The New Year is a great time to take a long, hard look at your landscape. Examine it like a potential buyer.
There is really something to be said for curb appeal. As a buyer, you probably discovered that you liked the homes with gorgeous landscapes better, and those with attractive landscapes generally bring a premium in price.
It's not necessary to plant your yard to help the house get top dollar, but you should avoid doing anything to hurt the investment. And hurting the investment includes doing nothing when it comes to the landscape.
Trees and shrubs for the landscape can be expensive, but when you consider what they can do for the value of your home, they might be well worth the investment. Carefully designing and planning for these additions can ensure years of pleasure.
After meticulous plans, some gardeners fail to follow proper planting recommendations. The $5 plant in the $10 planting hole has merit. Successful establishment of new shrubs and trees in the landscape often depends on planting techniques and care.
This will be the only chance to get the new plant off to a good start.
Just like a container, where we usually find success growing plants or flowers, our shrub bed should be well-drained, moist, loose, nutrient- and humus-rich with a layer of mulch added to prevent loss of moisture, deter weeds and moderate extremes in soil temperatures. This is why basic planting instructions are included with the plant.
This soil will be the home for the life of those plants' roots. Metal edging, landscape timbers, brick and masonry work well to separate turf from beds, and to let you raise the soil with organic matter or specially prepared landscape mixes.
Just as you would go to the nursery or garden center to buy a bag of potting mix for a container, you can prepare your landscape for that raised bed of new azaleas or hollies with a soil mix.
At the Columbus, Ga., Botanical Garden, we regularly buy a truckload of what I consider "black gold" — not because it is expensive, but because it allows for soil to be improved and for plants to quickly get established. You can buy these soil mixes soil mixes by the bag, cubic yard or truckload. When you look at the price by the cubic yard, you'll wonder why you have been torturing your plants with heavy compacted clay.
Try to plant in bold curves, and avoid planting in straight lines whenever possible. This allows you to create a mystery as to what lies around the curve. Use three to five basic plant materials that you repeat in other parts of the landscape. When you grow one or two of every shrub available, it might look like an unplanned arboretum. Place your shrubs in groupings or clusters of odd numbers: five, seven or nine.
If you want shrubs but the economy has you flinching, stretch the pocketbook by buying larger container-grown shrubs and smaller trees. It might seem expensive to buy 3- and 5-gallon shrubs, but you will not need as many, and you will be more likely to plant at the correct spacing.
Just like pledging to get fit after the New Year, it's good to get back to basics in your landscape. Your home is your most important investment, and after a little digging, you might find your body getting fit, too.
Norman Winter is executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden in Columbus Ga., and author of Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South and Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden.