Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Choosing and caring for your shrubs

The choice of easy-care shrubs is vast. Most shrubs are hardy and need either no pruning or a simple pruning once a year and many require no specific soil type or position in the garden. Even if they do require some upkeep, sometimes it is possible to cut out one or two of the regular tasks to save time, keeping the end result just as pleasing. May bushes, for example, are grown for their massed spring flowers. Normally they are pruned by removing some of the oldest stems at ground level each year after bloom. To save time, this can be done every second or third year. Alternatively, cut the plant to the ground once every five years, right after bloom.

Densely foliaged shrubs, including the rose, and ground covers such as lamb's ear and geranium, exclude light from the soil and suppress weed growth.

Mix plant types to provide more seasonal color. Here, the hakonechloa grass and the fuchsia provide summer interest.

Soil and Position
Shrubs that require special soils or positions can take up time if planted in the wrong conditions. For example, for an azalea to thrive in poor, dry clay, a lot of work will be required to alter the soil's condition. Instead, if you want to include a plant not naturally suited to the soil in your garden, grow it in a large container or a raised bed using suitable compost. Some shrubs need particular amounts of shade or sun; if you cannot provide these, it is better not to include such shrubs in your scheme.

Mature Size
Before buying a plant, consider its mature size. There is no point in planting a shrub that grows to 3 m in a position where you want it to reach only 90 cm. Most shrubs can be pruned to size, but vigorous varieties will need pruning two or three times a year to keep them under control. Planting smaller varieties in the first place saves time.

Consider when shrubs need to be pruned, and the number of other tasks that need doing at the same time. You may have more time to prune in early spring, for example, because there is no lawn mowing or weeding to be done. But if lots of shrubs are planted that need summer pruning, it can be a drain on your time when other jobs may require doing. Avoid this by planting shrubs that need a mixture of spring or summer pruning, or, better still, no pruning at all.

Moving Established Shrubs
Deciduous shrubs should be moved while dormant, and evergreens in autumn, or winter. Dig a small trench around the shrub so that you can get your spade underneath, and lift out a good-sized rootball. To compensate for the damage to the roots, prune back the top growth of deciduous shrubs by 25 per cent to reduce transpiration from the leaves. Evergreens should not be cut back, but they will benefit from protection from drying winds. To minimize moisture loss, spray with an anti-transpirant available from your garden center.

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