CO-Horts Blog

Monday, February 4, 2019

Does This Plant Make Me Look Fat?

Posted by: Lucinda Greene, Arapahoe County Extension

Red Twig Dogwood
I cleaned out my clothes closet over the weekend.  The articles destined for the clothing recycle non-profit fit easily into a few categories.  Some were too big (Yay!) and some were too small.  Some needed only a button sewn on or a hem mended to add them to my wardrobe. Others had outlived their usefulness with frayed collars, or torn cuffs.  And some, well, honestly…..what was I thinking?

Just like the careful attention to be paid when cleaning out closets, mid-winter in Colorado is a great time for homeowners to take stock of their landscape to assess their plants and determine what’s not working.  We have many warm days that can include an hour's time to critically assess the landscape, evaluate options, and make a plan for the upcoming garden season. What plants in your landscape are too big?  Have they outgrown their space and need pruning attention?  Large landscape shrubs like Viburnum or Red Twig Dogwood can benefit from renewal pruning in early spring. Removing dead or old stems from the center can help improve both the appearance and the health of the shrub.  Spring blooming shrubs like Lilac and Forsythia should be pruned just after bloom. Privets, Potentilla and other shrubs can benefit from a rejuvenation pruning every few years.  For more information on pruning, click here. 

Russian Sage
What plants aren’t performing in their space?  For example, some cultivars of Russian Sage take over bed spaces with rhizomatous growth.  Do other plants look a little unkempt or have they exceeded their bounds?  Digging up these shrubs and doing a good root pruning, or dividing these shrubs in spring can help keep them in check.  Have some shrubs outlived their usefulness, or become too woody?  Repeated shearing of shrubs can create unhealthy plants.  Have other shrubs become unattractive due to winter feeding by wildlife?  Many ground cover junipers suffer from vole damage in Colorado.  Carefully pruning out the dead limbs can improve the overall appearance of these foundation shrubs

And, honestly, are there some plants in your landscape that you have struggled with ever since they have been planted?  Do you battle with these plants regularly? Perhaps you fell in love with the blooming azalea that was calling to you at the nursery a few years ago, but you can’t get the same glory in your landscape due to our alkaline soils? Do you have sun-loving plants that no longer bloom because they have become overshadowed by the growth of shade trees?  Or perhaps you have broadleaf evergreens like Boxwood or Euonymus that suffer significant winter desiccation every year, or are not performing because they are sited on a southern or southwestern exposure? 

As you do this evaluation, take a good hard look at what is pleasing to you in your landscape, and develop a plan to tackle some of the maintenance issues, (those hems and buttons) and perhaps consider dividing and transplanting plants (recycling) or removing some plants altogether to make way for new appropriate species (shopping is always fun).  Perhaps a friend or neighbor would appreciate your plant recycling efforts. 

A number of native plants and cultivars of native plants are making their way into retail nurseries.  These plants are ideally suited for the high, dry Colorado climate and our alkaline soils. When sited correctly, they help reduce water use and landscape maintenance. (Good-looking plants, and I don't have to work hard?  Sign me up!)   Look for shrubs that survive in alkaline soils, have light requirements suited to the proposed space, and are suitable for your zone.  Ninebark, Apache Plume, and Snowberry are good examples of native shrubs that add beauty to the landscape. If you would like to learn more about Native shrubs please click here. 

Cleaning the plant landscape, just like cleaning a clothes closet can give you a whole new feeling of accomplishment.  By making a plan now to care for the health of your existing landscape, and incorporating plants appropriate to your area, you can increase your enjoyment of your outdoor space, and make better use of your precious time and water resources.  Everything fits.  And, I must say, it looks really good on you!  

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