Even seasoned gardeners have at least one difficult area in the landscape where no plants survive. Whether it is around a trash can storage area or in a shallow space surrounding a tree, understanding the appropriate plant material for bare, problematic areas can bring new life to the lawn and garden.
“Education is key to understanding tough conditions and which plants are best suited,” says Fran Hopkins, founder of the Stepables brand of creeping perennials. “Plant choices for tricky areas are hard if you don’t know what works best, and where.” Plants will thrive and improve aesthetics when planted in the proper environments.
Plant brand experts such as Hopkins and Jim Berry, co-owner of J. Berry Nursery, a company that cultivates plant material trialed with exacting performance standards, work each year to produce solution plants and educate homeowners on how specific varieties can eliminate landscape woes. “Our nursery’s staff members understand the investments that go into making a landscapes beautiful, including the especially difficult areas,” says Berry. “Therefore, we strive to offer superior plants that flourish and are hardy.”
According to Hopkins and Berry, understanding a landscape’s problematic conditions and knowing about robust plant varieties for each is crucial for a successful garden. These tips can grow a green thumb on most any homeowner.
How-to Tip: Downright Diverse
The first thing a homeowner should keep in mind when tackling a small outdoor space is that traditional design elements mimic one another. However, dramatic appeal can be heightened in a way that does not overwhelm small areas or cause maintenance.
Using plants with varied heights, colors and textures will draw the eye throughout a petite garden just like larger landscapes. Yet the effect will be diversity that makes the space appear expanded. Consider the use of a low-growing groundcover such as Stepable’s Isotoma ‘Blue Star Creeper’ to maximize interest close to, and spreading across, the ground. Combine this with taller shrubs like J. Berry Nursery’s ‘Deja Bloom’ Hydrangea around the space’s edges to create a sense of place and depth in the center.
The use of creeping perennials also provides a low plane, allowing other, larger plants to be used in layers. “A bed or border with a mixture of plant shapes and sizes gives an appearance of multiplicity,” says Berry. “Try pairing broader or wider plants with ones that are known for being compact such as ‘Petite Rouge’ Photinia, the most compact photinia ideal for small spaces or mass plantings.” Ultimately, the goal is striking balance of color and form.
How-to Tip: Compare and Combine
Areas in the landscape overrun with trees and shrubs can cause homeowners frustrating maintenance issues. When areas are planted without regard to this, plants can quickly overwhelm a homeowner. Combining plants with comparable growing attributes can lead to less work later.
“Some plants and types of turf grow more quickly than others. Lawn mower use and weeding can be exhausting,” says Hopkins. “Creeping perennials like Sagina ‘Aurea’ Scotch Moss and Sedum ‘John Creech’ make a great pair and act as alternatives to traditional turf because they naturally inhibit weeds.” They can also be planted instead of turf.
Grouping plants that require similar conditions will make confined areas easier to maintain because plants will remain healthier. “For example, the ‘Deja Bloom’ Hydrangea and ‘Crown Jewel’ Gardenia are both drought tolerant and require full to partial sun,” says Berry. Used together, they comprise a garden area where heavy watering and care are unnecessary.
Under trees, plants must compete for nutrients and moisture, sometimes causing them to perish. “When used as under-plantings, creeping perennials can provide a unique solution,” says Hopkins. One she recommends is Ajuga ‘Chocolate Chip’. It is a wise choice for under trees because roots are shallow, and the plant will thrive under such stress.
How-to Tip: Taking it in Stride
Certain areas of the landscape become bare of plantings due to the high-traffic these spots endure. Planted borders near sidewalks, mailboxes and trash cans receive daily beatings. Grassy areas around play sets and pet areas are often eyesores given pattering feet. With children and pets of her own, Hopkins’ swears by the Stepables plants because of their foot-traffic tolerance.
“Plants such as Lotus ‘Plenus’ provide these areas with a dense mat of yellow blooms that flower in spring and can tolerate foot traffic up to three times a day,” says Hopkins.