Whether you’ve decided to take on your own garden upkeep or hire a professional, these tips can help demystify what your plant needs.
When I create a planting plan for my clients, I make sure that there is a balance of different types of plants to create year-round beauty. To simplify this please think of the main category breakdown: evergreens and deciduous.
Evergreen plants keep their leaves year-round. This is not to imply that they don’t shed their leaves and create new ones, but evergreens do not defoliate in the fall/winter months. Whereas deciduous plants do just that- lose their leaves when the temperatures drop towards the end of the year.
Now let’s break that category down a bit further to the perennials. A perennial is a plant that comes back year after year. Not to suggest that these plants live forever, but they do not die each year like annual plant die off.
With perennials there are herbaceous and woody types. Think of an herbaceous perennial as a plant whose growth dies down annually but whose roots or other underground parts survive. In other words, these are the plants that tend to “shrink” or defoliate or need to be cut back in the winter months. Now the woody perennials are the backbone of your garden. They basically look the same year-round because they do not die back and instead grow with each passing season. Think of these as your trees, shrubs and some groundcovers.
Ok now that you’ve got that under your belt, lets simplify your maintenance schedule. For my clients, here is what I recommend. Treat yourself to a nice pair of pruning shears/clipper by Felco or other top brand and let’s get started:
- Deadheading. Deadheading simply means cutting the faded flowers off your plants. It makes your plants look better and also prevents them from setting seeds. You can deadhead anything (evergreens or deciduous plants) with a flower from your Kangaroo Paws (Anigozanthos) to your Sage (Salvia) and Roses. Happily, many perennials respond to deadheading by putting out more blooms. You can also remove dead reeds (Chondropetalum, Juncus, Restio) or dead leaves (Cordyline) anytime. If its dead its ok to remove.
- Shaping. In the first year of your garden, you won’t need to do this much but you’ll now when it’s time when your plants look lopsided, leggy or just a bit too big. You can shape your evergreens as needed any time of year being careful not to cut off new flowering buds in the spring that you may want from your woody perennials (Prunus, Laurus, Citrus, Nandina, Rosmarinus, Coleonema). Please shape or hard prune (cut almost to the ground) deciduous plants (herbaceous perennials) in the fall/winter (Cotinus, Rose, Salvia, Hibiscus, Rudbeckia). In cases where your herbaceous perennials are looking leggy or not blooming enough, this is when you’ll need to prune almost to the ground to refresh them.
- Fertilizing. I like organic fertilizers always for my specialty plants. I’m also a big fan or compost and compost tea (which are also organic) for the entire garden on a yearly basis. With most plants they appreciate the slow organic release versus the chemical extreme approach because it’s more natural to their growth habit (think of a plant on steroids- no thanks). Now, there are a few plants which NEVER get fertilized. If you have Australian or California Native plants, please do not fertilizer. Fertilizing is easy for your specialty plants because you just follow the direction on the box for Citrus, Roses and Hydrangea. How do you know if you have a specialty plant? The box will typically have a picture on it and for your type of plants. The label will explain when and how much to fertilize. Now, for the other plants, it doesn’t hurt to add compost yearly. The teas are the easiest to apply because they can be sprayed on but you can also top dress around the plant (brush back the mulch, add the compost around the edges and then put the mulch back in place). For succulents I recommend the compost tea not the compost soil- its just easier and spreads more evenly.
- Pulling weeds. Yes, this will be the vain of your existence for the first two years of your new garden. Trust me, it’s better to spend 15 minutes every weekend pulling out these suckers than hours a month once it gets really out of control.
- Grasses. Now there are two types of grasses: cool and warm season. It’s important you know which one you have before you start pruning away. For grasses read my blog here: https://julieorrdesign.com/ornamental-grass-maintenance/
My clients can always refer to their “Plant Ideas” PDF for help identifying which types of plants they have in their yard which will then help guide with their care. With a bit of practice, gardening will all become second nature. Of course, there are always aesthetic pruners and professional gardeners who can come to the rescue if these chores feel daunting. Unfortunately, not every typical “mow and blow” service will provide this level of attention or knowledge to even the low maintenance garden. Therefore, it’s a good practice to help educate your gardener or know their limitations prior to engaging with their services so that you can hire supplemental help. Lastly, I always recommend an arborist of professional tree company for work on all trees.