Friday, December 21, 2007

Planting singly or in groups? - The question about borders for your garden.

The way a border is planted can play an important part in reducing the amount of time needed for maintenance. Once you have decided what to plant, you then have to decide whether to plant the shrubs or trees singly or in groups of the same variety. One advantage of planting many of one specimen in a group is the instant impact, due to the greater area covered: instead of a single flowering shrub, you see a mass of colorful flowers, stems or evergreen foliage. However, planting in groups will reduce the number of varieties that you can fit into a border.

In a larger garden, groups create a sense of scale in proportion to the surroundings and the greater space allows you to plant more than one group. On the other hand, in a small garden, it can be better to plant a mixture of single specimens together for interest.

Wide Planting
If you want to see each plant's individual shape, you need to give them ample space to develop, so plant at the distances recommended on the plant labels or in gardening books. This will also save you the work of thinning out overcrowded plants later on. However, you will have to wait several years for the border to establish fully and this method of planting exposes more bare soil, which allows weeds to grow. To save time weeding, plant the shrubs through mulch matting, or, for a more attractive result, fill the gaps with relatively short-lived shrubs, annual flowers or even groundcovers. As the main shrub planting grows, remove the temporary fillers (many will be past their best anyway) or, in the case of ground covers, allow the shrubs to grow over them.

Close Planting
For the busy gardener, closer planting than normally recommended achieves a more instant effect because the garden looks full from the start, and it means that the plants cover the ground, smothering weeds more effectively. But it is more expensive, and later on the shrubs will need frequent pruning or removal, otherwise the whole planting will become unattractively crowded. If you do plant closely, choose several of one variety; later, selected specimens can be removed without altering the overall effect.

Easy Maintenance
Don't plant shrubs too close to paths, driveways or boundary fences. As they grow they will spread to their maximum width and you will find yourself pruning at least once and perhaps several times a year to stop them encroaching on other areas.

Clearing ground for planting takes time. Spray perennial weeds like dandelions, clover, soursop and other oxalis and onion weed with a glyphosate-based weedkiller. Dig over the bed to loosen the soil, then position your shrubs and prepare generous planting holes. Fork over the base and sides of each hole but do not add compost or manure - organic matter belongs on top. After planting, mulch the whole border with rotted manure, compost or lucerne.

Quick Results
For a new border that will look established in just one season, plant a selection of quick-growing shrubs. Choose large shrubs such as Melaleuca incana or japonica camellias for the back of the border, and the smaller may bush and Esperance wax at the front. Keep them watered and fed in their first season so that they make good growth, achieving the height and interest needed.

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