A Garden Re-do


Gardeners know that a garden changes over time. I think we understand that. But, sometimes, there comes a time when a garden needs serious upheaval, a redo. It has become overgrown. Plant competition has enabled some plants (I call them “thugs”) to crowd out our favorites. Probably like you, I put off doing something about this, but not this year.

First, there is the bed on one side of the house. Periwinkle and lily of the valley eventually created a dense mat making it difficult for the shallower roots of echinacea and other perennials to thrive.

This is where the proper tool makes life easier. I purchased a stainless steel spade with a narrow blade that is truly my friend. I am a small person, so I need to maximize my shovel-jumping when digging. I first wetted down this bed, then I dug out everything! I separated soil from roots and returned as much as possible to the bed. Yes, I know that some small roots from the thugs were probably returned to this garden, but I hope to be more vigilant in the future. I smoothed out the soil and mixed in compost. I divided the plants that I wanted and replanted them. Whew! Tiring hard work but deeply satisfying. I am looking forward to adding more plants next year!

Then, there is the garden in the left corner of our lot. I had neglected it two years ago when recovering from shoulder surgery. It is always the last garden to be worked on, because I have to walk beyond the gazebo to see it. My attention has gone to the gardens closer to the house.

Last year, that garden had plenty of weeds. I weeded, of course, but many were persistent and had shed seeds. I also had planted motherwort Leonurus cardiaca, an herbaceous perennial herb, as a foraging plant for our honeybees, bumblebees, and native bees. It is said to be useful for reducing blood pressure (not mine!) and is given credit for curing many ailments. It grew prolifically in this bed and spread to other beds, as well! Motherwort is easily spread by seeds. (The seeds stick to your clothes, your clippers, everything!)

I couldn’t get this garden back in shape by the usual methods, so I cut everything down to the ground and dug out what I could. Plants I wanted to save were moved to other gardens. I watered the soil. Then, I put down black plastic weighted with rocks to solarize the soil. Solarizing raises the soil temperature in the first few inches, killing weed seeds, pathogens, insects, and roots. Solarization also affects organic material already in the soil (compost and leaf mold in this garden) because the heat speeds up the breakdown of organic substances making them more available to next year’s plants.

Now, you may be thinking that this method also kills beneficial creatures as well. Studies have shown that earthworms, for example, simply move down further into the soil as the temperature rises. Their holes make it easier for organic material to be transported deeper into the soil—a good thing! I left the plastic on the bed for several weeks. Then, I added compost to the soil. I will add chopped leaves at the end of the season.

In the spring, I plan to add perennials, to experiment with new annuals, then mulch the beds. I am already looking forward to next year.


Thank you so much for your emails. Continue contacting me at caharlos@verizon or herbgardener.net.




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