north of the deck (along foundation leaving approximately 7' for two Annabelle hydrangea next to deck). The hibiscus bush was planted in the nook just to the north of the staircase (designated where a small tree could be planted in the design above). Three Sensation lilacs were planted along the north side of the deck. The serviceberry was tranplanted to the northeast corner of the house.

I think that pretty much sums up our progress. Thanks as always for all the help!

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 11:50AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Thanks Yardvaark. If we changed the lines of the birch bed, how would place the trees? Is it too late in the year to move them now?

If I remeber correctly, I planted the hydrangea approximately 22" from the foundation. That was assuming they would reach the 3'-4' width size the tag said. The potentilla are 20" or so from deck and 3' apart. The first two (back two in the picture) are the same distance from the deck. The third is a bit closer as I was trying to create a rounded affect coming around the corner.

I will take more pictures and measurements of the areas you mentioned. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 12:00PM
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1. "I know that I have a widely varied size/maturity of birches, and not sure how/when to prune to create a more uniformed look." Don't bother doing anything for it this year. Just let them grow and develop strength. At the end of the next dormant season is when you'll prune... according to what you have and where you want to go. A good picture after they've grown and next become dormant will get you some advice.

2. You can buy and plant the Jap maple anytime you can find it in a container or already balled and burlapped. You'll need to provide water until it's established. If the Jap. maples are in a grouping you'll need to find one that matches what you have.

4. "We ended up planting three different trees in the back corner (burr oak, red oak and hickory) because they were donated." Well, it's way at the back and who will care if you don't?

5. Sure, you can trim Spruce for shape as they grow. You can transplant Viburnums anytime during the dormant season when the ground isn't frozen. Fall or Spring. I like Fall because roots still grow even while the top is dormant.

8. If you want to change redbud spacing, wait until fall.

Within a year or two, as things develop and grow and you finish up your existing projects, you'll find it much easier tighten up the direction that brings it all home.

Nice job on getting this far! I'd put some thrust into developing groundcover so you are not looking at a sea of weatherbeaten mulch next year. If you are undecided about groundcover plants, you would do well to get samples of the various contenders. Install anywhere just for observation and to learn the plants. Knowing their personalities will make deciding the winners easier.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 2:39PM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Thanks Yardvaark! Sounds like maybe we should be concentrating on groundcover as opposed to perennials as we are on a limited budget at this point? If so, can you suggest a handful of plants that would be good options for groundcover? I'm going to Menards today and wanted to check some out.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2012 at 9:22AM
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Nearly any of the above mentioned perennials could do duty as groundcover in smaller areas and where some height is desired. Suit plant to conditions.

A popular large scale groundcover plant because of it's mostly evergreen nature and winter color is Euonymus fortunei 'Coloratus', aka wintercreeper. 12" height. Sun or shade, but best color in sun. There is a similar variegated version.

A cheap, easy, deciduous groundcover is Virginia creeper. 10" ht.

Japanese Painted Fern... shade, 12" (+)

Low groundcovers could be...
Dianthus 'Firewitch'... strong bloom color, blue-green foliage
Aujuga... pretty, but watch location... attracts bumblebees when in bloom, various foliage color
Sedum sieboldii ... blue foliage
'Magic Carpet' Thyme, reddish pink bloom
Sedum kamtschaticum... yellow bloom

If something in particular at Menards attracts you, mention it here for feedback.

Of course, there are more than what I've mentioned. Maybe someone else will toss out some suggestions. Research the details of any that you consider to see if the plant's personality suits your goals.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2012 at 11:24AM
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Brad Edwards

Evergreen trees, evergreen trees, evergreen trees due to your neighboors all having two story houses. I would go to the local nursery and ask what grows really well in your area and would grow fast to the 30-50 foot range for the back and 30ish for the sides, and put 5-7 across the back. I would also probably throw in a fast growing red maple variety or two across the back for color and place near and in front of the evergreen so you get the color and in winter get the green. I would just about forget groundcover and would really focus on the trees for privacy.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2012 at 1:37PM
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Brad Edwards

I forgot to add I would place the large evergreens right in the path from the neighbors windows in line of sight to your house, that way you can barely see your neighbors house and windows, it will give you a ton of privacy that way.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2012 at 1:38PM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Any opinion on using Dianthus Firewitch as a border around the beds? What are the blooming characteristics of Firewitch and what kind of spacing would you recommed?

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 9:59AM
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While my love for plants and gardening began in childhood, my interest in landscaping did not begin until adulthood. During the years before it began it's almost as if the things I saw in the landscape, I only saw with peripheral vision. At that time, I was tolerant of anything that looked "pretty". My very first actual attempt at landscaping (as an "enthusiast" before any schooling, studying, learning about it or gaining experience) was to line each side of a walk with a skinny bed of (too tall) annuals. In retrospect, I consider this to be one of the most atrociously despicable things that a person can do in the name of landscaping. However, I would not learn that until some time later.

It was during ensuing years that I observed that almost always, a narrow "line" of any plant (used like a necklace) never looked as good as a solid, wide bed of the same plant. So the idea of narrow lines of plants used as "edging" consistently rub me the wrong way. Out in the real world there are many bad ideas that are considered to be completely normal and acceptable and "edging" beds with a line of plants (even alternated ones) is one of them. Rather than giving a professional look, to me, it gives a fussy, "old lady-ish" look. And it adds more maintenance to the work schedule.

If the "edging" is w i d e , it begins to take on an acceptable character. I don't have time right now, but I wanted to show you how you could subdivide groundcover areas to add more interest. It will not be in opposition to the idea that continuity is important.

Though there are trees and shrubs planted, they are small and barely visible in the photos. It mostly looks like a yard of mulch. Obviously, the goal is not to feature a yard of mulch in future years. It's just where owners determined they needed to start in order to make things work with the budget. It will require patience to see results and depending on how it shakes out, some plant replacements and some additions may be needed later. Nevertheless, getting started with groundcover will be important unless the owner wants to add a lot more mulch for top-dressing in the future. This is a great time to explore and test groundcover possibilities. Learning how to propagate some plants (easy) from one's own stock can save a terrific amount of money. I installed a quarter acre of ivy in my own yard. It didn't cost me anything but a little time.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 11:41AM
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Forgot to mention about the blooming characteristics of 'Fire witch'. I love that blue-green, vigorous, mowed-lawn-like mat of foliage... and even the dazzlingly bright bloom. It's good for a 3-week blast and maybe a little recurrent bloom later. But be careful how you use it. It is so bright and powerful, that it can give a "Candyland"-like appearance. It should be the necktie, not the suit.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 11:50AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Thanks oceandweller. Unfortunately due to space (our backyard is only 100'x 80' approximately) and the pool (27' round) space for large conifers is limited (we want to maintain a decent sized grassy area for kids to play in). Also, we like the "northwoods" feeling created by planting "layers' of trees.

I have done some shopping, and so far have purchased the following perennials: coneflowers (purple "Magnus" and Powwow Wild Berry), dwarf coreopsis (Coreopsis auriculata), "Little Business" daylily, Black-eyed Susan "Goldstrum", Astible (red and pink), liatris (25 bulbs) and red lilies (10 bulbs). We also have two large clumps of salvia (each approximately 20" wide) growing in a back corner which we will move and yellow daylilies (I think 'Stella De Oro') growing in front which we can divide. We plan on planting in clumps of three plants each. We would like to work on planting in the beds along the back deck (along back of house) first. We are struggling with placement and spacing (don't want to block hydrangeas and potentillas).

I have also found a woman who is selling the following:


Celandine Poppy
Johnny-jump-up viola
Brown eyed susan
Black eyed susan
Purple Coneflower
White coneflower
Clustered bellflower
Canna Lily bulbs - Auguste Ferrier
Perennial bee balm


Hosta - many varieties including the miniatures
Astilbe (pink - spreading variety)
Astilbe (white - spreading variety)
Purple clustered bellflower

Sedum (varigated, Autumn Joy, Creeping golden groundcover)

Nepeta - Catmint
Gooseneck loosestrife
Monarda - red, deep pink, pastel pink, lavender
hardy mums

35 varieties of daylilies

38 varieties of iris (miniature, Siberian, and bearded)


Bugleweed Ajuga
White Nancy Spotted Dead Nettle
Lamb' Ear
Catmint Nepeta
Lady's Mantle - Alchemilla vulgaris

Not sure what is good and bad on this list but would appreciate any suggestions on what I should look at when I go to see her and where it might fit in to our plan.

Thanks as always!

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 9:06AM
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A lot of the plants that are in your long list (if they don't show up in the previous list) are not so much landscape material as they are gardening material. Experiment with any buy obtaining a sample and observing its characteristics over a year or two. Some may be useful. Others not.

Be more specific about the "spacing" questions. What and where exactly?

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 10:36AM
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Hmm, you have a lot of my favourites on there...

In those shady woodlands areas, you can't beat hostas and astilbe. Bugle weed too is beautiful, both foliage and flowers, but is a rather vigourous groundcover. And although you don't have it on the list, have you considered colombine, bleeding heart and of course ferns? There are a billion types of bellflowers - I prefer the smaller, clumping variety but they all have a long or recurrent bloom time, love nestling in semi-shaded rocks and are self-propagating.

As for the sun-loving plants that you've listed, I find that veronica is overall a better looking plant than salvia. Like veronica, catmint will rebloom if you cut them back after the first flush. Coreopsis is a great meadowland type flower that tends to look rather weedy when not in bloom. There are so many types of sedum, all of which do great in drier, well drained areas of the yard. Their best showcase in a northern garden is often beside walkways.

Daylilies are terrific when at their peak but you have to continually cut off the spent flowers to keep them looking tidy. Irises are strictly late spring/early summer, so make sure that the variety you pick has foliage that you like for the remainder of the season. Spiderwort too is much the same as the irises - I've had to give up on it in a mixed bed garden though because I keep mistaking it for clumps of grass and weeding them out ;"

The bees love monarda. They spread by runner and will pop up in unexpected places. If you like these flowers for their wildlife attractant value, you absolutely have to make room for Joe Pye weed - 6 foot tall (but sturdy) beautiful perennial flowers that amazingly die back to the ground each winter. A smaller plant with a similar flower head, acslepias, is an absolute must to attract monarch butterflies to the yard. The caterpillars will devour the leaves, leaving just the bloom and the cocoons behind but wow... in a few weeks, your yard will be alive with butterflies. So cool.

And my absolute favourite are johnny-jump-ups and violas. Such cheerful, brave little faces. The first to come in the spring, disappearing in summer only to re-emerge in the fall. And once you have planted them, you truly never know where they will "jump up" again the next year.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 11:50AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Thanks Yardvaark. When I referred to spacing, I mean how far different species of perennials should be planted from each other (I have found spacing recommendations of same species online)?

One of my concerns/struggles is creating a stepped looked of perennials (tallest in back, shortest in front). For example, from the list you provided, I would imagine coneflowers and liatris would be planted in the back (tallest) and coreopsis would be planted in front (smallest) with the rest of your suggestion in between. Wouldn't the coneflowers and liatris block the hydrangea and potentillas in back?

As for groundcover, you had mentioned groups, or large clumps, of same species together. For example, if we were to plant purple wintercreeper around the river birches, how large of an area would we ant to cover?

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 12:00PM
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What must be taken into account with perennials is that they go through phases. Determining where they go, and how, is based on their performance through most of the growing season. That's why, the best thing to do with perennials is to get a bunch of them and observe their habits over a year or two to figure out where and how they best fit in. Liatris, for example has almost grass-like foliage that is only a few inches high through most of the growing season. But when it blooms for a fairly lengthy time period (let's say 3 or 4 weeks from start to finish) it sends up flower spikes that are 2' or 2 1/2' tall. But they're not like a thick, solid mass. So if they stick up in front of something for a few weeks, it's not really going to block what's behind and then, and then, shortly thereafter, they'll be finished blooming. It is the constant changes that makes gardening intriguing and time consuming to learn. A plant cannot be understood just by seeing it in a pot at the garden center. Do the basic research about each plant as far as it's foliage and bloom height and make your best, educated guess, as to where exactly it should fit in. You understand the general concept of tall at back transcending to shorter in front. As you learn (over the next couple of years) you will need to make some adjustments, but eventually, you'll see that it will become orderly. It's fun discovering two plants that look spectacular together and then working them into an awesome display.

If you want a rule of thumb about perennial spacing, figure that somewhere between 18" to 24" will be reasonably safe. But as there is a HUGE range of perennials, this range cannot work for everything. But don't worry, you really can't make a mistake than can't be fixed. (Especially, since you are a transplanting expert!) And the agony of transplanting is all the drive you need as a stimulus to learn how to avoid it.

Also, don't worry about something being blocked in it's "baby", immature state. Worry only about it in it's mature, fully grown state.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 2:27PM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

I know it's been a long time (some of you may remember me from the long thread "Landscaping Ideas for Backyard - Privacy")since I've been on, but I wanted to provide some updated pictures from all the landscaping help I got last Spring.

Back of house facing north. Lilacs along deck, annabelle hydrangeas in corner of deck and house, potentilla (died) along foundation, Purlple coneflowers and black-eyed susans, serviceberry (furthest corner of bed

From deck facing northeast. River birch grove.

Back of house facing south. Potenntilla (died) around deck, hbig leaf ydrangea in corner (purple), daylilies, redbud grove.

Pool, deck and beautyberry bushes (right of deck)

Facing back of house. Potentilla around deck, hibscus between deck and deck stairs

Back of house facing southwest. Redbud grove.

Facing back of yard (northeast)

Back of yard facing southeast. Viburnim plicatum tomentosum

Facing northeast. Balsam in foreground. Oakleaf hydrangea behind swingset

Back fence line facing northeast. Oakleaf hydrangea in foreground, oaks and hickory in corner (and lots of weeds).

Northeast corner. Pagoda dogwood in foreground, oakleaf hydrangea along fence, oaks and hickory in corner.

Facing east along south fenceline. Beautybushes.

Thanks again everyone for all your help. I learned a lot this year and lots of work this coming spring!

    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 10:56PM
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Smitty, good of you to post the pictures. With all the bare root material you put in it looks like a good amount survived. After they go through the winter, then during the next growing season you'll probably see growth that is much beyond anything you saw during the first summer. Winter is great for plants! The plants are still small enough that it's hard to grasp their impact or meaning. It will take more time for us to be able to to see them. One thing I can see coming up is that where there are like plants in a group (3 redbud for example) you'll want to have it so that they all look like closely related brothers in a family (same form.) You won't want one to be a single trunk and 2 to be multi-trunk or some other such combination. But working on that is something for Spring, just before new growth pops out. We can re-visit that then. What we also want to see now is a good picture of that finished pool deck (...not just a snippet!)

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 10:30AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Thanks Yardvaark! It was an extremely dry and hot summer so we did experience some losses. About half of the Potentilla died, the bigleaf hydrangea were constantly wilting, the beauty bushes did not do well, the one Japanese maple did not make it, most of the balsams died, and one of the oaks did not make it. I would say we had a 75% survival rate. A couple of questions:

1. Do I just cut all the dead growth off on the perennials (purple coneflowers, black-eyed susans, etc)
2. What do I do to the hibiscus (we bought it as a bulb in spring) for winter?
3. Should I prune the transplanted birches now? They are very tall (approximately 20' or so) and had a lot of green growth at the tops very little at the bottom (because they were transplanted from a forest setting).

I will take some pictures of the deck and a couple pictures from the second story to show the bed layouts this weekend.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 11:53AM
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In general, you can cut off dead growth anytime it doesn't look good. (Sometimes dead flowers and leaves--like on grasses--look great.) I would wait to prune the Birches until just before they go into growth mode. Sometimes, cutting before winter seems to invite drying and dieback. Just to be safe, I'd wait. Don't know what Hibiscus you have but, in general, allow things to freeze and then mulch well. If it's tropical, it could/should become a house plant for the winter. A "bulb" could be something to be lifted and stored in a cool place... or left in place and mulched. You need to know what it is so you can do the right thing. See if you can find out.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 12:17PM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

The name of the hibiscus is "Hibiscus Fireball - Perennial Hibiscus ".

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 12:42PM
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That one is perennial. Let the soil freeze then mulch well. After last frost in spring, reduce mulch to the normal level to help soil warm up.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 10:11PM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

I was able to get out this past Saturday (it was close to 50 degrees) and take a few pictures of our pool deck:

    Bookmark   January 14, 2013 at 10:45AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

While I was out this past weekend I watered some of the trees with buckets of water (I read somewhere that it was a good idea during winter especially during times of drought). I also took some pictures to try to start planning a gameplan for this coming spring:

This is the area in to the left of the back deck (if facing the house from the backyard - southwest) where we planted a redbud "grove". I will be adding a gate and replacing the 4' pressure treated fence panels with 5' cedar pickets spaced slightly closer together (any advice/tips?). I will also being moving a couple of the redbuds to adjust spacing. Do I need to trim/prune them (I'm not too worried about spring flowering this spring)?

Pictured are two broadleaf hydrangeas (Endless Summer) that are planted just to the left of the back deck along the foundation. I had a terrible time getting these to grow last summer. It seemed that I would water them and they would be wilted the next day. I'm not sure if the sun against the back of the house burned them or what. Maybe they should be moved somewhere else and replaced with some of the knockout roses from the front yard? Also, the potentillas I planted around the deck did not survive. Maybe it was just to dry last summer?

Serviceberry to the right of the back deck (northwest). Does the serviceberry need to be trimmed at all? There are shoots coming up (see shoot to the right of the main truck)....I'm assuming I just let this be?

These are pictures of the river birch grove along the north side of the backyard. There are seven groups of three trees each. As you can see, they are in different stages of growth. Some of the birches (very tall) were donated by a generous gardenweb member last spring. The big clump (third picture down) was started about 5 years ago in our backyard as bare root trees. The rest of the trees (2-3' tall) were started last Spring as bare roots. How do I trim/prune all these trees this spring to start building some conformity?

Japanes Maple along north side of back yard. I think this tree died unfortunately. It was transplanted and then we received a hard frost. The leaves died and never really grew back. If it is dead I need to buy a pair for this area. Any specific suggestions?

Pagoda Dogwood along north lot line. I'm not sure how this should look so I don't know if it needs trimming/pruning or not.

Oakleaf hydrangea along north east corner. Not sure if these need to be trimmed/pruned. They were donated (transplanted) last spring and are tall (not bushy).

Burr oak, red oak and hickory trees in northeast corner. Do these need any pruning or do I just let them grow for now?

Viburnim plicatum tomentosum along back of backyard (east). Not sure on the shape on this one either so not sure if trimming/pruning is needed.

This is the area along the south side of the backyard where we're planning the firepit. As of now we are plannig on building it in the ground using a metal firepit ring and some sort of rock but we are open to suggestions.

Thanks in advance for any replies. I know spring will come fast and I'm just trying to get a plan together.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2013 at 4:55PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Nice follow-up. I suggest doing quite a bit of research on pruning techniques. You might get more info for links on the trees or shrubs forums. There are too many techniques and species to discuss in this thread.

In the first year or two typically you want only remove dead, diseased or rubbing branches.

You have a nice diversity but there is alot of pruning that needs to be done in multiple phases starting in year 2 or 3.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2013 at 6:58PM
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I agree; it's good of you to update so progress can be seen. Nice job on the deck. It looks like high quality construction. Very handsome!

Most pruning advice come from a horticultural viewpoint as opposed to a landscape viewpoint. It's self-centered from the plant's perspective with little thought about how the plant fits into the creation of a larger display. You're on the right track as far as wanting like plants that are grouped together to behave in a similar fashion. Ditto on not being concerned with flowering. Plenty will come later.

It's helpful to know a couple of basic concepts of pruning. When a stem is cut back, it will usually encourage branching from the remaining portion of the stem. Where one stem was, several others will sprout. Likewise, cutting one "trunk" might turn it into 2 to 5 trunks. This is highly variable and depends to a large extent on the particular species and other conditions as to how many sprouts pop up to take the place of the one cut. This is the method that is used to "thicken up" branching (or "trunking" or "twigging") on a plant. The converse process is that of thinning, where side branches (or trunks or twigs) are entirely removed from a main member in order to obtain less thickened growth. These two processes may be used to obtain the exact thickness or thinness of branching (or "trunking" or "twigging") of the plant one desires.

Another major factor in creating the form of a tree would be the angle of spread of the trunk system. In the nursery, young plants, while the wood it highly flexible and form-able, are often tied to support systems in order to grow plants of uniform angle of trunk spread. Homeowners sometimes prefer to just pick the trunks that are growing most where and how desired and remove the rest.

Another factor that determines the form of a tree is how much clear trunk (the portion without any side branching) is permitted. Obviously, one cannot create 8' of clear trunk on an infant tree that is only 4' in height. Clear trunk can only be increased as is permitted by the overall height of the tree. While there are many opinions about how much clear trunk a tree should have and how it should be created, the general rule of thumb I use is up to 50% of the total plant height. If done BEFORE the spring flush of growth, the branch removal results in regrowth at the upper portions of the tree. It may return to a 60% canopy vs. 40% clear trunk, or something along those lines after the spring flush of growth is completed. Later in the year it will probably be even more canopy-heavy. Pruning in anticipation of what is to come is better in my opinion than reactionary pruning, which is what most people do. It's physically easier and there is less of a scar to heal on the plant. If a plant is to be in the shrub form, no clear trunk is desired or produced. Many woody plants can be grown as shrubs or trees and it is their owners who decide what form will work best as the plant is, above all, in the service of man. It's not up to the plant to decide, but plants do have their "preferences" which determine how much they are willing to cooperate. Those that sprout innumerable "trunks" or sucker prolifically would not be easy to make into tree forms ... unless one is after some sort of grove effect. Those that tend toward sparse trunks and leggy (branch-free) growth would not easily make good shrubs. Sometimes, plants balk at whatever it is one decides for them, but over the course of time (with ongoing insistence) may become cooperative. It depends.

Woody plants are better if trunks and branches do not begin on one side of the plant and cross over to the other side. It's bad form that, when visible, appears messy on trees and shrubs whenever the trunks are exposed to view. Even if hidden in foliage canopies it can sometimes lead to a disfigured appearance if heavy pruning is called for at a later time.

As one example, I would advise you to prune the river birches so as to make the most uniform appearance of the group. (While they may be of different size today, it's not likely to be noticeable after a few years, so you can ignore the difference for now.) While it's true that you could get away with doing nothing for a year or two and then catch up later, I would suggest making the obvious corrections now so as not to pay a higher price down the road. You'll need to decide what you think is the superior appearance for the species. (While most river birch are commonly grown in trunk clusters of 3-4 trunks, when I see 5-7 trunk clusters--since a primary reason for growing them is the bark--to me they seem superior, displaying more bark and offering a heftier stature. Decide what is your idea of optimum and work toward that.) For the trunk spread try to envision a cone shape (narrower at bottom) that the trunks will fit within. In order to maintain a uniform trunk spread, remove those that fall outside of the imagined cone and allow the best (of what number you decide) to remain within. You can use training devices--stakes, tying, etc.--while the wood is young and flexible, if it makes it easier. In your tree "A" below--which I think has the best presentation of the lot--at this time (anytime before the spring flush of growth) I'd remove only the trunk portion which appears to be crossing from the left side, through the center and over to the right side. Trees "B" and "D" seem to have a single trunk that is substantially larger than any other. While it might seem drastic, I'd remove those large trunks, cut to 6", and divert their growth energy into regrowth and into the smaller trunks. This will result in more uniform trunk size overall. It's likely that the trunk removed will still produce the largest trunks, but it will be 3 or so, not just one. Since there is such disparity, if you allow the large trunks to remain it's likely that they will shade the shorter trunks and slow their growth enough to prevent their catching up. Not all that much later, the removal of the larger trunks will be unnoticeable. It will probably be next year that you could concern yourself with removing extra trunks. For now, they could contribute to feeding the plant. By then, it's likely that some would advance over others and make their own "suggestions" about which should stay and which should be removed. At tree "C" there is not enough growth to warrant doing anything. Just feed and water during the growing season to encourage more growth.

I doubt if occasional watering of deciduous trees during the winter will amount to much but neither would it be likely to hurt anything. Evergreens might appreciate it if the soil is dry and the ground isn't frozen solid.)

I would give the wilting hydrangeas more time. Some plants have a difficult time getting adjusted. If plants wilt, don't automatically give them more water. If the soil is already damp and watering is frequent, the roots can rot which will cause never-ending wilt. Water according to the moisture condition of the soil, not the wilting condition of the plant. For new plants, sometimes you might need to offer some temporary shade for which something simple can be rigged.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2013 at 10:23AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Thanks Whaas and Yardvaark! A few follow up questions:

1. Provided a tree was growing and healthy at the end of last summer/fall, it is okay to prune this spring?

2. What is the best time to prune? Can I prune now? Wait until February or March?

3. Do the redbuds need to be pruned at all? Some of the branches seem pretty low but I'm thinking I should wait another year to see how they develop? Thoughts?

4. Just to clarify, I should cut the main, tall river birches (20-25' tall) all the way down to the ground, down to 6", or down to 6'? And I would just leave all the remaining shoots or stems around the tall trees until next year? There is a smaller birch (8'-10') in the groups on the far right and far left (they were transplants)...cut those down too?

5. Just leave the serviceberry, dogwood and vibernium as is for this year? They are all shrubs I think so they are suppose to have multiple stems, correct?

6. Should the oakleaf hydrangeas be cut down to a certain height? Shouldn't they be more "bushy"?

7. Trim the low branches on the oaks and hickory (they are almost at ground level)?

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   January 15, 2013 at 1:47PM
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1. A tree that is growing and healthy at the end of last summer/fall is okay to be pruned in the spring.

2. The best time to prune for major shaping and sizing is in the dormant season before the spring flush of growth. (Some people think that the closer to spring it is, the less likelihood of die-back from the cut area there will be.) But many pruning operations can occur during the growing season ... especially if you are trying to reduce size or limit growth. With pruning, most people are concerned about mistakenly cutting off the next batch of blooms. For plants that produce bloom on the previous season's growth ("old wood") prune as soon after flowering as possible so that there is time for next year's flower buds to form. It's the spring flowering woody plants that usually fall into this category. Research plants individually to see if they flower on new wood or old.

3. You'll need to decide if you want to grow the Redbuds as single trunk or multi-trunk trees. (If it was my yard, I would do multi.) They are small and new enough that you could do nothing this year but let them produce as many leaves as possible, trying to develop strength and vigor.

4. With the River Birches, I'm basically saying REMOVE the tall, single trunk that is seriously way ahead of any other potential trunks in their respective groups. If there were 5 similar trunks (or how many you want) in a group, I would not say to do this! "Remove" means to cut to 6 inches height. Leave all the remaining potential trunks; they can be sorted next year.

5. The serviceberry, dogwood and vibernium are all shrubs (I think that's what you are deciding) so are supposed to have multiple stems. Basically, check them for cross-over wood and give a light shaping, if needed. They may be too young to discern a shape so next year would be fine for doing that. If any are to be in the tree form you'll do the same plus some limbing up.

6. Make sure the oakleaf hydrangeas have light, water and fertilizer and they will become bushy on their own. You can cut the height if it's taller than you wish it to be. Otherwise, not really needed. When new stems form, you can remove the old one if it has a bad appearance.

7. Yes, trim the low branches on the oaks and hickory.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2013 at 9:41AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

YV was definitely more generous with his time!

The only other points I'd offer is that some species are considered "bleeders". Although its ok to prune them in winter and spring you are best pruning in late spring/early summer or even in fall after they go dormant. But I still have issues during that time for larger cuts.

These species include maple, yellowwood and riverbirch. There are others.

Further more there are some species that you shouldn't prune in early spring/early summer. For example Red oak due to the beetle that spreads oak wilt.

You can go multi-stem or single stem on the river birch. Now is the time to decide which route you want to go.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2013 at 8:41PM
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Whaas, your birches and the shrubs below look nice ... and healthy.

Wondering about the "bleeding" you mention ... are you referring to the temporary (but sometimes seemingly lengthy) oozing of fluid after a cut, or an ongoing chronic condition that develops because of it? After various pruning over the years I've seen weeping that goes on for several days, but it has never appeared to do any actual damage or resulted in any lasting effect ... that I could see anyway. Is there conclusive evidence that it's a real danger to some species? Or is it just "alarming?"

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 8:04PM
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There are a lot of ways you can improve the privacy to your backyard. You can use trees and bushes..there are many types that flower or can even grow quickly.

Here is a link that might be useful: Landscaping

    Bookmark   January 18, 2013 at 11:17AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Thanks for all the great advice Whaas and Yardvaark!

Waas....out of curiosity, do you know the name of the bushes/perennials under the two river birch pictures you posted above (I'm just trying to get ideas of what to plant under ours)?

I know last year there was some concern about the shape of the beds around the river birch groves. I took some pictures this past weekend to show the actual outline/layout (I would like to make adjustments this spring if needed):

Thanks as always for everyone's help!

    Bookmark   January 21, 2013 at 10:10AM
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To me, it was the flat spot and abrupt turn on the bed line that seemed a little out of character for the overall space.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2013 at 11:05AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

I really like that simple line change yard suggested!

definitely not a long term issue with the bleeders. Its more or less an aesthetic issue that can cause temp. staining. Not all that attractive for white bark specimens. Large cuts can be problematic in certain cases.

Pic 1 you have ivory hello dogwood and awesome blossom daylily. Picture 2 you have my Monet weigela and pink supreme flower carpet rose.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2013 at 8:35PM
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Whaas, thanks for clarifying about the bleeding. Makes sense.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2013 at 11:12PM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Much appreciated Yardvaark and whaas. I've done some research and decided on trying winter sowing some perennials, groundcover and ornamental grasses to try and get a good start for spring. Also, we decided to scrap the solar panel idea for the pool and will probably be planting grasses around the back (east) and side (south) of the pool. The deck position has changed since Yardvaark's design above so we have a lot more room to work with in the area between the pool and fence on the south side. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   January 24, 2013 at 9:38AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Good morning. I'm getting ready to place a tree order and have a couple of questions:

1. The japanese maple we planted last spring (looked like bloodgood) along the north line (between the river birches on right and pagoda dogwood just to the left of the playset - full sun) did not do well and very well may be dead. It was affected greatly by the late frost we got last spring. After researching japanese maples this seems this is a common issue for them in our zone (5b). Therefore, we are going to replace the japanese maple with two or three shrubs/small trees. We really liked the dark red/purple of the original japanese maple (great contrast) so were thinking ninebark (may not be tall enough) or Sambucus Black Lace (Elderberry - It may be too dark...almost black). Any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

2. We need to plant along the back (east lot line) and side (south lot line) of our pool. We originally thought we might install solar panels to heat the pool but now have decided against that idea. There is approximately 10' at the closest point between the pool and the fence at the back and 14' at the closest point along the side. Right now, we a are thinking a group of three upright junipers/arborvitaes in the back corner (southeast corner), and then tall grasses and/or shrubs along the two sides. We have to be careful with trees that are messy and who's roots could affect the pool lining. Ideally a shrub/grass that got to be about 8-10' would be ideal but after much reading, I know no plant stops growing at a magical height. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

3. The three beautybushes we planted along the south lot line did not so well. Two died originally and were replaced by the nursery we ordered from and were replaced. By the end of summer all three were doing poorly again and may be dead. Keep in mind we had an extremeley hot and dry summer last year. Should we replace them again or try something else?

Thanks as always!

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 9:46AM
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Woody plants for sure don't stop growing at that "magical height," but in a way, perennials do. At least they get into the magic height ball park and don't stray much from that zone.

You might look at 'Skyrocket' Juniper for the backdrop of the pool area. They're tough. And narrow. Also, explore Miscanthus grasses. Some of them get quite large and look quite lovely in a poolside setting. I'd consider finding the Jap Maple and Beauty Bush locally in containers. Sometimes, bare root through the mail can by "iffy." If one is experienced and can be reasonably certain of the quality they're getting, and if plants are hard to find locally, then there's a good reason to use mail order. But if there's difficulties, I'd shop locally first. Here in Florida, even the big box stores carry an amazing variety of plants and the prices are (usually) reasonable. If there are other nurseries and garden centers around, you might check them out. It depends on how much a person wants something as to how much they're willing to pay, but for the most part, many plants are inexpensive. I know for a fact that some of the plants you lost grow well there and are not terribly difficult (especially Beauty Bush!)

Another consideration, If you're having difficulty getting whole groups of plants to grow and the plants are known to do well in your area, I double check to make sure they are not being planted too deeply. You also mention a hot and dry summer. As the plant's daddy, you must provide for all it's needs. You can't let them croak because of lack of water. If that's the case, it wouldn't matter what plant you install. They'd all die young if water wasn't available on time.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 9:16PM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Thanks Yardvaark. Well try both the JM and Beauty bush again this fall. Besides perennials and groundcover, our plan is pretty well set with the exception of around the pool. We'll definitely use the 'Skyrocket' Junipers and Miscanthus grasses along the two sides of the pool. What are your thoughts for the back corner (southeast)? I am thinking a smaller bush or tree? Something shorter like a couple of viburnums or fothergilla? We don't need a lot of height (10' to 12') and it's a pretty large area to fill with Junipers or grasses. Maybe a wider Juniper or Arborvitae? I am worried about leaves and shade in the pool but since we've never had a pool before it's hard to gauge the disadvantages.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 3:03PM
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It's been too long and I've forgotten and I'm too lazy to go see which direction is SE. Is it R or L as you face the back yard from the deck?

    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 6:31PM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

It is the right corner if facing the backyard standing on the back deck. It's the corner behind the pool (opposite the playset).

    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 6:59PM
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To me, the words "tree" and "shrub" do not indicate a plant's size but mean only its form. A tree is limbed up (with some portion of clear trunk(s) and a shrub has foliage all the way to the ground. I'm thinking that whatever is at the perimeter will be in the shrub form as you're interested in screening at that location. I would lean toward having the tallest material at the corner of the lot and descend in height farther away (with the scheme and arrangement depending on the plant material chosen.) Why wouldn't you want to use the Skyrocket Juniper screen to bound the corner and then use lower height material elsewhere? If you use a small tree in the corner also (or elsewhere, but next to the Juniper, you'd shade out the Juniper where they're close and that wouldn't be pretty for the Juniper. They need full sun to retain foliage. If you shade out a portion of Juniper, the plant that shades it must also do the work of covering up/screening the defoliated portion. I guess I'm not quite understanding the arrangement that you're hoping for ... how trees/shrubs work together. I like the idea of Juniper bounding the corner because there is not shade and leaves to overhang the pool, yet there is screening from the adjacent lots and late afternoon sun (if you arrange it that way.) Maybe describe what you're trying to achieve and we could go from there.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 7:24PM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

I think I understand better now. I could place jupiters or aborvitaes in the corner and then have grasses extending down the back and side fenceline along the pool, correct?

    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 8:55PM
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Yes. Down the line. And some grasses (or other plants) could also fill space between pool & Junipers (or whatever) if there is space to be filled. Not sure how much room you will have between pool & junipers.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 11:34AM
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Brad Edwards

Yall really mistook my information as planting a large row of evergreens...

That landscaping in the neighborhood is so barren as a whole, it just doesn't look natural at all.

If yall can't see the fact that there are at least a couple of missing evergreen trees in all those landscapes then I am at a loss. Your backyard neighboor appears to have 5 maples with no spacing and an entire grass backyard lol

I think it funny yall are looking at perinneals when the only true problem I see is the privacy and lack of trees. Rather than focus on perinneals or groundcovers, why not go out and find a tree farm and get a couple of really nice large evergreens, like a couple of spruces, firs, hemlocks, pines, etc. Then I would plant things like a couple of holly or arborviate. To me it seems what you need to most is wind blocking "to me it looks like that backyard would get insanely cold in zn 5, and I mean insanely with that picket fence and no trees in the neighboorhood. While I like yardvarks design its pretty expensive, not saying you couldn't do it in steps, but its a pretty big job. It would be 10x easier to go get a two 10 foot large evergreen you like, pick out 4-5 smaller evergreens, like a dwarf blue spruce etc. and put those in front of the larger trees and call it a day. Not trying to freak you out or anything but almost seems like you have perfect visibility into 3-5 homes without privacy at all, the only way you'd change that is by placing two 30-40+ft evergreens strategically placed to block the sight of the neighbors houses "eventually", your lot appears to be easily large enough.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 2:39PM
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"...[Yardvaark's design] its pretty expensive..." Oceandweller, just curious, what aspect of the design do you see as the expensive part? From my view, the most expensive part looks like the mulch. Don't know if you've viewed this thread from the beginning, but the OP has trees to install as well as installed ones to grow. He opts to put in small material and do it over time. (It looks like the neighbors are on the same program.) Doing what works for one's circumstances is so much better than not doing it ... as many people do. The plan was submitted as a pictorial guide--example--of how to draw a plan. Nothing more.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 12:01AM
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Brad Edwards

Well on the basis of how to draw a plan, most people on here are not quite as hypothetical, needing real issues solved. The title on that basis is quite misleading, in being privacy. Obviously, there is a lack of privacy to just about any designer that would view it. I also feel there is a lack of continuity between the individual yards.

I also apologize, it was pmsmiths design. It is very similar to something I would draw up though the OP has stated he didn't have a large yard nor want a lot trees because of leaf shed with the pool. It is easy to be confused in such a large thread.

I would look into grasses and red twig dogwoods if your not big on litter in the pool, try and find stuff that will block the wind in larger evergreens and then nothing deciduous over 15 ft basically free from pool leaf litter. Thats all...

Being so far north spring and fall will take care of itself, I would focus a ton on winter windbreak and color, and recommended annuals and perineeals for summer color rather than trees to be added at a later date, it to me is essentially a blank canvas. Sure, you could do it in small parts with a lot of trees and landscaping, or you could get 2-3 evergreens that grow fairly large as a basis and get them in, then work from biggest to smallest to represent the scale of the house, thats how I would do it on a budget. You will also get the most bang for your $ that way.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 2:06PM
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Oceandweller, this is actually a thread of nearly 210 posts. The first thread filled up so it was continued on this second one. There was a considerable amount of tangential discussion along the way and a good bit of information trading. The front yard was totally separate and did not become introduced (in a separate thread) until the back yard thread was well along the way in its direction. The plan for the back yard was mine and submitted for the purpose of illustrating what kind of things would be shown in a planting plan, as a guide for the OP. I think he was content that it was usable (since it was 100% based on his yard and nearly to scale) so decided to adopt it as "the" plan (though he is not adverse to making changes.) Which was okay with me. So far, he has planted bare root mail order material and free plants which were given to him from another forum member. The only thing in the plan that could be considered "hardscape" is the walk from the deck to the pool. Everything else is planting and mulch, existing, or "by owner." That's why your comment about the plan being "expensive" has mystified me. I can't see anything in it that is remotely out-of-the-ordinary expensive. Besides the walk to the pool, there's no call for expensive exotics plants. It's all run-of-the-mill, more or less readily available landscape plants in beds that are mulched. If you tried to answer my question in your previous post (about why you thought it was expensive), I could not decipher it.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 3:32PM
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Brad Edwards

Pms plan of a firepit, deck, Japanse maples, river birches, etc. x3 is an pretty expensive plan. That deck will set the OP back about 1k though etc. The design is very well thought out and you can see the legwork put into it, it gives a very nice yard, good windbreak, good winter color, and the RB will have nice texture.

The landscaping while not overly expensive isn't overly budget friendly. A Deck, mad curves, ginkgo, hardscaping around a firepit, groves of trees. I just know that the homeowner is on a budget, a few select trees in the right local may do more than anything... thats all. Yall were thinking long term "PLANS" which is totally cool. Sense I have no idea of the budget I can't speculate on guess on what the OP was saying-


    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 3:46PM
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OD, the comment about the landscape being expensive threw me because there's not anything out of the ordinary for a typical suburban backyard landscape. The planting has a few more than average trees as the owner wishes to establish a woodland appearance to portions of the back yard. He plans to use small material and do it as he can so it's not a significant cost ... not anything like having it done by a professional contractor with larger plant material. The deck at the house was existing and the one by the pool is "by owner" so it's as much or little as he wishes. (It's finished now.) The hardscaping at the fire pit is aggregate if memory serves so it doesn't get any lower cost that ... other than bare dirt. Not sure what the "mad curves" you refer to are, but I can't see a great additional cost in any of the curved edges of the landscape beds as they are trench edged. I suggested a brick or paver walkway at one point, but don't know what the OP will end up really doing for that. If one does it as a DIY project, it can be quite affordable. I know in my own DIY landscape projects I can put a yard together for 1/10 the cost of a professional job. I still get a professional quality job, hardscape included. It just takes longer. Of course, that's not counting my time or labor!

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 8:33PM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Thanks both Yardvaark and Oceandweller on the comments. We understand that our plan isn't an "overnight fix" but rather an evolving "living" plan. Last year we probably spent approximately $200 on all plants. We planted bare root river birch and redbud trees purchased from Coldstream nursery (which I highly recommend). The redbuds tripled in size and the river birches doubled. Keep in mind that we had a terribly hot and dry summer also. We did not lose one of these trees. The rest of the plants were donated or purchased from an online nursery or Menards,

We want diversity in our yard and like Yaardvark previously stated, are striving for a woodsy "Northwoods" feel". The only direction we really need privacy at this point is to the north. The lots behind us have still not been developed and the neighbors to the south are older and are hardly ever outside. The river birch area will fill in fairly quickly and I plan on rebuilding the fence in the area (making it a foot talled and less space between the pickets).

To be honest, I am really enjoying the process. There is a certain level of satisfaction in planting small trees/shrubs and watching them grow and mature. Maybe that's not the most functional approach but it's become a bit of a hobby too. Anyway, we are satisfied with our progress and that's what matters most.

This post was edited by pmsmith2032 on Wed, Mar 6, 13 at 14:21

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 2:19PM
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cyn427 (zone 7)

Nothing to add except I love what you are doing and your attitude is the best! Enjoy. It won't be all that long before your yard is beautiful and private! Hope you keep everyone posted over the years, even lurkers like me!

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 6:17PM
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pmsmith2032, I like that ... "living" plan! :-)

It's good to hear your comments and especially that you are enjoying the process. That it's become "a bit of a hobby" is an early warning sign of possible, oncoming plant/yard-improvement addiction. As the yard comes together, you may conclude it's worth investing even more $ and more time in your little spot of Paradise. There is a lot of satisfaction in creating a pleasant place to be. Hope you keep enjoying it more and more!

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 7:37PM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

I just ordered and received ten small 'Skyrocket' junipers (about a foot tall). How should I layout them out when I plant them? Should I plant them in a 'L' shape along the back corner of our backyard (south east corner behind pool) to border the fence? Or should they be planted in a more varied, clump configuration? Thanks in advance!

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 9:37AM
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I think a simple, architectural, straightforward L-shape--as a screening wall--@ the fence corner would be the better way to use them long term. Centers at 30" to 36" spacing & 2' away from the fence.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2013 at 12:19AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Thanks! Now I just need to wait until the ground thaws.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2013 at 8:28AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

It's been awhile since I've been on but have made quite a bit of progress on my plan above (I will post some pictures soon). One question I do have though is how to layout low voltage lighting based on my plan. I'm not sure if this is the right place to ask or not. Thanks!

    Bookmark   June 3, 2013 at 12:38PM
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Good to hear you are making progress. Hopefully, pictures will show some plants that are prospering!

It doesn't appear that GardenWeb has a lighting forum, which is a bit surprising since they seemingly have a forum for every other aspect of landscape gardening. Is your question about how to develop a concept for what to light ... or how to install the fixtures and run the wiring? Maybe someone who is more experienced with low voltage than I can step in and offer some advice.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 6:57AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Thanks Yardvaark! i was kind of suprised there was no lighting section too. I've done some research and I understand the mechanics of hooking up the lights etc. I am looking for advice on where to place lights for best appearance. Here are some pics by the way of progress I took this morning:

In the process of enclosing the bottom of the deck with lattice. Already installed a "roof under the deck so we can use it for storage.

The area where the firepit now sits will be converted into an inground firepit per the plan next year.

I still need to strip the sod and add mulch around the shrubs in this area.

Going to start rebuilding the fence and adding a gate and path in this area in the next few weeks.

Still need to work on the contour of the edge of the mulch bed.

All in all we are very happy with the results this spring!

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 9:57AM
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Thanks for posting the photos. I'm sensing that you're confidence level is elevated for doing things and making changes. I am glad you're happy with the results so far. I'm anxious to see some larger plants, but I'll bet that by the end of this summer, we will see some difference.

Don't have a lot to suggest to you about lighting as it's not my area of expertise. Maybe someone who has greater familiarity with it will jump in a make some suggestions. The obvious things are that you might light the decks with ambient lighting (nothing in your face) and the path with marker lighting. It's always nice to uplight some trees with floods, but you have no trees that are ready.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 9:54PM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

The trees are actually growing pretty well (almost all survived from last year - a couple of the redbuds died off but have new growth at the base). I'm assuming I'll see good growth this year as we have had a lot of rain, temperatures have been in the 70s and I've been fertilizing (along with the lawn) based on soil test results.I also plan on installing drip irrigation in the next month or so (already have the majority of it bought).

Right now I am planning on installing two spotlights (one at each end) mounted to the side of the pool deck to illuminate an area of the lawn between the two decks for us to play bean bags (cornhole) at night. When not in use for this purpose, they will be facing down, illuminating a future perennial bed around the deck. I also plan on installing two path lights on stakes beside the base of the stairs on the deck attached to the house (one on each side of the stairway). The rest will have to wait until later (budget). I'm thinking of maybe lining the mulch beds with path lights spaced every 10' to 12' but this is just an idea. As for the pool deck, I have to be careful as the building code says low voltage lights have to be at least 10' away. This rules out lights on and around the stairs leading up and at least half of the deck. I think I am going to start a new post on the Landscaping Design on the subject as this is buried in this thread.

Thanks as always for all your help and advice.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 12:34PM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

I figured I should post some pictures of my progress this summer:

One issue I recently noticed is that one of the redbuds is cracking:

Any suggestions?

Thanks everyone for all the help! It's amazing how much better our yard looks in just two years!!!

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 4:53PM
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Hi and thanks for posting update pictures. They are always enjoyable to see ... especially since so many of your plants were bare root to begin with. By now, you must be learning a lot about plants and their personalities. While a few things seem to be lagging, I see a lot of plants that looked like barely anything at the last post are now growing like gangbusters! Maybe with some of the perennials you will try experimenting with propagation as a way to spread plants even faster. It's like getting free stuff!

What is the broken tree in the last photo? If it's one of the redbuds, my advice will be to start it over. Not now, but next Spring (just before Spring growth occurs) cut it off about 6" high and let it regrow. One of the reasons I suggest this is because there is too much form variation within the redbuds. As far as form goes, they should all, relatively, look like they're from the same family ... with the "V"-shape multi-trunk structure forming at/from the ground ... not be a single trunk for 15" and then sparsely branch out. If you cut, it will sprout multiple new trunks (like some of the other redbuds) ... more than you want, but then you can pick and choose which will remain to form the trunk structure. Surprisingly, after cutting back so drastically, by the end of next summer, you will more than likely have it all back and barely believe it was ever cut.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 11:37PM
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You did a good job and should congratulate yourself. Thank you for posting.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2013 at 12:40AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Thanks to both of you! By the way, for anyone thinking of starting a similiar project, see my initial post:

This was the post before this one where I was just beginning to plan. I met the maximum number of posts (151) for that one so started this one as a follow-up.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2013 at 8:35AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Hi all. It's been awhile since I last posted but I figured now would be a good time to start plans for this spring (if it ever comes). So here is a review of my current plans and some questions involving them:

1. Fence - I am going to continue rebuilding the fence section by section. You can see a couple of pictures in my last post above with the two sections I rebuilt last year. The new fence is taller and has wider pickets.

2. Redbuds - As I posted above, one of the trunks of the redbuds cracked. Now I'm trying to decide if I should cut them all down to 6" as Yardvaark suggested above, or replace all of them with something else. We like the spring color, but don't find their summer and fall interest very compelling. Plus, they seem to be really soft wood. So does anyone have any suggestions for this area? Just to review, this area is in the front corner of our backyard, We just added a gate so there needs to be a path through whatever is planted.

3. Firepit - I want to build a firepit/fire ring and am looking for ideas. Right now I am thinking a fire ring in the ground (maybe a foot or so above the ground surrounded by some sort of stone) and then some sort gravel/flagstone etc around it. I really liked a project jugglerguy had posted on here ( but all the pictures are gone.

4a. Around deck - This area has been changed from the planned picture. The deck was actually built between the house and pool (not to the right in the picture). An under deck storage area project will be finished up this spring (it will be surrounded with lattice and will have sliding doors on it). There currently is no landscaping around the deck but I'm thinking a tropical theme might be appropriate (hibiscus etc). Also, lighting for the deck needs to be figured out. I installed low-voltage downlights on the outside of the deck facing down to the ground so we can play bags at night so can add more on the deck.

4b. Area to the right of the pool in plan - Since the deck is no longer there, we planted three beautybushes and three red twig dogwoods. The dogwoods are growing well but the beautybushes just aren't doing well. This is the second year trying them (I had two of them replaced under warranty the year before) so I think I need to try something else.

5. Back right-hand corner - We planted 10 sky-rocket junipers along this corner and all seem to be doing well (although very small). To the left of them we planted a couple of clumps of ornamental grass that was given to us by a neighbor. It got to be about 4 feet tall so won't provide any privacy when someone finally builds behind us (might need to be moved and replaced). The builder went bankrupt about 4 years ago and there has been no building in our subdivision (about half the lots are empty) so we have no idea when someone will build. Any idea where this could be moved and what to replace it with?

6. Back left corner - Trees are 4-5 feet tall now and probably need to be pruned (I'll try to post some pictures this weekend if it ever stops snowing). Also, I think one of the Annabelle hydrangeas grew but I'll need to get two more.

7. Japanese maples - I planted two japanese maples (one was a red and the other yellow.....I think one was bloodgood but can't remember the other right now although it was suppose to be more hardy than some of the others). I have a feeling that neither will survive the winter (we've had record cold and snow......-15 degrees a couple days with -40 windchills - Chiberia). I figure if they do make it they can survive anything here. Assuming they don't.....any suggestions on replacements?

8. River birch - Need to be trimmed....many trunks right now. I will post pictures this weekend.

9. Potentilla & big leaf hydrangea - I need to replace a couple of the potentilla that didn't make it after two summers ago. I'm hoping they feel in better this summer as they have been pretty sparse the first two. The bigleaf hydrangeas (I believe they are Endless Summer) aren't really growing much. This will be their third year. Not sure if they need to be replaced or I'm doing something wrong.

10. Perennials - A lot of what we planted last year grew well so it will be interested to see how it grows this year. By the way, how and when do I propagate?

I'll take some pictures this weekend and post. Thanks everyone for all the's unbelievable all the progress. By the way, anyone interested in our project, here is the link to the first post (it's split between two post as the first exceeded the maximum number of posts:

    Bookmark   February 6, 2014 at 10:08AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Here's an example of the firepit I'm going to try to build.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2014 at 3:55PM
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It's starting to look like no one else will offer advice!

Answering your questions by number...

2. I cannot stress how important FORM is to a plant as it offers beauty and interest in ALL seasons. The redbuds are capable of delivering much more than it seems to you now. I still say cut them down and start over with the goal of developing them all into a matching set where each individual is a tightly clutched bouquet. Once a root system is established, you'll be surprised how quickly the upper portion of the plant will replace itself. But the new trunks will be clean, straight(ish,) sorted and unified. These can and will be good if you give the tough love that is needed. They're toddlers. They can't yet sing opera or win fashion shows.

3. There are scads of fire pit pictures on Google Images so you should be able to find just about anything you can imagine and whatever appeals. Your pic looks fine. I'm personally not enthralled, like many are, with flagstone paving, preferring something that's easier to walk on and maintain, in and under all conditions (low light, ice, etc.) Some view flagstone as an easier-to-install option, thinking it can be snuggled directly into the topsoil. But to have it be nice and last, it really needs a decent crushed stone base similar to what a brick patio might have.

4a. "Tropical" -- or at least lots of long blooming plants -- sounds great. Everblooming daylilies, caladiums, castor bean, a cluster of corn, grasses, cannas, Hibiscus, flowering annual vines: Moonflower ... morning glories. 'Alice duPont' Mandevilla.

4b. You must do what you must do. I know those plants grow well there. Incorrect watering is usually the culprit with new poorly performing plants.

5. Relocate the grass into the tropical pool/deck landscape. You could extend the skyrockets to fill in the gap ... or an altogether different upright plant. Look around the neighborhood ... what appeals that would fit will?

6. will wait for pics.

7. Jap. Maples have a good reputation for being cold hardy.

8. I will try to get a picture for you on the general scheme of trimming these. It will be a different plant but the same principle.

9. The only way to know if it's the plants or you're doing something wrong is by experience. Watering is the main thing to get right. Not too much. Not to little. Research the plant needs more and try to figure if you're satisfying them. Hydrangea like plenty of organic matter in the soil, too.

10. Propagate when you need, can and want to. But usually there are optimum times for the plant if it's division and resetting that you are doing.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 12:27AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Thanks as always Yardvaark. I think no one else is really interested in my multiple questions anymore! LOL Anyway, we are so thankful for all your's amazing the transformation! I do have a couple of follow up questions/comments:

2. I'll cut them down and give them another try. When would be the best time to do this? I'm thinking sometime in March?

3. I appreciate the input on the firepit. What would you recommend instead of flagstone? Some other sort of stone/paver? An aggregate like gravel?

4b. Your probably right about the watering. I am not very good about watering. Actually last year I was going to start setting up a drip irrigation system but never got around to it. Do you have any experience with such systems? Do they work well?

5. I think we would prefer something besides the junipers (already have ten planted). I have wrestled with this area for a long time. It has to be something fairly narrow (there is only 10' between the pool and fence at the closest point and I need room to get around the pool), can't be real messy (don't want all kind of junk in the pool), and needs to grow fairly tall (I would say at least 8'). I'm not sure if such a "beast" exists.

6. Will take pictures this weekend.

7.I'll wait for spring to see if the Japanese maples survive.

8. Attached is a picture of the river birches right now from the back deck.

9. I think the watering may be part of the problem with the hydrangeas so drip irrigation might help here too. I'll do some research on them too.

Thanks and have a great Friday!

    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 9:28AM
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Impressive work! Everything looks great, but I would have to agree with a previous poster about the lack of evergreens... If it doesn't bother you, than no problem, but for me...I feel like you could achieve your northern woods feel and still line the fence with some narrow conifers for winter privacy and a nice green backdrop year round.

Conifers are my main area of interest, so I am somewhat bias on how awesome they are. Unfortunately, Skyrocket juniper isn't a great choice for you. They do not handle "snow load" well and are likely to be destroyed as they get larger. They are also very susceptible to blight.

There are so many conifers that could fit that area. 10 feet with a height of at least 8 ft is easily achievable. Here is a list of recommendations for you to research:

* Picea glauca 'Pendula'
* Thuja occidentalis 'Degroot's Spire'
* Sciadopitys verticillata 'Joe Kozey'
* Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Jubilee'
* Buxus sempervirens 'Graham Blandy' (broadleaf evergreen)
* Buxus sempervirens 'Dee Runk' (broadleaf evergreen)
* Picea pungens 'The Blues'
* Picea omorika 'Pendula Bruns'
* Picea abies 'Gold Drift'
* Picea engelmannii 'Bush's Lace'
* Picea orientalis 'Skylands' (Large, but the find a place for it, you won't regret it...maybe the coolest conifer)

Those are just a few...there are many more that could fit your space...Conifers are far more than large green blobs that most people envision.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 9:14PM
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2. If the redbud does not already have the proper number of trunks 8-12 (?) cut it to the ground. Cut anytime up to where they start budding out for the Spring flush of growth. (If you cut after that you will get less return plant growth.) The main goal is to create a body of redbuds that look like they all came from the same happy family. I think they would look best with 8-12 well spaced trunks per plant. Light is the natural ingreadient that makes sure the branches that return are better spaced. If you get some that come up outside of the 55* optimum spread, you can pull them into the cone of spread and tie them in place to leave for a season ... if you need those additional trunks. Otherwise remove them if they fall outside the cone of spread.

You'll do the same thing with the river birch unless they already have a full compliement of trunks formed.... that large one looks like it might. If the case cut all the others to the ground (2") Since all these plants have developed root systems, you should get most of their size replaced during this single growing seaason, but with much improved options for what to keep in all the twig and trunkery. The river birch being so much larger, would look good with 5-7 main trunks.

3. Firepit .. you can go with concrete pavers, bricks, aggregate, I'd just avoid something rough to walk on and trip into in the low light.

4b. Drip systems work well but have lots of little parts and can take some time to figure out if one isn't familiar with it. A soaker hose on a time might work for some things.

5. Maybe SC77 will narrow down his list to the best one of two for your yard? Maybr you can show eaxactly wehre they go in a picture?

7. Jap maples tend to be quite cold hardy.

9. Hydrangeas light organic matter in the soil and evenly mois. They might like additional compost. I know down here,, in our infertile sandy soil, they develop brown and disficured leaves unless there is adequate OM.

I'm attaching some pictures of multitrunk trees that might help:

    Bookmark   February 8, 2014 at 2:23AM
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Here's another. Sorry about the background camouflage. Too, it was cut to ground and reaches to 10 in one season. These plants are returning roughly to the same size they were. But they are cleaned out and their trunks are artfully arranged. Their natural trunk spread seems good to me. The existing branches will be removed from the trunks before growth begins. The top will get a light crewcut ... just to unify.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2014 at 2:36AM
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If you can read the trunk structure in spite of the background camouflage, you can see a nicely shaped crape myrtle with about 18 trunks. I like 2 dozen, but 18 is good enough (for a crape.) 12 seems good for redbud and 7 good for birch. But the numbers are certainly tunable to personal preference.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2014 at 2:45AM
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Literally, any of those would work perfectly. Except for boxwood. I just double checked and that would probably burn and die in your colder winter. Since any of them would fit the bill, I will let the OP select their favorites.

Be aware that 'The Blues' and 'Gold Drift' require staking for upright growth, not a big deal, but maybe that is something you don't want to deal with. Skylands is an incredible tree, but would need to have a shade screen for the first 2 seasons, otherwise it will burn. If you buy 'Degroot's Spire', you must insist that it is a single leader specimen or you will need to prune it as such. This cultivar is narrow and generally single leader, not just any 'Arb' works, because most of them are multi-leader and they get trashed in the snow.

I prefer to mix a wide variety of trees, rather than just getting a bunch of the same tree. I like all of these cultivars, but if you want the ones that are the easiest to grow (no staking), and basically maintaince free I would select from:

* Picea glauca 'Pendula'
* Picea engelmannii 'Bush's Lace'
* Thuja occidentalis 'Degroot's Spire'
* Sciadopitys verticillata 'Joe Kozey'
* Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Jubilee'
* Picea omorika 'Pendula Bruns'

    Bookmark   February 8, 2014 at 10:50AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Thanks to both of you for the great advice/suggestions!

SC77 - So you think I should remove the skyrocket junipers and replace with one of your other suggestions? I don't mind replacing if they are going to be less of a headache down the road. Rather get it right now!

    Bookmark   February 9, 2014 at 9:50AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Here are a couple pictures of the redbud grove with the new fence in the background:

And here are some pictures of the river birch grove. I just cut all the river birch down to 6" last spring so I'm not sure if I should do it again. Please keep in mind that there is over a foot of snow around the bases of these birch right now:

Here are the pictures of the three trees in the back corner (they are surrounded by over a foot and a half of snow):

Finally, here is the area along the fence:

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   February 9, 2014 at 8:51PM
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I think I would probably move or remove the skyrocket juniper...but do some research on the conifer forum and decided for yourself. I used to like those until I starting reading how awful they handle snow and usually end up looking ratty due to blight.

Then, you need to decide if you want a somewhat formal hedge of green or specimen trees staggered. If hedge, then go with degroot's spire. If specimen, I would go for variety and get 2 or 3 of each at most. It looks nicer and protects you from getting wiped out if one disease or bug hits a certain species.

I also think other areas of your yard could benefit from the year round "structure" that a conifer provides. Here is an example location that looks very bare and exposed to the neighbors. (Picea engelmannii 'Bush's Lace')

    Bookmark   February 9, 2014 at 10:52PM
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"You'll do the same thing with the river birch unless they already have a full compliment of trunks formed.... that large one looks like it might [have been achieved.]

UNLESS is the key word. With the recent pictures, It looks like the the vast majority of river birches HAVE ACHIEVED a sufficient number of trunks ... at least 1/2 dozen (more vertical than 45*) ... so there is NO longer any reason to cut those trees back to the ground. Instead, you would only remove all of their branches (more horizontal than 45*) -- they will quickly regrow new, better placed ones -- and trim the trunk tips just enough that none are excessively longer than others. It would also be good to strive for relative uniformity of the entire group of birches, since one is quite large and two are a good bit smaller.

From what I can see, it looks like it may only be the right front river birch that needs additional trunks. If so, then I'd cut it to the ground again and get additional trunks now. There will not come an improved time to do it later. (I'm relying on a photo, so apply the advice to what really exists, if I can't see it well enough.) The arbitrary minimum number of trunks I've recommended is 1/2 dozen. If there happen to be two or three more and they are well placed so as to contribute to balance of the overall trunk structure, I'd allow them to remain. I'm sure many others would recommend 3 trunks total, but in my opinion, while that's typical, it's also mediocre, not awesome. Keep in mind what you're doing -- your goal now -- has nothing to do directly with creation of the head of the tree, but only with the trunk system. The head will follow no matter what, so just get the trunks right for now.

When it come to the redbuds, because of the snow and disparity between their forms, it's hard to tell exactly what I'm looking at. It seems there might be one tree that has the beginning of a good multi-trunk system, though it is small. If so, it should only have all its branches (not trunks) removed and the trunk tips trimmed to create relative uniformity of their lengths. But it looks like all the other redbuds are of wildly different trunk shape and character. They need to be cut to the ground and forced to branch into multiple trunks, so that they are of uniform qualities and character throughout the entire group. Because it's a natural object we're working with and not something like milled lumber, uniformity will not be perfect, but only reasonably similar to one another. Overall shape and balance will be more important than the exact number of trunks.

If we could briefly touch again on a subject discussed earlier, I would remind that landscape design includes the application of engineering to the back yard such that it functions properly -- in a way that its use is enhanced and made enjoyable -- or at the least so it creates no complaints! As well, it includes the application of art ... so there is visual harmony, general attractiveness, compositional balance, visual interest, pleasant smells and sounds, etc. There are many problems within the original yard to which engineering and art are applied in order to change those former problems into advantages and assets. The designer uses various materials, many of which are plants, to facilitate these positive changes. In the context of selecting plants for landscape design, I would choose a plant first and foremost because it solves a physical problem (screens ugly view, etc.) and does it in such a way that it creates its own new, attractive view. If the plant is unusual or has novel qualities, it still must fulfill the basic functions that created the need for its being used and it must do it in such a way so as to mesh well with the overall artistic progress of the yard scheme. If not, a novel plant will be inferior to a common plant who CAN do all of these things. If one selects plants because of their novel qualities, but with less regard for their ability to solve problems over the majority of the seasonal cycle, and fit in with the surrounding themes, then the design suffers. Many plants are so awesome in their own right, that they make it easy to want to use them in some way. But picking the plant before knowing what design specifications it must fulfil, is like getting the cart before the horse. Interestingly enough, most non-professional landscaping is done in the manner of liking (or loving) a plant and then trying to figure out how to use it and where to put it.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2014 at 3:46AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Thanks to both of you. Probably what is best is to wait until the snow melts and I get some better pictures (showing the bottom 1 to 2'). It's suppose to warm a bit next week (hopefully).

    Bookmark   February 10, 2014 at 10:05AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

I was finally able to get out this past weekend (around 50 degrees!) and take a few pictures:

Redbuds - Need to be pruned (down to the ground on single trunk specimens).I also need to get rid of one of the redbuds and move another (probably cut the one on the left in the last picture down...received it from a neighbor....not ordered from Coldstream like the rest).

Lilacs - Assuming nothing really needs to be done.

Serviceberry - A lot of new growth. I'm assuming I need to prune some of it to the ground. I'm not sure how many trunks it should have and how to decide which to keep and which to prune:

River birch - I think these all have enough trunks but some may need to be thinned out. Also, I'm not sure if the largest needs to be trimmed closer to the heights of the others:

Annabelle Hydrangea - I'm not sure if these need to be pruned at all or not.

Japanese Maples - I don't see any buds at all on the one and just a couple on the other. We had one of the worst winters in history here (temperatures in the -20s and snow most of the winter). Considering Japanese maples are borderline hardy for zone 5, I have a feeling they aren't going to make it. If they don't, what would be a good substitute (I really was trying to go with a red/yellow contrast).

Pagoda Dogwood - Not sure if it needs to be pruned or not.

Oakleaf Hydrangea: Assuming they don't need to be pruned:

Burr Oak - I believe it needs to be pruned.

Hickory - I believe it needs to be pruned.

Red Oak - Just purchased last year....just a "stick" branches yet.

Fraser Fir - Looks like they may have some burn from the winter. I'm assuming there is nothing I can do about this now.

Doublefile viburnum - Not sure if it needs to be moved or pruned:

Potentilla - Not sure if they should be pruned.

Any and all advice is greatly appreciated!

This post was edited by pmsmith2032 on Mon, Mar 17, 14 at 10:05

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 9:50AM
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There are 3 basic ways the trunk system of a tree can be, as shown in the rudimentary illustration. IMO, the first one, "A", should never be allowed to happen. I think that it is artistically unattractive, while either of the other two, "B" and "C" are acceptable. Looking at your redbuds, I can see that several are on their way to developing the homely trunk system "A". Since they are to be multi-trunk trees, the only thing to do is cut those that need it to the ground (4 inches is fine) and let them sprout a new array of trunks that will be, more or less, arranged and sorted in a bouquet pattern. (It is primarily light that does this work.) (If they sprout too many trunks, you can pick through those later and keep the ones you want.) This same procedure will apply to all multi-trunk trees that you create and it is entirely up to you as to how many trunks is satisfactory. Having studied this for quite some time, I personally conclude that more trunks make a better "bouquet" than fewer trunks do. I've seen river birches with 2 and 3 trunks and I've seen them with 7 and 8 trunks. Hands down it is the greater number of trunks that have the greatest visual impact -- especially since you are showing off bark -- and make the most satisfying and outstanding overall impression. The lesser number of trunks does not look bad ... it just looks nice and average. The lilacs, too, will get this procedure if they are to be multi-trunk tree forms.

The single trunk trees (Hickory, Oak, etc.) should be staked if they are leaning

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 8:48AM
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This illustration should help explain the basic pruning operation for the trees. While the example is for a multi-trunk tree, the same principle -- of removing the lower half of branching and foliage -- would hold for a single trunk tree. The difference is only in the number of trunks.

This procedure would generally happen once per year, usually just prior to Spring growth. Pruning later in the year will just be touch-up.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 8:58AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Thanks! I'm going to start pruning tonight (it's suppose to be in the 50s today!) and will post my progress. A couple of quick questions:

1. For the lilacs, is it best to let them bloom this spring and then cut down? I think I read that flowering trees are suppose to be pruned after they bloom. 4" from the ground for them too?

2. For the oakleaf hydrangea, do I prune them too? I can't remember if they grow on new or old growth.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 9:30AM
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Prune the plants whose flower buds are set on the previous year's growth (lilacs and oakleaf hyd.) after bloom, as the blooming peters out.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 6:33AM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

I was able to get out and do some work. A couple of observations and some pictures showing my progress:

1. Now that the snow is melted it looks like the lilacs actually have multiple stems. Do I let them grow for another year or do I cut them down to the ground after they bloom?

2. This serviceberry is around 5 years old and has been transplanted a number of times. To date, it has never really "taken off". This probably has a lot to do with me trying to train it into a "tree" shape. Going forward, what exactly should I do to it? It has a lot of new trunks growing up (I would guess at least 20). Do I cut it to the ground after if blooms? Something else?

3. The trunks on this one river birch clump are very spaced out (probably 8-10" apart). What do I do in this case:

4. Here are a couple of pictures of the largest river birch clump after I've pruned it. Do I prune the smaller clumps the same way (bottom 50% pruned) or wait until they get larger?

I finished pruning the redbuds to the ground. Now we'll wait for Spring.

5. For the oakleaf hydrangeas, do I cut them to the ground after they flower? They all seem to have varying forms so I would imagine I would. How many trunks for each?

6. How about the Pagoda Dogwood and Doublefile many trunks for each? Do I trim lower branches off similar to how I did the river birch (bottom 50%)?

7. Do I trim the bottom 50% off the burr oak and hickory this spring or wait until they get larger?

8. Any way to tell if the Japanese maples are truly dead before they bud? I'm assuming a lack of closed buds is a good indicator?

9. Do I do anything to the potentillas, big leaf hydrangeas and Annabelle hydrangeas (pruning etc) or just let them grow?

Thanks as always for all your help. We are really excited to see everything start growing this Spring!

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 9:18AM
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Trimming the branches off of the enlarging tree to 50% height applies to multi-trunk or single trunk. And yes, now, even for the small trees. It's still just 50%. Keep in mind that there will come a time in the future where you will stop following this rule because the canopy ceiling will have reached its final destination based on your vision of what the plant is supposed to be achieving and its final form. It's possible in some cases, if you don't know how the plant's form will change with age, that you think it's reached the final destination, but that in years forthcoming, the canopy hangs lower and you see that it needs limbing up in order to bring it back to the vision it is supposed to be.

Cut oakleafs to ground after they flower. Create enough trunks/canes that the plant is full at the end of the season. If it was not, cut to ground again. The number of trunks is how many it requires to achieve your vision. I can't give you a specific number since I haven't had oakleafs in long time so have not had the opportunity to count them. I guess between 6 and 18 at the end.

Pagoda and doublefile ... are you growing these in the shrub form (with branches to the ground) or in the tree form (with a clear trunk exposed to some arbitrary height)? If in the shrub form, you will not cut off the lower branches, but trim the overall form instead. If you don't know, then look at the plant in its context and first develop a vision of how it needs to appear when grown.

just be patient on the Jap. maples. Some of the "is-it-dead" indicators are not 100% accurate.

For #9 question, just let these go unpruned for now and observe them. In part, what you should do to them in the future will be determined by what they do.

I think this is the year that you will see some good growth and that things will start looking like they might become something. It will be exciting for you to watch.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 12:46PM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Thanks. For the pictured group of river birches below, what do I do? They are spaced out close to a foot apart. Do I cut down the trunks on the left (single trunks and just leave the one group?

Also, I have trimmed a number of "clumps" now and have tried to leave 6 or 7 trunks for each clump. Is there a way to "train" a trunk that is at a unacceptable angle?

Thanks and have a great weekend!

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 8:31AM
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I didn't even see the largest river birch that you had pruned and it looks quite good. Just watch the top so that the largest trunks don't way overtake the lesser ones. If that happens, remove tips of the larger to slow them a little.

That serviceberry, I'm not seeing 20 trunks on it. (It can be a trunk if it's more vertical than 45*, or a branch if more horizontal. Recount based on that.) If there's sufficient trunks to meet your ideal of a multi-trunk tree, then limb up 50% and call it a day. If not, then cut to ground and develop more trunks. If you don't know how many your ideal has, I'd guess between 6 and 18. But it's up to the beholder.

On that last photo (the wild river birch) ... don't worry that any trunks are 12" apart. Some day they will be holding hands and singing Kumbaya. About the (potential) trunks that are splayed low and outside of the desired form, you can either bend, stake and tie them into proper position (where they should be kept 1 year,) or just cut them off. However, if that leaves you without sufficient trunks to call the plant ideal for its situation and your goals, then it's better to cut the whole thing to the ground and get a whole new batch of trunks to choose from, all of which will be better arranged. Often, if you cut off those wide splaying trunks, a new one will grow back, but usually, it will be fighting for light so grow sideways, too. I've had better luck cutting the whole thing down and picking from what comes back. Look again at my crape myrtle pics if you need a reminder of how it goes.

To demonstrate that I take my own medicine, I offer a new pic of a crape myrtle just cut down after being dicked around with (by me) for 6 or 7 years. It was tipping out at about 9' ht. I was growing it under my old plan of cutting it annually at an ever higher elevation (raising the cut by a couple of feet or so per year.) While the overall form was ok, it left some trunks that never seemed able to catch up, size disparity and a somewhat "rough" looking (for my highly refined taste! :-) branching structure. I decided that my several years worth of hopes and dreams for it were better served by a complete and total rejuvenation, which brings about well arranged, smooth and clean looking trunks. There are probably 30 coming up now. (Being a greedy s.o.b.,) I will keep all but the weakest (more than 2 dozen) as this tree serves a semi-screening purpose among its other jobs. I cut it to the ground one month ago. The first hint of buds showed up 2 weeks ago. Now, it's growing inches per day. I expect it to be at least over my head and of impeccable form by the end of summer.

BTW, the thread takes a long time to load because of the pictures, which are a huge size. You might consider setting your camera to take a smaller size picture for landscape. Something in the range of 400 to 500 x 600 to 700 seems to be the size range that is large enough to see well and what will end up here. (GardenWeb automatically makes them display that size even though they are larger.)

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 2:12PM
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pmsmith2032(5b Suburbs of Chicago)

Sorry.....when I said trunks on the Serviceberry I meant all the shoots growing up around it.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 3:49PM
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I think I see what you're asking about now with the serviceberry. It might turn out that the sprouts become dominant and the original plant, with it's more gnarly branching, is overtaken. Wait and see. if the sprouts become dominant, I'd cut out the older part of the plant as it's form will look strange with all these towering straight canes around it. Of those new sprouts, the plants own shade will determine that some canes will prosper and some will not. Once the dust settles later in the year, you can get rid of the less prosperous canes.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 5:16PM
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