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MASTER GARDENERS: Evaluate and renovate your garden

There is nothing like having guests over to see your gardens to make one aware of their problems and the boundless opportunities to make changes for improvement. You also see all the weeds you missed. Height considerations, poorly performing plants, color problems and overcrowding were all apparent.

Tall plants such as asters, verbenas, goldenrod and mums didn't get sheared at 6 inches this spring to help them bush out and bloom at a shorter height. Our partial shaded gardens encourage plants to reach for the sun. Consequently, they look gangly, had to be caged, and don't have nearly the blooms or potential for fall blooms that they should have had.

Other plants have been a disappointment and do not work well with our soil or, while lovely in early summer, diminish by mid-summer. Snapdragons do not perform well in our partial shade so they will be replaced next year with annuals that aren't so picky. A plant new to me, Venus looking glass (Legousia speculum veneris), was an exquisite short purplish-blue, a color so hard to find. It declined by mid-July. With our short summers we need annuals that perform all season so that one won't be planted again.

Each year plants grow at different rates; this year some perennials have grown exponentially large. Spaces that I thought would be bare were covered with foliage by early July. They reminded me of the first science fiction movie I saw, The H Man, with its green, ghostly substance enveloping everything. Large hostas have eaten up small hostas meant to be an color-shifting edge plants. Cimicifuga that are marching across my flower beds will be reduced in size. They work well where they are placed but have become just too much.

Another aspect of the garden that needs changing is the grouping of flowers by color and variety. Gardens are viewed not only from close up but from a distance as well. By planting a group of a single flower color and variety in an area, a garden has more effect. When you put one plant here and another plant there in the commonly held belief that you will create variety, you lose impact. Flowers bloom on different days so the color impact is diminished if only sporadic flowers are blooming from single pants. Pollinators that add so much vibrancy to a garden are attracted to larger groupings of flowers; they gather more pollen and nectar with less effort. More bees and butterflies will come to single pollinator-friendly species. Three to five plants in a grouping works well.

Plants need breathing space to show off their individuality in foliage shape, height and bloom color. This means that the lilies will need thinning in my garden . . . again, and other perennials will need splitting and moving to fill the spots where others have died or are not thriving. A large special specimen plant such as a colorful day lily shows best when it is given center stage instead of being part of a chorus of varieties.

Giving plants room by mulching and leaving space for expansion makes for healthier plants that require less effort. Again, natural elements such as rocks or driftwood can act as frames to show off individual plants, to bring eye relief to a large garden, to create separation or to simply fill a spot where a plant has died.

Now if I could find someone who wants a learning experience and likes to dig and get sweaty and dirty for free, it would be great!

Call (218) 444-7916, the Master Gardener voicemail, for help with gardening questions or consult the U of MN Extension site at