The Garden Life: Prune new life into rhodies

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photoRobb Rosser

Instead of tearing out that overgrown rhododendron, this may be the year to practice your pruning techniques. Established rhododendrons can be quite lovely plants, especially when trained as a small tree. Take the time to begin limbing up from the bottom. Remove lower branches with a pruning saw where they connect to a main trunk. Thin out higher branches for an open, airy look. After pruning, plant a simple, trustworthy ground cover such as the variegated pachysandra at its feet.

Unless your rhody is blocking a window or overgrowing a small space, try living with it for another year with this new makeover. When fall arrives, you’ll find the open space at the rhody’s feet the perfect spot for a planting of spring blooming bulbs. A group of small daffodils, such as “Tete a Tete,” will find this situation quite to their liking. The new silhouette of the rhododendron will add multiseason interest to what was once an overgrown, featureless shrub.

Value of landscaping

In recent years, landscaping has taken on a completely new meaning. People have learned that landscaping can add to the value of a home, dramatically increase living space, and contribute greatly to an improved home lifestyle. Events such as the Home and Garden Idea Fair or Yard, Garden and Patio Show draw large crowds of people interested in getting ideas for improving their homes and gardens. As a trade, general landscaping has been divided into three fields, something to keep in mind when you consider hiring a firm for its services. Lawn care companies specialize in mowing, raking, edging, seeding, and otherwise caring for the grassy areas of your yard. Landscape maintenance firms are primarily concerned with periodic maintenance of trees, shrubs and flower beds. Then there are firms that handle landscape construction and planting under the direction of a landscape designer. This last group deals with everything from patios to fountains to rock gardens. While nearly every household does some landscaping, few achieve the results they seek.

A good landscape designer can help you integrate all kinds of practical and aesthetic considerations into an overall plan that achieves the effects that are most important to you. Whether you want to attract birds, impress the neighbors, or create fanciful outdoor recreation areas for your grandchildren, landscape designers can help you pull it together so that it really works. Designers can help you work within a budget and can help you implement the plan in stages spread over several seasons.

Most homeowners who do their own landscaping redo parts of it repeatedly, trying to create the right look without creating a maintenance nightmare. A designer can help you develop an approach that does not waste your time and money. To get help with design, you have more options than ever. There are books and computer-based design tools with information on every aspect of landscaping. You can also get great ideas from local home and garden events, as well as home centers and nurseries.

For the most comprehensive design help, use a landscape architect or someone with equivalent training. These people have studied landscaping from every angle over a long period and are in the best position to help you juggle thousands of variables to end up with the ideal plan for you. Even if you decide to formulate a plan on your own, have a landscape design professional review your ideas before you begin moving dirt around or buying expensive plants. At the very least, run your ideas past a friend or neighbor with some gardening experience.

Garden maintenance

My theory on the topic of garden maintenance is quite general. The best time to do any garden chore is when you have the time, the inclination and the right tool in hand. Without overanalyzing, I take care of the work that needs to be done, when I can. This way of thinking allows me the leeway to miss a few deadlines and still get back into garden trim in a timely manner. Almost every book or magazine on general gardening has a list of monthly garden chores.

The window of opportunity on garden chores varies with the season and the job itself. Clearly, some chores get in your face and shout to be done. Ripening fruit needs to be picked or it will rot on the vine. Weeds need to be pulled before they flower and set seeds for the next generation. On the other hand, if you wait too long to deadhead your daisies after blooming, you might miss a second flush of flowers but you stand a better chance of encouraging new seedlings in the coming year.

Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified Master Gardener. Reach him at Write2Robb@aol. com.