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Winter excellent time for spring garden planning

By Mary Jane Breitling

With temperatures dropping below zero we don’t often think of gardening, but this is an excellent time to plan. Even if you have an established garden, there are often changes to be made. Most gardens are never done! I usually like to start the planning stage with a new gardening book and have gleaned some ideas from Sunset, ‘Making the Most of Your Own Backyard.’

Keep goals in mind when making your plan. Do you want a private restful retreat, a place to entertain, a child’s play area or a place to grow vegetables? Perhaps you want some of each, so make a list and prioritize.

Consider how much time you wish to spend in maintenance. Do you enjoy puttering around the garden in your spare time or do you prefer a yard with minimal care? The possible elements of a garden from least care to most starts with paving and structures, trees and large shrubs, shrub borders, ground covers, lawn, perennial flowers, annual flowers and vegetables.

Each garden has a certain style. It can be formal, which is typically symmetrical with straight lines. Formal gardens have a clear focus and have plants that are sheared into controlled shapes. An informal garden has flowing lines, curves and naturally shaped plants. A cottage garden that is packed with annuals and perennials is informal. Often American gardens combine both formal and informal elements and reflect the style of the house.

We always have to consider our climate when we make our plans. The Fargo area used to be in zone 3, but may now be in zone 4 because of the zone creep we seem to be experiencing. For plants like trees and large shrubs that take years to mature it is safest to select those that are hardy in the coldest zone. For small shrubs and perennials it may be worth it to try zone 4 or even zone 5 plants, especially if one has a spot with a warmer microclimate. The south facing wall of a house is a typical microclimate.

When you are making your plan be sure to keep the water supply in mind. It is wise to group together plants with similar moisture requirements. For instance, plant cacti and succulents in one area and water loving plants such as astilbe in another area. A drip irrigation system may be a good investment as it is usually the most efficient way to water garden beds. A sprinkler is still best for the lawn.

Look out your window now to assess what you have that gives year round appeal. Plan to add plants that have pleasing textures, shapes, attractive branching, patterns and colors. A pleasing garden has a mixture of forms, but not too many as to make a jumble. Form is the plant shape and its growth habit. It may be vining, round, pyramidal, weeping, spiky or sprawling. Leaf size determines a plants texture. Small leaves or dull leaves make a plant look finely textured and large leaves or glossy leaves give a coarse look.

Color is not just found in annual and perennial flowers. Many trees and shrubs have blossoms and or berries. Some plants have colorful foliage and many plants turn to glorious color in fall. Bark of some trees and shrubs, such as the white of birch and red or yellow of dogwood contribute color even in winter. Evergreens come in many shades of green, from bluish greens to golden tones.

Take time now to peruse the seed catalogues that have been arriving since December. They are full of information and ideas. The library has a good selection of books to inspire you.