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Home & Garden: Due to changing conditions, gardening work is never done

One thing that we can be sure of other than death and taxes is that things always change. This is so true of our yards and gardens. When we buy our first house, it may be in a new development with no trees, or in an old area with large shade trees. In the first case, most people plant trees and shrubs that create shade over time. In the latter instance, a storm may knock down the trees or disease and age require their removal, and suddenly there is bright sunlight.

Change also occurs when the perennials and shrubs that we plant fill in the space allotted for them or some plants overgrow others. The original formal look may turn into a casual or more natural look. Annual gardens change quickly as summer progresses. Bedding plants spaced evenly apart in June, giving a formal appearance, flow together casually in August. The same thing happens to perennial plants over several seasons. It usually takes three years for them to mature and after that, some become overgrown.

The changes in our lives cause us to alter our landscape. In the early years, with growing families we may have large vegetable gardens and plenty of grassy areas for the kids to play in. Once the children leave the nest, some of us cut back on the vegetable garden and dig up lawn to make flower and shrub beds. As we age these ornamental beds become harder and harder to maintain and we have to cut back because of health or energy issues. Perhaps we are spending more time away from the home to travel or to visit grandchildren.

Over time, it may be our taste in landscaping that changes. You may become interested in a particular type of plant and start a collection. You might want to convert a perennial garden into a rock garden or water garden. Perhaps, you are intrigued by an oriental garden or a southwest garden with cacti and succulents. Whatever the cause of the change there are ways to cope with it.

In a new area, the need is to fill in until plants mature so the garden doesn't look bare. Boulders, garden art and stepping-stones are good-looking space fillers. An attractive mulch, such as wood chips, gives a finished look to the garden. I would advise against the use of rock mulch if you ever want to change the area. From experience, I can tell you that it is very difficult to remove and it makes it very hard to dig up perennials that need to be divided. There are many ground cover plants, both for sunny and shady areas, which will fill in spaces. These can become overgrown and boring later, but are usually easy to pull out. Plant fast growing annuals until the perennials fill in or put colorful pots with or without plants in the gaps.

After ten years, the trees in a landscape will have grown bigger and cast more shade. You may need a chain saw to cut down trees and cut back overgrown shrubs or you may get professional help. The problem could possibly be solved by removing the lower branches of the trees and selective trimming of its branches. Sometimes we are reluctant to prune back a plant because we are so proud of how it is growing. In the meantime, this plant may be inhibiting the growth of other plants around it.

A better way is gradually switch to shade loving plants such as hosta, astilbe and bleeding hearts. It is possible that the shade comes from your neighbor's tree or a new building next door. Move sun lovers such as iris when you notice that they are producing fewer flowers, become leggy, or show signs of mildew and blight. Replace annual geraniums, petunias and marigolds with impatiens and begonias.

When you have lost trees and now have full sun, it is necessary to move many plants to a more protected area. Some plants can adapt to the change as long as they have adequate water, good soil and a mulch over the roots. Try to give them some temporary shade in the meantime.

Aggressive plants fill in to make a formal garden causal or any garden unkempt. Some self sow to develop volunteer plants, which just mean that they like your conditions. They can be ripped out or moved to another location. When perennials become too large for the bed it is often easiest to remove a wide strip of grass to enlarge the bed. Moving perennials is like rearranging furniture and they can be divided at the same time. Give away or discard the extras. You may wish to completely remove plants that require too much attention. There is no rule that says you have to keep every plant as long as you live.

Pick a cloudy day to do the moving and reset the plants right away to prevent the roots from drying. Don't move perennials when they are in bloom or bud. Toss out the weak centers and refresh the soil with compost or other organic material.

Whether you are a new or an old gardener you will always be making changes as a garden is never done.