Having gardened for a long time, I am finally learning a few things. Proper spacing and siting of plants is one I should have paid more attention long ago.
Thinking I could squeeze just another tempting plant into an area has resulted in overcrowded beds and plants that haven’t shown well, been hard to maintain, been stunted and overwhelmed by more aggressive plants, and sometimes developed diseases or been more susceptible to insects. More is not often better with flowers.
Plants need adequate space to grow to their potential width and height, to get adequate nutrients, water and for air flow to reduce fungal disease and discourage insect such as aphids from their reproductive frenzies. One plant looks like a meal; many plants look like a picnic.
Annual flowers are different from perennials in spacing needs because our season is so short, but spacing is still important. Using a string garden trellis placed horizontally and supported by stakes in a bed designated for glads will help them grow straight flower stems and keep them from falling over due to wind or rain.
Zigzag planting of two rows of zinnias or snaps at the recommended spacing will help them show better, offer support, and be an efficient use of space in a cutting garden. With annuals look for the recommended spacing on seed packages or labels. Knowing the space size you want to plant will also keep the costs down when you go to the nursery. Staking large dahlias when you plant saves space, will keep them looking better and you will avoid the disappointment of their tumbling over onto smaller plants in front of them.
Perennial plants should be planted for the future. Well-prepared soil, a site that provides adequate light, and space to grow into are musts. It is imperative to learn the mature size of the plant and plant accordingly. You can mulch to fill the open space or fill in with some annuals if that spacing is too much for you.
In 2013 I started a hosta garden with many large species and spaced them six to eight feet apart. This year they are reaching their maturity and some are becoming too close. Space between specimen plants acts like a picture frame. Some old tree roots and sculptural elements helped fill the space in the early years of the bed. Spots of annuals and shade tolerant perennials can also fill spaces and offer interest while those slower growing plants mature. Specimen miniature plants show best with mulch between them.
Patience is necessary in perennial gardening; planning color groupings and varied bloom times creates a bed that is continually interesting. Plant several specimens of one variety in a space to create the most dynamic effect. It avoids the hot dish effect, may have lovely plants, but whose effect get lost.
Using tall plants frames shorter ones; a variety of heights, shapes, colors and textures creates interest. A single large plant can provide background for many smaller plants -- a built-in vignette.
Evaluate your gardens each year and don’t be afraid to move plants when you see a better design. When you group similar plants, care is easier; when you leave space, you have room for maneuvering. Do it early, improve the soil, and water well to establish the plants.
These local garden articles will reach you each week throughout the gardening season, but also click on "Yard and Garden” at the University of Minnesota Extension website -- www.extension.umn.edu -- for gardening information, or visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Beltramicountymastergardeners.
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