Gardens: Locating Plants

Blanca Poteat
Frederick County Master Gardener

Gardens are like relationships or baseball teams – they have different seasons, they’re imperfect, and they have untapped potential.

One area of garden imperfection and untapped potential is like real estate: location, location, location. Are your garden, flowers, shrubs and trees in the best location – for their preferences and yours? Maybe some flowers and vegetables, trees and shrubs didn’t thrive this summer simply because they prefer different growing conditions. Do a little research on your plants’ preferences and tolerance for sunlight/shade, moisture/dryness, and other factors and consider trying to grow them in different places next year.

For example, don’t try to make sun-loving plants conform to shady places. And "moisture-loving" plants are just that, good for landscaping your wetlands, not for your sunny, dry garden. Next spring take time to read and heed the fine print on those seed packets and plant labels.

Another location issue: Did some plants that seemed like a good idea in the spring ignore your plans and grow out of their original space? Sunflowers, morning glories, lemon thyme, squash and cucumbers, Jerusalem artichokes, horseradish, mint? Remember, "Vigorous" is gardening code for "has a compulsion to take over the world." Think mile-a-minute vine.

Relocation sometimes requires tough love: pull up trouble now. By the roots and rhizomes for those plants like mint that spread that way. Pull out the morning glories and grasses and sunflowers before they go to seed. Dig out the horseradish. You will miss some and still get some volunteer plants next year, but you will retake your ground, or at least get a head start.

Locate your plants to improve their teamwork, too. Try more companion plantings to help discourage bugs and encourage healthy growth. For example, marigolds help repel bean beetles; basil and borage near tomatoes fend off horn worms; garlic and onions with the cabbage family combat maggots.

Soil improvement: Growing things, like relationships, need to be nourished to thrive. Fall is the time to test your soil for nutrient balance and to mix in a generous layer of weed-free compost. This can be a basic strategy for your winter break and for healthier overall growth next year.

As the summer gardening season is waning, it would be tempting to throw some compost on everything and wait to see what volunteers to come up next spring. But nature dislikes a vacuum. Left to themselves, this year’s squatters will return, and there goes your "neighborhood."

Be realistic: "carefree" on that label refers more to plants’ attitudes than to your workload. Remember: Success in the garden requires knowledge and wisdom, best learned by experience. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad. Gardens, relationships, baseball: above all, be optimistic, there’s always next year.

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