Gardening for All Seasons

Georgia Dettinburn
Adams County Master Gardener

As winter winds blow gardeners often find themselves paging through endless stacks of garden catalogues. We dream of a garden that is full of ever blooming flowers and interesting displays in every turn of the garden path. With a little planning and a lot of patience, this dream can become a reality.

For the best results always do a soil test to see what you have to work with and what you will need to add to the soil to provide for the needs of the plants you choose to grow. Most soil types will benefit greatly by adding well aged manure, an inch or two of compost yearly. Although you can create micro climates for some must have plants, it is better to choose plants that are adapted to your growing zone (ours is 6 in south eastern Pennsylvania. Disease resistance and natives make a good choice as they are already adapted to the growing conditions in your area and they will not take as much work to keep them healthy. Always plant your plants in the right spot. Shade loving plants need shade and sun loving plants need the sun. Grouping plants with similar needs together will also make them easier to care for. Planting plants with different requirements seldom spells success. Gardens take years to evolve. Watching it develop is part of the fun in gardening.

Consider the time you have for maintenance. Be realistic. Avoid sensitive or difficult to grow species if you have limited time to spend in the garden. It is better to start small and stay small than to have a large weed filled garden.

When choosing plants you should consider the architecture of your home. Use formal or informal design that will compliment your style. Keep in mind it is your garden, for your pleasure and you should choose what you like regardless of what is the popular trend in any given year.

When choosing trees, consider the size of your yard and the size of the tree at maturity. Trees misshapen because of power lines or ones that grow over into the neighbor's lawn are not a good choice no matter how much you like them. In the spring you have many choices for beautiful floral display. A few of my favorites are crab apple, dogwood, red bud, flowering peach and weeping cherry. For a nice summer tree red maple and tri-color beech are nice. For fall try Sugar Maple and Ginkgo. Winter evergreens not only look beautiful when covered with snow they provide shelter for the birds. The shag bark of the paper maple can be interesting too. White Birch is really pretty but not hardy in our area. Holly trees and magnolias are also beautiful trees to plant.

Shrubs can also add seasonal interest to the garden. One of the first shrubs to bloom in spring is the bright yellow forsythias, followed shortly after by the lilacs, spirea, azaleas, rhododendrons and viburnum. A must have for me in summer is the Philadelphus coronaries, mock orange. It fills the air with its sweet aroma and my mind with pleasant memories of my grandmother's garden. If you like to see butterflies in your garden you wil want to add a buddleia, but be sure to deadhead this beauty before it sets seeds to keep it from becoming invasive. It will repeat bloom quicker if it is deadheaded. Hydrangea are beautiful summer through fall. The Chase Tree (not really a tree, but a shrub) has wonderful blue flowers in August. Crepe Myrtle blooms at the same time and come in white, pinks, red, and purple. For fall color the burning bush can't be beat for its bright red leaves. In winter the twigs of the Harry Lauder Walking Stick and the red twig dog wood add interest to the garden. The red berries of holly and winterberry brighten any winter day.

Every gardener should consider planting spring blooming bulbs. They are a warm welcome after a long bleak winter. They offer a bright burst of color that warms your heart and puts a smile on your face. They come back year after year, multiply rapidly, so you get more that you paid for, they can be brought in for a long lasting arrangements to brighten your home and will bloom for many years before they need to be divided. Nurseries have many varieties of crocus, daffodil, jonquils, and tulips to choose from. Just remember you need to plant them in the fall and need to let the foliage die back naturally without tying them together or braiding them together, as they need to gather food for next years blooms from the sun .

Tubers such as dahlias and cannas are planted in spring and will bloom from August till frost. These are quite beautiful and have captured my heart. They multiply quickly, so you double investment quickly. They do have one draw back. The tubers need to be dug in the fall and stored till next spring.

Annuals bloom only for a season and help to bridge the gap between the blooming of perennials. They can be planted directly over bulbs once the foliage of the bulb has been left to die off naturally. The varieties to choose from are endless. I choose different ones each year, sometimes reaping tried and true ones like marigolds, zinnias and alyssum. Most will self seed for next years blooms.

Perennials are plants that live for more than two years. These plants are considered the back bone of the garden, reappearing year after year. The drawback for these plants is the short bloom time. Many only bloom for two weeks. If they are deadheaded they may bloom again with smaller flowers. Consider the texture of the foliage and its color as this also contributes to the beauty of the garden. After three to five years in the garden you may want to rejuvenate these plants by dividing them. This is good for the bed and gives you more plants to use or give away. One of my favorites is Paeonia spp., peonies, that can live a lifetime in the same spot never having to be moved. When dried they resemble a cabbage rose. Some will bloom for a longer period - coreopsis, coneflower, yarrow, mallow and bleeding heart. Some are grown more for the foliage than the flower, like Hosta spp. and corral bells. Most perennials will die back in fall and come back in the spring, but yucca and lilyturf will stay green all winter. If you want continual bloom in your garden plant Myosotis spp. (forget me nots), Papaver orientale (poppy), Alchemilla mollis (lady's mantle), Aquilegia (columbine), Geranium cranesbill, Iris, Dicentra spectabilis (bleeding heart), Baptisia australis (false indigo) for spring blooms. Add Astilbe x arendsii (astilbe), Rudbeckia fulgida (black eyed Susan), Campanula persicifolia (bell flowers), Hemerocallis (daylily), Echinacea purpurea (coneflower), Liatris spicata and Achillea spp. (yarrow) for summer blooms. For fall blooms plant Heliopsis helianthoides (false sunflower), Solidago (goldenrod), anemone x hybrida (Japanese anemone) or Sedum spp. (stonecrop).

Vines are a wonderful choice if you are looking for height or something to cover an unsightly view. They can also add privacy to a deck or patio. One of my favorite is Graham Thomas honeysuckle. It is not invasive and has the most wonderful scent. It is a repeat bloomer and the humming birds love it. The clematis should not be overlooked. It is available in varieties that will bloom from spring through fall.

So often we make the mistake of visiting the nursery, see an array of beautiful flowers and buy on impulse without first considering the longevity of the plant, its needs or the cost of replacement when it doesn't survive. So take a bit of time to search out the books now and remember it is your garden you are planting. What actually constitutes the perfect garden is determined by the gardener. What is perfect for one may not be for another. Use the combinations of color, texture and forms that are pleasing to your eye. The possibilities and choices are endless, so relax in your easy chair, page through the catalogs, enjoy yourself and plan your best garden ever.

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