Design Ideas Needed

MsKitty31(4)August 8, 2012

I will be honest and say I am a little nervous about posting a picture of one of my flower gardens and asking for ideas - I hope someone doesn't think it is a disaster:-)

This area was a complete mess before I started. I wish I had taken a before shot. Some plants were here as if someone had, at one time, had a small garden but it had been years since it was touched and everything was grown up and small trees had begun to grow. It was very labor intensive to get it cleaned up. The bank to the right of the garden is hopefully going to see a retaining wall in the near future.

I live in Upstate NY and am in a Zone 3 although I have found plants for Zone 4 will survive as well. This particular garden has different lightings throughout. From left to right it is mainly shade, dappled sunlight, and then partial sun. The area farthest right receives the most direct sun - not more than 4 hours a day. The area farthest left receives only morning sun and it does not get under the White Pine very far. The soil has a good amount of sand in it.

I am not removing any of the trees - I love the Tamarack even though I realize it may be an issue down the road. There is a Honesuckle bush in the center which took a beating this year with our drought. I am debating on keeping it. I did prune off all of the dead stems the other day and there were a lot this year.

From left to right there are astilbes, ostrich fern, sensitive fern, old fashion daylilies (which were there), bleeding heart, purple gem rhodie (which is stemy due to it not getting enough sunlight - I may move it elsewhere), about four varieties of hosta, coral bells, a dwarf phlox, hens and chicks, creeping phlox, stonecrop, dianthus, sandwort, salvia, false solomon seal (which were there and come up wherever they want) and some more old fashion lilies in the stones that like to pop up from a previous gardener. I have a couple annuals thrown in there.

I have removed some of the old fashion lilies from the far left hence the big space there and there were also some to the far right above the rocks which I removed hence the space there.

I have planted additional ostrich fern under the white pine close to the base of the tree just recently however, the fronds were pretty much gone from them since they were getting overcrowded and too much sun in another spot. This area should fill in some more next year.

The tallest plants (besides the ostrich ferns and that big guacamole hosta), are the dwarf phlox at 24 inches and the salvia is about 18-20 inches. My thinking is that I need some plants that are lower growing (not more than 15 inches) and probably ranging from shade to partial sun. I would prefer to add more perennials that are going to be in bloom from this time to frost so I am not looking at a sea of green the latter half of the season.

I am sorry this is so long. I really love my gardens and love talking about them and I tend to ramble on and on.

Any ideas?

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rosiew(8 GA)

KItty, you've done a remarkable job on this bed. I'll leave suggestions to others who know your zone better. Congrats are in order, for sure.

Rosie, Sugar Hill, GA

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 8:29PM
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Just a few tips...

if you let the garden plants grow directly up into low-hanging branches of trees, it results is a disheveled look. There needs to be some separation.

Imagine that the trees within the island are connected (dot-to-dot) and form their own island within the larger island. This is where the tallest material should be placed. Surround it with descending height material.

The picture shows primarily two edgings. Use one or the other to close the gap between them. Continue to extend these edgings around the perimeter of the island where there are gaps. Keep tall plants out of the edge unless they are at the back of the island and become the edge in that location. (But it looks like this island is viewed from various sides so that might not be possible to do.)

It looks like the largest tree (directly above the sunflower blossom) is either at the edge of the island or immediately outside of it. Reconfigure the island edge so that the tree is comfortably inside of the island. Having it right at the edge appears awkward.

Fill all the bare earth spots with the appropriate height plant material. The bed should look full, not like a bird molting.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 10:37AM
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Hi Yardvaark, thanks for your input. Honestly, I am a little confused as to some of your directions but this is what I think you are saying:

1)if you let the garden plants grow directly up into low-hanging branches of trees, it results is a disheveled look. There needs to be some separation -- I think it might look from the picture that the ostrich fern under the White Pine are too high but they are actually a good two feet lower than the lowest branch. The one Guacamole Hosta plant under the Honesuckle Bush (which did poorly this year) may be what you are talking about. It does come right up to the lowest branch on the Honesuckle. The old fashion lilies, lower now as they have finished blooming, are quite tall to be in the front of the border however they were there before I planted anything and I really don't want to remove them. I have tried to keep them in check and removed quite a few to tidy up the spot. Maybe I should dig more out?

2) If I imagine the trees are their own island you are saying to plant the tallest plants close to or under the trees and work my way out to the borders of the garden with shorter and shorter plants?

3)I am a little confused about the two edgings. Do you mean the back of the garden (taken from the viewpoint of the camera) and the front of the garden? This garden is located to the immediate left of our driveway when you drive in. In fact, you can see the driveway in the picture on the left in front of the old fashion lilies. My "thought" when I made this was that 90% of the time the garden is going to be viewed from the driveway looking up the slope. I treated the part of the garden the farthest away in the picture (up by the small wishing well on the stump) as the back or back edge of the garden where the taller or bigger plants should go (That one guacamole hosta by the honeysuckle is quite large compared to it's other guacamole partner to its left and kind of seems to throw my large plants in the back theory off in this garden). All of the hosta on the back row with the exception of two plants have been there two years now not including the spring I planted them. I have kept all of the Care & Maintenance cards and from the average sizes listed they are not at their full height yet. I am hoping they get larger. The two Salvia plants on each side of the phlox by the stump have reached their full height of 18 inches. The reason I planted the phlox right in front of the stump and the two Bressingham Blue Plaintain Hosta to its sides was to not hide the stump so I could put something on it as I have done here.

4) I am not sure what you mean about the Tamarack (directly above the sunflower stake) being at the edge or outside of the island. There is a very tall Red Pine farther behind the stump that the wishing well sits on that is outside of the garden by two feet or so.

5) It definitely looks like a bird in molt right now as I knew it would for a few years until I got everything in there. I took out the Mediterranean Pinks directly to the right of the old fashion lilies as they were not doing well there and I need to remove the Purple Gem Rhodie that needs more sun as well which gives me even more area to fill back in :-(

I have been obsessing about this garden for the last month and right now I basically want to rip it all out and rearrange it. At this time I do not have the money to go out and buy more plants to fill in or rearrange so it looks like Spring will be when anything new gets planted.

Thanks for your help. I apologize if I am not understanding your points. I am def a beginner.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 12:01PM
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From a non-professional standpoint - what you have there just needs a bit of tweaking that rearranging can accomplish. That and adding (when finances allow) some "connectors" to eliminate the molting bird look.

Some gardeners like looking at lots of bare mulch; others prefer closer plantings.

My thoughts - the conifer on the left can stand on its own without being ringed. A sepration of pine and plants could be achieved by limbing up the pine... DON"T DO IT! (I'd rather see what yard calls "disheveled" than an unnecessarily limbed tree.) Ferns gowing up to the pine seem natural - I have them myself and I like the look... pretty much what you'd see in the woods. But transplant the other ring plants elsewhere. Same for the hostas ringing the shrub. Just having those extra plants to work with can go a ways in filling in.

I've got some errands to run - hopefully someone else will chime in.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 1:04PM
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Hi Duluth, thanks for your input.

I actually trimmed up the White Pine a teensy bit just a couple of weeks ago. There were just a couple of branches hanging too low and I cut those back. Where it is at now is where it will stay - I don't want to limb it up any more.

I definitely like closer plantings and that is my goal with this garden.

So you are saying that taking the Gucamole Hosta away from the Honeysuckle might be a good idea? I have been thinking that as well. There are a couple of short tree stumps in there and I think I might have been trying to hide them with my original planting of hosta there. You also said other ring plants too and I am not sure what others you are talking about.

And I am almost afraid to tell you what I did but I spent the last 5 hours making this garden bigger! I think I might try Yard's idea of having the taller plants within the tree island and working my way out to the edges with shorter and shorter plants (I think that is what Yard was saying anyway). I also want to take away any back and front edging look by doing that. At some point we would like to add on a deck to the house and I think I would like to see a lot more in the garden then just the tall plants that I would see if I were to continue with my original idea of the back being for taller plants.

I will post a picture of my work today. Little bit obsessive :-/

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 6:27PM
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Extended the garden as well as the small rock wall.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 6:40PM
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Incorporated the Red Pine in the mix. I will have to do something with the stump. It is slowly rotting away and I think I will just cut it with a chainsaw down another 3-4 inches so I have a flat surface again and leave it at that for now and let it decompose some more. I am going to tweak the edges a little more. I removed the black plastic I had for a liner and I don't think I will replace it with the same thing. I may try to do the Victorian Edging I have read about.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 6:44PM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

Nice work with all that digging! I am equally obsessive so I know how driven you can feel while digging away. I definitely like the garden better with the red pine inside it.

I agree with the others that you need a few more plants. Ferns, coral bells and hostas look great planted near the bases of trees for a woodland look. You could do that for the two trees that have single, bare trunks to soften the look.
Yes for moving the Guacamole hosta into a spot where it's not crowded up against a shrub. That is a great specimen plant and would look nice in a place where it can shine.

Yes for the idea of having tall plants either in the middle of the bed or toward the back. Put lower plants like coral bells and smaller hostas along the edges. I could picture some columbines in this bed too - they would go with the woodland dappled shade theme.

Lastly, I might recommend putting plants in groupings so you don't wind up with one plant here and another plant there. By that I mean put 2,3,4, or 5 of the same or similar plants near each other. Then allow that grouping of plants to weave into the next grouping. With smaller gardens it's really easy to buy one of everything and then it will almost never have that cohesive look you are imagining in your mind's eye.

As fall is approaching (yay!) you might also consider some small bulbs for this spot. I have found that 50 or so blue scilla look amazing planted around the base of a tree. Little bulbs like that are cheap so 50 or 100 make a great statement. They will also spread over time.

Happy digging! I am heading outside now to do some of that myself. :)

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 8:33PM
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Hi Karin. Thanks for you advice.

I like the Blue Scilla. I am not sure if I had heard of it before but I will definitely see if I can get my hands on some.

I really do think the garden looks better now with the expanded part.

Your advice on grouping - it makes perfect sense. This was actually my first garden that I like to say I made from scratch (with the exception of a few plants left by the previous planter) and I remember going that Spring to look at flowers and bought one of this and one of that or two of this and that. Haha newbie! I was just thinking tonight as I was looking through flower catalogs that I need to start with a grouping of the same or similar flowers like you stated.

I love columbines and think they would be a nice addition.

The only thing I am not certain about with this garden is the amount of sun. I have seen these little devices that you actually stick in the ground and it records the level of light for a particular spot. I have observed this garden a lot and it goes from shade to partial sun from left to right. I think what I need to do is actually write down every hour or so what I see going on in the garden with regards to the light. I would really like to make sure I have blossoms from spring through fall and sometimes I find it hard to do that with a more shaded spot. We shall see.

I am also debating on keeping the red mulch. I have always liked the red as I think it makes a garden pop but at the same time as I have read a lot of different discussions on this forum and others about using natural compost so it benefits the soil and leaves the garden with a natural look. I need to get some mulch on the new soil to avoid any weeds so I need to try and figure out what I would like to do.

I REALLY appreciate everyone's input and guidance. Thank you!

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 12:11AM
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In the first picture I'm trying to show you how to arrange the height--surrounding the yellow line 9 (that connects the vertical elements... in this case trees and maybe a shrub) with the highest plants in the red zone. Heights descend from there. Of course, your "mound" will be "bumpy," because it is made of several types of plants.

The large tree In the second picture, was the one I thought was too close to the ede of the bed. That you've moved it from the outside to the inside of the island doesn't fix it's relationship with the bed edge. It's still too close. Make it look more comfortable by expanding the island a little more per the second picture, red line. (I'm not saying it's your only choice; it's the one that minimally solves the problem with the tree. It could be expanded further if you wished.

In the third picture see the notes. You need some scheme that brings harmony to the edge... extending you existing groundcovers is such a way that they hold the bed together. Either edging could grow up into the bed as well. It doesn't need to be just line at the perimeter. What I'm saying about "alternating" is don't edge the bed green/white/green/white/green/white and on and on.

Good idea to slice the stump lower.

@ duluthinbloomz4 "A sepration of pine and plants could be achieved by limbing up the pine... DON"T DO IT! "

You've got me stumped. What is the theory and logic in leaving low-hanging tree branches, especially when they conflict visually or phsyically with other plantings? What's your general purpose tree limbing criteria?

By yardvaark at 2012-08-16

By yardvaark at 2012-08-16

By yardvaark at 2012-08-16

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 1:38AM
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I just noticed, "tree" haz 2 E's

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 1:41AM
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Thanks Yard. I did understand what you said with the first post and your pictures in this post helped even more with the visual for me.

I think I will extend the edge out more from the big Red Pine like you said. I think you are right and it would look more comfy.

I am much happier thinking about what to plant and how to arrange the height in the garden since you mentioned having the tallest stuff in the theoretical middle of the island and working my way down to shorter plants. I am really quite pleased with the idea! And even more pleased that there really wont be a back or front edge with this planting scheme!

Thank you very much for your help.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 10:46AM
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rosiew(8 GA)

MsKitty, after you get that stump lower, get a 1" spade bit and drill a lot of holes in the remaining stump. I usually drizzle some fertilizer into these holes and then add soil, into the holes and over the stump itself. That will hasten decomp - but it may take a long time. Depends on the species.

Looking really good!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 3:15PM
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We cut the stump lower and I have thought about drilling holes in it - I put the little wishing well back on it for now.

I am getting a little nervous about what to plant - which I have all winter to figure out except for bulbs I have ordered. I go from being super excited when I get a new idea to worry when I realize all it entails. I am very happy with the size and shape of the bed now. I did extend the bed out from the Red Pine more as Yard's drawing showed and it looks better. I am wondering if measuring my garden size and getting a piece of graph paper and drawing it to scale will help me plan for what plants will fit comfortably in the bed (psychotic? obsessive?). I am also watching how much sun it gets during the day. I almost feel like my garden has gone from 'this is so easy!' to a complete 'technical science project'. How do others figure out where to plant what in their gardens - I feel that trial and error is going to be a big part of it for me as a newbie.

Also, I am thinking of removing the red bark mulch. I want to do something better for the garden soil - use a good compost that enriches the soil, looks nice, and supresses the weeds. I don't plan on removing what is there now until Spring when I put new down - I think it may just be better to have what is there over the winter. I have read about the product Sweet Peat but it is not available in my area and I am concerned that places such as Lowes or Home Depot are not going to have a great compost. I have a couple other avenues that I am going to try out - a couple bigger nurseries I know of. I have started my own compost pile but it will not be enough material to do what I want to do for awhile - years?

Thanks to all again for helping with my obsession! :-)

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 8:34PM
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"I am wondering if measuring my garden size and getting a piece of graph paper and drawing it to scale will help me plan for what plants will fit "

Yes! And check out the link below. You can print out graph paper with variable line weight.

It's true that you will learn about plants by making your educated guesses and then observing to see how your guesses panned out. And then making adjustments in a plant's position, and sometimes in plants themselves. Don't worry about making mistakes. It's part of the process.

Instead of removing existing mulch, you could just let it compost in place and cover it later with something else.

Here is a link that might be useful: graph paper

    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 7:15AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

How to avoid going from one extreme to the other...

Two things. One, no decision in gardening is permanent. Not only can plants be moved, but also, they die, or they grow. Sometimes too much, sometimes not so much.

Two, making a garden is more like making a meal than it is like deocrating: the meal is meant to all come together at a certain time, but before that and after that, it doesn't look perfect.

So you are deaiing with two intersecting time lines, one is the lifespan of the plants, and the other is the cycle of the year. For example, three plants look great together this year but are a little on the small side. The next year it's perfect. The third year, one gets a bit shaded out and doesn't bloom, or blooms late. Another is starting to get pinched by root competition from the tree, and the third is thriving too much and overrunning its neighbours.

In other words, it's a moving target. Committing it to paper will help to plan it, but not to manage it in the long run. Paper or computer or books help, but there is no substitute for what you can learn and accomplish by being out there observing and tweaking. You are managing the garden's lifespan, not creating it once and for all.

Finally, plants' needs are not textbook absolutes. They adapt, just like people. A child doesn't perish if not given the recommended amount of vitamin C, and neither will your plants implode if you don't give them 7.5 hours of sun on July 26th. This one gets a little leggier, that one blooms a bit more or less, and so it goes. They are just individuals trying to do their thing while living together. Trust them, if they can make a go of it with the conditions you offer, they will. They will even let you know with their behaviour (leaning, drooping, thriving) what you are doing right and wrong.

But mostly, you just won't know until you try.

Karin L

    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 12:51PM
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karin_mt(4 MT)

Ditto what Yard said about leaving the red mulch. As long as it's not that icky rubber mulch, just leave it there and it will decompose and next year you can add something different. A major opportunity to enhance your soil presents itself every time you dig a hole in your garden to plant something. So you could add compost plus some organic, pelleted fertilizer and any other amendments you might need each time you dig and that can go a long way toward keeping the soil happy.

Buying good compost is amazingly tricky. The bagged stuff almost always contains "biosolids," which is a leftover from treated human sewage. Livestock manures come from who knows what type of operation and could contain antibiotics and other byproducts of industrial livestock production. I agree that Lowe's is not going to offer the truly good stuff and you'll have to seek that out locally.

As for the graph paper and obsessing about the plant selection and location, welcome to the club. :) That is not at all abnormal! When we first bought our house, I planted a new bed near the house and immediately had my doubts. Then I realized the definition of a perennial garden. It's not that the plants are perennials, it's that you can tweak things, move a few things out, brings a new one in, rearrange, and re-rearrange and so on... perennially. That is all part of the process and that's what keeps it fun forever.

What kind of bulbs did you get? I have a certain addiction to bulbs!

    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 3:40PM
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I am going to try planning it out on the graph paper for starters so I can see on paper exactly how much space I have to work with .

I agree with everything you said Karin L. I have the tendency to think too much sometimes about something or think that someone else may be thinking, 'why did she put that plant there, it looks bad'. I can be my own worst critic BUT I am very excited about this garden and am going to try to plant what I think is best and work at it from there.

We cut out a small blue spruce today near this garden. You can see it in the picture I took where it shows the expanded part of the garden I just completed. I really don't like to cut down trees if they are not dead or diseased BUT whomever planted the white pine, the blue spruce, and the other spruce were not thinking about how big they would get and the closeness factor. I am attaching a picture of the white pine and the remaining spruce and the garden from the angle of the road. I really wish the remaining spruce had been planted another 5 feet to the left so it could have more room but then it would be right in front of the house. What can I or should I do a trimming to the white pine to keep some of the branches out of the spruce? I was thinking of trimming the branches that are in the spruce back just a bit so they are not actually in the other tree. I am not sure if this is a good idea and I don't want to make the white pine look odd.

Eventually, I am going to be more worried about the white pine and the power cables but for now I am crossing my fingers that the tree service doesn't butcher the tree to keep the limbs away from the wires.

Thanks for the help...again :-)

    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 3:52PM
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I take it that the most recent picture is another view of the same garden? If so, I cannot comprehend the desire to have a garden that is directly below low-hanging branches of a tree. In spite of your counsel to keep the low branches (though not backed up by an explanation as to the logic) and your own desire to do so, they seem like a probably conflict to the growth requirements of the most plants below, a conflict to working space and a conflict to the appearance of organization. I'm not saying it's an impossibility. There are plants the grow in shade and the competition of tree roots. But it's not an ideal condition for a general perennial garden. When it comes to trees in yards, my personal standard is that under no circumstances should the canopy be lower than what allows a person to walk upright below. In most cases, a cathedral-like high ceiling is a much better feeling one to be under than is a head-scraping low ceiling. When gardening is below, it also helps a great deal with the light. From the most recent picture, it's not possible to tell the distance from the overhead wires, but if a conflict is coming, one must ask themselves what is the ultimate conclusion for this tree. A white pine is going to grow very large and very wide. The lowest branches it has currently as they get longer and heavier will be sweeping the ground in years to come and those above it will be into the lines. It's better to visualize the ultimate conclusion now and work toward its resolution than it is to pretend that it won't happen. Some day, the Pine will be much taller than the wires. I'm not saying this to discourage the gardening efforts. I'm saying it to encourage thinking and planning ahead.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 9:49AM
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Yard, I understand what you are saying. I have thought about what you are saying before it was said. About 1/3, or less now that I have expanded it, of this garden is directly under the white pine. My very first picture post shows it. I know the tree is going to get bigger and encompass more of the garden but I simply will not cut it down until I have no other choice. I guess there is no logic in that other than I don't want to cut the tree down. As far as the the height of the lowest branches from the ground I can see what you are saying about having a higher ceiling, helping with light, and that the tree is only going to get larger and the lowest branches now will possibly be sweeping the ground in years to come. At this point I am not ready to trim the tree enough to walk upright under it. I have done some trimming thusfar in the last couple of weeks and that is as far as I am going to take it for now. However, I will definitely trim the lowest branches to allow a person to walk beneath before the lowest bows are so large that they sweep the ground. As far as the power lines go, the day will come when this tree will have to be cut back near the power lines or taken down altogether, this I know and am not pretending it won't happen (I am hoping it can just be trimmed near the lines though). As far as the shade plants that can go here and their competition with the tree I am aware of but I am just going to see what works and what doesn't. If a certain plant isn't making it I will just move it elsewhere and try something else. But above all, even though I know it may be more difficult or more expensive for us to remove the tree, if it comes to that, down the road when it gets larger I simply won't cut it down now. I'd really rather enjoy it even if I only get to have it another ten years :-)

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 1:27PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Yardvaark is right - no one has asked you why you want to garden under the tree as opposed to somewhere else in the yard. It would be way easier and more rewarding to move your garden to a space not in conflict with the tree, and leave the area under the tree to self-mulch; a "forest floor" in effect. That is what the tree is going to want under it in very short order, and you will be fighting that inclination every day.

I disagree with Yard on the best way to handle tree branches - I think conifers usually look best if their skirts are to the ground if there is space for that, and there may be situations where deciduous trees too can keep their low branches - but he's right again that the branches of this one will eventually droop and be to the ground again. That will create a shaded, self-mulched area where nothing grows, including weeds - ideal, really, for easy care.

Karin L

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 1:36PM
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Well, I think the reason I made part of the garden under the White Pine was due to my newbie mentality when it came to gardens. I also think that it looked like a really pretty spot for a garden, not just under the pine because the entire garden isn't under the pine, but the general area as you come into the driveway.

It may be another stupid newbie mistake but I am going to continue on. This is the third year for this particular garden and I really don't want to quit on it. I really like it and think it has potential and since the entire thing isn't under the pine tree I have a lot of hope for the rest of the area. If I can only get ferns and hosta to grow under that pine with a soaker hose then I will do it and be happy :-) I will use the rest of the area for other plants and a bit more variety. I have read quite a few articles on growing plants under a pine tree and it isn't completely impossible so I'm stubborn and I will try.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 2:14PM
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rosiew(8 GA)

Kitty, you said: It may be another stupid newbie mistake but I am going to continue on. This is the third year for this particular garden and I really don't want to quit on it. I really like it and think it has potential and since the entire thing isn't under the pine tree I have a lot of hope for the rest of the area. If I can only get ferns and hosta to grow under that pine with a soaker hose then I will do it and be happy :-) I will use the rest of the area for other plants and a bit more variety. I have read quite a few articles on growing plants under a pine tree and it isn't completely impossible so I'm stubborn and I will try.

You go girl! You have not made a stupid mistake, or any mistake at all. Of course it's not impossible to grow plants under a pine. Old Yard just has the notion that all trees need to be limbed up. It's his mantra and he's sticking to it. Doesn't mean you have to agree. You've done a lot of hard work and the results are great and will get even better.


    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 4:37PM
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It's easy to get fed up gardening in dry shade. They're not really made for summer-blooming perennials. It's not that these gardens need more water--there are plenty of dry shade plants to add interest, but most are foliage only. The tree will always win the battle for water and root run and your plants will never grow to their full potential. Some will actually shrink.

Plan for most of your color to come in spring from bulbs, hellebores, pulmonarias, and newly emerging hosta foliage. Put pots of impatiens and begonias in between the foliage for summer color. Make a "wet spot" with a birdbath and plant Solomon's seal and astilbe around it that will get soaked frequently when you change the water. I tried and failed growing astilbe in my shade garden, but cimicifuga is doing good and blooming 4 feet away because it's near the birdbath.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 8:14PM
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Hi May Flowers,

Thank you for your suggestions. I do like the idea of the annuals in pots to create some summer color. I am wondering if there is a way to determine if I actually do have an area of dry shade under the pine or do I just assume because it is under a large tree? Do I dig a hole and examine the soil for moisture to make a determination? I'm sure this probably sounds crazy so maybe I should just assume it is dry shade.

Right now I have some ostrich ferns under the pine that seem to be doing well. Also, the astilbes did pretty well too. I have a bleeding heart that did really well and there are false solomon seal that come up wherever they want and do well.

I think I am going to amend the soil to see if I can help the plants.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 9:13PM
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Was it pretty dry when you removed the grass, even though it's probably watered once a week? I'm always surprised at how dry the soil is when I dig a plant to move it, even though I water well the day before. But I'm in Oregon and we don't get summer rain. No thunderstorms like in NY (I'm from the Hudson Valley). Even though I've amended, it seems the tree roots move right in to any new soil.

Do you have a lot of deciduous trees? I always mow mine and mulch the beds with them. It helps retain moisture and is one of the best organic mulches.

Pot impatiens in plastic or glazed clay pots. They like it moist and will dry out in unglazed clay.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 10:12PM
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Oh, I mow the leaves, not the trees. ;)

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 8:31AM
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Actually, it was moist when I checked the spot right under the pine. I have mulch there. Maybe it isn't as dry as one would think it would be.

The new spot I dug up to expand the garden which isn't under the pine was actually fairly dry. As of yet I don't have any mulch on it but plan to mulch it soon. I wanted to try something other than the red mulch I have, something more natural and natural colored, and see if I like that better.

I have started a compost pile and am anxious to see what happens with it. I put small sticks, brown leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen waste (not meat products) on the pile. I turned it yesterday and watered it down some as it was fairly dry. When I turned it I noticed the smell....very earthy but it is not nearly done composting.

You are right about the plastic pot for impatiens. I have one in the wishing well in a plastic pot and it did super this year and last!

I have never been to Oregon but I have been to Washington several times in the Okanogan region...just south of the Canadian border about half way across the state. I have been through the Cascades to Seattle several times as well. If your summer weather is like where I was I know you get next to no rainfall. Sprinklers were on constantly or no one would have a lawn. I really loved that area!

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 11:26AM
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Oregon reminds me of NY but with more evergreens. I really enjoy spring here after having lived in California for twenty years and never seeing a lilac or a dogwood. We also get pretty decent fall foliage, just not mountainsides full of color.

I mulch with compost every spring that I get by the cubic yard from the landscape supply place. I tried to compost in a pile, but it was too slow, and I didn't really have room for a pile. What I do is snip all my cuttings right back into the garden. It gets me into the garden every day and is very relaxing.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 3:48PM
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I feel misunderstood. Nowhere have I suggested that the white pine be removed. And actually, I'm not against gardening under trees. (I prefer landscaping below them, but since I'm not there doing the work or suffering the consequences, gardening below is fine with me.) One thing I am against is gardening under SHRUBS and that's what's occurring here. I'm not saying DON'T GARDEN. I'm saying change the white pine into a tree because that's eventually what you, Mskitty31, will BE FORCED into doing. Don't want to? Fine. Wait and do it later when you can see it's an overdue requirement. I'm just sharing with you what's in my crystal ball. But I understand stubbornness and the desire to see for one's self. I'm like that, too so I'm good with that. Just thinking ahead and someday when you thinking catches up, you will remember that Yard said limb up the tree and you'll agree that it should be done because all of your plants are now (which is the hypothetical future) in a dark white pine mushroom-growing cave. Never mind the fact that the job of removing lower limbs will be a bigger job later... correlating to exactly how much later it's done. That's OK with me, too. I don't begrudge people for wanting to do more yard work than I wish to do. I love yard work. But I have to make it efficient in order to get everything done.

As far as limbing up trees being a mantra... my mantra, I'm still waiting to hear from anyone how they justify tree limbs low enough to smack people in the face, drag on their heads, block good views or create the 'mobile home ceiling effect'. If there's an argument that supports it, let's hear it. I'm all for applying logic and reason to landscape design.

"I think conifers usually look best if their skirts are to the ground..." Karinl, we don't disagree here. We Agree. I think conifers look best with skirts to the ground, but it's the shrub form. Even if it is 80' tall, the form is shrub. Unfortunately, growing conifers like this takes lots of room. When people plant conifers in too small yards, they are essentially forcing them to be limbed up into the tree form in order to accommodate other yard uses, like driveways, walks, etc. Growing a garden under a shrub form--if one wants to keep the garden a long time--will eventually force the limbing up,too.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 4:04PM
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Hi Yard. I'm sorry that I thought you meant one of your solutions might be to cut it down. No, you didn't say that...I think I read into it too much.

I have to tell you that yesterday I went out to water under the tree and smacked my head twice and noticed I had pine pitch in my hair last night from bumping my head. Believe me, when I hit my head the second time I remembered what you said about limbing it up...haha.

Honestly, I am scared to limb it up more. I am afraid that I might not like it and once I do it I can't put the limbs back. Honestly and truly, I am nervous about limbing it up more. I am definitely going to think about it and go out and look at it again tomorrow.

What am I suppose to do about the spruce next to the White Pine? I wish that whomever planted them had done a better job and I don't want to lose either tree BUT the pine is going to crowd out the spruce even more as times goes on. I think I am afraid that if I remove the spruce in time and for some reason or another lose the White Pine then I will have a bare spot that I won't be able to plant another tree in due to the huge roots left from long gone trees.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 9:24PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Long dead trees don't harm new ones, they nourish them... as their roots decompose, for example. Only living trees compete. I would need a lot more information about your lot to recommend anything about tree placement, but since you observe your yard very carefully you should be able to judge where it would be BEST to have trees - for shade, for privacy, for enjoying foliage, bird traffic, what have you. Compare that to what you have, and if it's not close, I would encourage you to make the change sooner rather than later. Otherwise you are more or less letting a bad decision by a previous owner run your life. Been there, done that, wish I'd made the change sooner.

I will point out that if you were gardening beside the tree or across the yard from it, you would not be hitting your head. As for whether this is a newbie mistake, I agree it is, and there is nothing wrong with working hard to make a go of it. But again, been there done that, and you know, I learned a lot about plants doing it. your plants will eventually move themselves out if the conditions are not favourable. One does not think it can happen, but it does. Some will just die, others such as ostrich ferns and solomon's seal can actually wander to where conditions are better, and they do. Maybe it really is fine under the tree, but your plants will be the ones who decide if it is BETTER somewhere else. Me, personally, I've had so much of tree needles down the back of my shirt and the spider heaven that an under-conifer environment is that, if I had somewhere else to garden, I would leave the space to the tree skirt and make my garden elsewhere.

But here's the other thing. This being the landscape forum, you might like to consider the landscaping perspective which would have generated an entirely different discussion had you come in with such a question. A previous owner probably planted a tiny pine with a ring of plants around it, and you now have the result of what was not a good decision then. There may be many better ways to landscape your yard. If you show the forum more of it, a better place for flower gardens may become evident.

Karin L

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 1:39AM
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"...and smacked my head twice and noticed I had pine pitch in my hair..." Ha... you made me laugh out loud!

"Honestly, I am scared to limb it up more." I think the truth has arrived. But don't feel alone. It is fear that controls landscape related decisions for many. Even though I had 6 years straight of school in horticulture and landscape design and was working my first job as a professional landscape architect, I had to wrestle with the exact same dilemma when I bought my own home. It's yard was full of mature trees that had gone without attention for probably decades. Everywhere in the yard, the feeling was so woodsy that one couldn't grasp a sense of the rest of the yard. It was relatively large, but did not feel that way. Instead, it seemed like a strung together collection of small, private, spider-friendly spaces. The shade was intense enough to be rightfully called gloomy. Since at that time I didn't know whether to limb up or not, I didn't just plow into it. I had long debates about it with myself before getting started. It began as a process of cutting a little and evaluating a lot. But with beginning the removal of lower limbs, the improvement in the feel of the space was pronounced. (I have to call it feel, not look, because I was experiencing the canopy from below, not so much from afar.) Needless to say, the difference created by starting the limbing up process was so much appreciated that it became self proliferating and, eventually, I found myself living in a green cathedral.

Your yard is different in that you're not smothered by a forest (except while tending the garden!) so your appraisal of the white pine is to some degree based on viewing it from afar. Usually, when I'm figuring out what to do with a yard space, I'm operating under the idea that it's worthwhile to extend good views in all directions as much as possible... which often means as close to the lot line as possible, and sometimes beyond. Rarely do I find that it's a good idea to impose screening if the view beyond is desireable. I'd much rather make the view larger and more grand than smaller and confined. Intentionally partitioning a yard for a specific reason would be an exception. Maybe, if the view of your yard beyond the white pine (as viewed from the house area) is unattractive, it needs to be screened and the white pine does a great job. But since it looks like what's beyond the tree is just more grass and (now I'm guessing) beyond that probably just more vegetation, then there's not a good reason to block that view with a monster shrub close to the middle of your yard. Maybe you don't want to see beyond the property line, but the white pine would not be the best solution for providing screening there. Screening near the property line would be better if it didn't occupy as much width/yard space as does the white pine.

Usually when limbing up a tree, one wants to achieve, as much as possible, a level horizontal bottom line to the canopy. since the white pine limbs occur in tiers, it's a matter of removing the entire tier. Eventually the day will come, mskitty31, when you feel that you are boxed into a corner and must remove lower limbs. The only consolation I can offer if you do it and then feel you've made a mistake is that eventually, the limbs in the tier above will grow longer and heavier and eventually be sweeping low enough to knock you in the head again and then you can feel better!

As long as the spruce and pine are together, there is no way that the spruce will end up being anything other than half a tree. It will have no foliage where the white pine screens the sunlight. It's unfortunate that someone planted the spruce in that place. Since it's also going to be another "shrub" in an even worse place (closer to the center of back yard) insofar as blocking views beyond. I would bite the bullet and get rid of it yesterday and plan much better things in its wake. Its location is most definitely not good design unless you are coming in later with an elaborate miniature golf course layout that incorporates it. What you have now, though it is a known quantity, does not compare in any way to being as good as what you COULD have. This is not a criticism, but just an observation: it seems that at the moment you are focused on an object--a garden--within your yard space and you haven't yet become concerned with the overall back yard and surrounding (what's outside of your lot) space. If you were to consider total back yard landscape possibilities, you might view the pine and spruce in a different light.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 9:34AM
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Well.....the White Pine and Spruce are actually in the front yard. I took the last picture of the two from the road. Haha the front of the house doesn't look like much and it isn't - we have our work cut out for us but we are slowly making improvements. With that being said, I do want to maintain some sort of screen because of the road and the White Pine does that nicely. There is quite a chunk of grass between me and the White Pine which makes for a nice large front lawn but I am standing on the shoulder of the road and unfortunately it is not just a "road" but a state And this is funny because you should see the rest of our property - trees galore! We do have quite a bit of lawn but we also have many trees. It isn't gloomy but some of them do need to go. We have been working on removing them. A lot of the trees are elm and basswood and I have no problem with a few of them but the majority of our trees are elm and basswood. We also have Black Cherry which are messy. Like you mentioned about your yard, ours is full of mostly mature trees too and honestly there are a handful that were planted too close to the house and just too close to one another. There are some spots where we have basswood growing in the cedars...ugh. It's a lot of work and a slow process but we keep plugging along. Oh yeah, don't forget the sumac!..beh! It's like we live in a small hamlet but our back yard borders forest that stretches for a mile. It used to be a small talc mining town and about half of the houses are gone now since the business is not what it used to be.

Anyway, needless to say, there is A LOT of work to be done here as it was neglected for quite some time before we came along.

With the spruce that is being crowded out by the White are right that there is a small section of the tree where the Pine is growing into its branches that is bare. You can't tell of course because the White Pine fills it up. So, it has been my understanding for quite some time that it is difficult or near impossible to plant a tree where one had been growing due to the large root system of the old one. Is this true?

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 3:30PM
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The whole things is coming together nicely. I like the rock border in conjuntion with or in place of the bark. Keep working at it will come together

Here is a link that might be useful: geranium bobs site

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 7:29PM
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"I do want to maintain some sort of screen because of the road and the White Pine does that nicely."

While there may be a nice chunk of lawn between the house and white pine, it seems that there's an even greater amount between the white pine and road. So screening the road from the white pine location screens off a large part of yard that could otherwise be incorporated into a nice view. I think the case could be made that screening the road much closer to the road would be a better way to parcel the yard and create the greater view. I understand that a person may have personal considerations that outweigh choosing the best landscape solution. Other than informing them of the factors involved, there's no reason to persuade them against their decision.

" is difficult or near impossible to plant a tree where one had been growing due to the large root system of the old one. Is this true?"

I don't think there is adequate science that proves this to be the case. And being an inveterate rule breaker myself, I can say I've done this many times without problems. However, one obvious consideration is that when the old tree has been removed and the stump ground out, there is usually a mountain of dirty sawdust in the previous tree's place. One cannot plant a new tree in sawdust, even if it's dirty. One must replace it with a sufficient amount of soil. I have never had problems placing a new tree adjacent to where an old tree was, but it's always in soil, never in sawdust.

This is not to further the discussion about the disposition of the white pine, but to further the discussion about limbing up, or not, of trees in general. Since people can claim as desirable whatever they want, whether it's true, or not, this hypothetical situation requires the ability to imagine, and that one is able to invoke personal honesty. Trees, as architectural forms, are essentially domes with a ceiling. Forget for the time being that they are held aloft by a "stick." Imagine instead that they float in the air, trunk-less, wherever their owner wishes and that one could raise or lower the dome like a window shade. Positioning it would not be a matter of cutting or any work, but simply of appraising, determining and wishing it into final position. Imagine two people standing in their yard trying to determine the "resting place" of the newly arrived dome/tree canopy. It's inconceivable to me that while standing there trying it out in different positions to see what works, that either of them would conclude that its best position is one so low that a person performing lawn maintenance below it could actually hit their head on its lower limbs. At the minimum, any reasonable person who walked below it during the evaluation/installation phase, would simply say let's raise this up so it clears our heads. To leave it low would be employing logic no different than building 5' ht. door openings in our houses. It wouldn't ever happen. Leaving trees canopies below head height happens now because people are, A) afraid to cut a plant, and B) afraid of creating a result of which they aren't confident (because of lack of knowledge and experience to pre-determine the outcome), or C) because they are using a tree to do a shrub's job. If fear, lack of confidence about the outcome and incorrect plant form usage could be eliminated, there would be no case where anyone wished a tree canopy to exceed below 6'-6" height... clearing all heads but those of professional basketball players. There are certainly other reasons to make a case for raising a tree canopy higher, but here I'm only trying to establish a minimum ground clearance. Also, I'm not speaking about exceptional cases where a person has a specific goal and reason for having a low tree canopy--such as the creation of mere ART--but just the millions of average trees in the millions of average yards where people should be trying to do what's functionally best.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 9:30AM
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What if you didn't grind the old stump out? What if you cut the old stump as flush with the ground as possible and left the rest to rot on its own? Would that impede a new tree from establishing itself?

I haven't yet limbed the pine up anymore. I was looking at it yesterday and debating.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 10:11AM
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"I have never had problems placing a new tree adjacent to where an old tree was, but it's always in soil, never in sawdust." So carve out your planting hole (which might mean cutting some of the old tree's roots) and plant the new tree. In your yard, Mskitty, not sure where you're talking about, but you wouldn't want another tree next to where the Spruce is now.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 11:14AM
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We cut down a Thompson maple that resprouted every spring for about 5 years. I finally put my compost pile on top of it last fall and it hasn't come back.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 11:33AM
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I'm not intending on putting another tree near the Spruce. I was just curious about whether or not a tree could be planted next to where an old tree had been. Good to know.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 11:39AM
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