Nancy Brachey

Take time to evaluate your landscape

A beautiful Japanese maple with interesting color such as Bijou may be just the thing to replace a large shrub or small tree that isn’t as pretty.
A beautiful Japanese maple with interesting color such as Bijou may be just the thing to replace a large shrub or small tree that isn’t as pretty. Observer file photo

We had plenty of time for thinking about our home landscapes during the long, hot summer that finally ended with cooler temps and rain that softened the soil. Both events were just in time for the start of the fall planting season. While you may have given changes to your landscape a lot of thought, think through them once more before you advance on the garden centers to stock up on shrubs and trees.

It is so easy to be overwhelmed by the array of plants that await and so easy to be tempted into choices that may turn out not to suit your space. The plant could grow too tall or too wide; its flowers may turn out to be a color that doesn’t delight; it may require more sun or more shade than you’ve got.

Rather than a wholesale renewal of the entire landscape, most people tend at this time of year to think about adding a tree or some shrubs, which are projects they can handle themselves.

The first thing to do is take a walk around your property. Make this an exercise first in identifying problems. Look for deteriorating plants that could and should be replaced. Identify gaps in shrub beds that require filling and figure out how much space there is. Notice plants so overcome by insects or disease that they are not worth keeping.

What will you take out? This is the moment to take a hard, critical look at your property because some plants may simply be in the wrong place or have outgrown it. It helps to realize you don’t have to keep the ugly, the unsuitable and the troublemaker.

Lots of rain has softened soil that should make it reasonably easy to dig up the root ball. That is essential if you are going to replant in the same spot right away. For shrubs, this will be less difficult in the rain-softened soil. Trees will likely require the work of an arborist with the skill and right equipment for removing the trunk and canopy and taking out the stump.

Sun and Shade. Also evaluate the sun or shade you’ve got. This is such an important factor in making the right selection of new shrubs and trees. With leaves still on the trees, you can see the shady areas easily, and the sunny ones too. Notice whether the area is within the blaze of summer afternoon sun, which is the hottest part of the day and requires careful choices. Some plants that prosper in cooler morning sun wilt in afternoon sunshine.

Consider the views. You may be surprised at how the right selection and placement of shrubs and trees can enhance views from indoors and outside. Spend some time looking out your windows. What is there to see? This could be the right moment to add a beautiful Japanese maple for year-round beauty. Or a fantastic Limelight hydrangea. Or an alley of Encore azaleas. What could be more fun?

Next week: Pick the right shrub. Evergreen or deciduous? Broad-leaf or conifer?

Nancy Brachey:

Ask Nancy

Q. When is the season to prune crape myrtles? Mine are too tall and don’t bloom much.

A. Any crape myrtle pruning should be done in late winter. This must be done carefully by thinning the limbs individually, not by simply chopping off the entire canopy to a fixed, short height, which is known as “crape murder.” However, if your plants don’t get enough sun now, pruning will not solve the problem of lack of bloom on the new growth. They require open sunshine for best bloom.