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Five ground rules for garden professionals

by Timber Press on October 31, 2018

in Gardening

Expert gardener and designer Kate Frey has distilled the 100 vital gardening lessons into the perfectly portable and giftable Ground Rules. Here are the top five rules even landscape designers and garden professionals need to be reminded of when creating gorgeous, healthy, and thriving gardens.

1. Not all mulches are equal.
Some mulches are attractive but not beneficial to soil. Shredded and ground bark mulches are among the worst, as they never break down to add nutrients. Woodchip mulches are popular, but as they break down, the microorganisms that decompose them rob nitrogen from the soil. As a result, plants grown in these soils are nutrient starved and don’t grow well or look good. The only place where woodchips are appropriate and beneficial is under mature trees, which generally require lower amounts on nitrogen than other plants.

2. Don’t mix delivery systems.
Each type of water delivery system—sprayers, drip emitters, quarterinch soaker dripline (emitter tubing or spaghetti tubing), and drip tape—puts out differing amounts of water per hour and operates at different water pressures. Many people don’t realize this and mix water delivery systems in the same area, with the result that each part of the garden gets vastly different amounts of water. Spray systems put out the most water in the shortest amount of time and can deliver many gallons per hour, depending on the size of head, water flow, and pressure. Drip emitters typically deliver water at the rate of one-half gallon per hour (0.5 GPH), 1 GPH, or 2 GPH and typically work best at 30 pounds per square inch (PSI). Drip tape waters at about 0.63 GPH and works at pressures of 4 to 12 PSI. If you have a large planter bed or your garden is on a slope, make sure to use pressure-compensating (PC) drip emitters so plants at the beginning and end of the line get the same amount of water. Spaghetti tubing (quarter-inch dripline) works at lower pressures, is semi-pressure compensating, and puts out between 0.5 and 1 GPH, depending on water pressure. It is the perfect easy choice for containers, small raised vegetable boxes, and small or irregular planters.

3. Pick the right tree.
Before you buy a tree, do some homework. A tree can be a lifelong investment in happiness—or a headache. Make sure it’s adapted to your conditions, the mature size will suit the site you have in mind, and the required maintenance is acceptable. Some trees are short-lived and decline after twenty-five years, while others can live for several hundred. Some trees, like elms, beeches, or maples, have thick surface roots or cast deep shade, and it’s difficult to grow anything under them. Others, such as crab apples and ginkgoes, are easy to plant under. Some trees generate tremendous amounts of litter, like acacia and mimosa. If you’re willing to do the cleanup, great—but don’t fool yourself into thinking that a messy tree will take care of itself.

4. Don’t stress your plants.
Stressed plants emit compounds that are attractive to pest insects. So don’t let that happen! Common sources of stress are drought, poor soil fertility and structure, climatic incompatibility, or excessive use of chemical fertilizers. Insecticides aren’t the answer—they kill both pest insects and beneficial insects, and the pests will rebound much more quickly. Instead, mitigate stress by paying attention to soil quality, proper siting, and adequate irrigation.

5. Don’t cut down those seed heads in fall.
The seed heads of perennials such as coreopsis, coneflowers, sunflowers, and rudbeckias are an important food source for chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, sparrows, towhees, goldfinches, and many other birds. In fact, goldfinches are among the only birds that feed seeds to their young, nesting later in the summer for this purpose. The song of goldfinches is among the most cheerful of any songbird, and their brilliant yellow forms collecting seeds from flowers are like paintings on the wing. Don’t deprive them of the food they need!


Kate Frey is a consultant, educator designer, and freelance writer specializing in sustainable gardens and small farms that encourage biodiversity. She is a frequent and popular speaker for master gardener programs, garden clubs, garden shows and horticultural groups. Visit her website at freygardens.com.



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