Arranging plants in your garden… It’s one of those things that many beginner gardeners really, really struggle with. But today I’m going to show you four simple ways that you can arrange plants in your landscape for that beautiful, layered look that you want. Use these methods to create a more professional and organic looking garden at home.
Naturally, fungi produce air-borne spores that can dwell on any surface. For them to thrive, the environmental conditions have to be favorable. This typically means hot, humid, and rainy weather, but some mold prefer the colder temperatures of winter months. Fungal attacks in your garden can look like necrosis, powdery mildew, rotting, leaf blight, and much more. Before these diseases ravage your precious garden, quickly use a baking soda and soap solution to banish that fungus.
The alkaline baking soda mixture will fend off the fungi
Prepare your fungus-punisher by mixing 1 teaspoon of baking soda with 3 drops of dish liquid soap and 1 liter of water. Use this same ratio depending on how large the infected area is. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and let loose on the affected plants and grass to inhibit the activity of the fungi. This works like a charm because most fungi variants survive in highly acidic environments. Since baking soda is alkaline, it increases the pH of the surface, making the living conditions unfavorable for the fungi.
To ensure that the mold doesn’t return to your garden, there are some measures you can imbibe into your care routine. Start watching when and how you water your garden. Too much moisture is a breeding ground for fungi. The best time to water your garden is usually in the morning so the excess can dry up during the day. If you water your garden at night, the ground will likely stay soaked. Also, avoid watering directly onto the plant. You want to water the ground, not the leaves. You should also give your plants some breathing room. No one likes to stay in a cramped space and neither do your veggies and herbs. Plants are living and breathing organisms, too, and with all those gasses moving around, you can bet that fungal infections would spread quickly.
Of all the problems that plague a garden, soil-borne pathogens are the worst. Here’s what to do when a fungus wrecks your plants.
Gah! Your garden has a fungus. Some microscopic, plant-killing pathogen has infected the soil, and now your tomatoes are stunted and yellowing, your onions are rotting at the ground and your pepper plants are laying on the ground with black spots on their dying leaves. So much for that garden-fresh salsa.
Soil-borne diseases like fungus are one of the most frustrating things a gardener can deal with because you don’t know it’s there until it makes your plant sick. And once you realize there’s fungus in your soil, it’s not easy to get rid of it. Soil-born diseases can live in your soil for a long time, waiting for you to put a plant in the ground. Once you do, the pathogen hops aboard that hapless host plant and spreads through your garden like wildfire.
What Is Fungus in Garden Soil?
Fungus exists naturally in soil, and most of it’s beneficial for your plants. But there are 8,000 varieties that have no purpose other than messing up your garden plants. They spread sickness like root rot that infects plant roots and keeps them from drawing water and nutrients into the plant. Stem, collar and crown rots hit the plant at ground level, where it touches the soil. Then there’s good old wilt disease that, no matter how much water you give your plants, leaves them as droopy as one of those melted clocks in a Dali painting. Damping off disease slays seedlings, causing them to die suddenly just after they germinate.
If you’re not sure what sort of fungus is messing with your garden soil, take a sample into your local Extension office for a free soil test. The local office is part of the Cooperative Extension System, a nationwide network of universities and federal, state and local governments that collaborate to teach you to be a better gardener, among other things.
How Do I Get Rid of Fungus in Garden Soil?
Getting rid of bad fungus permanently is just about impossible. Some types of fungi survive in soil for years, even when there are no crops for them to feed on. But you can lower the chance of a repeat appearance of garden-wrecking fungia couple of ways.
Get rid of the sick plants. Once your garden is infected, you can’t save the plants. Dig up the sick ones and throw them in a trash can, not a compost pile, so the fungal disease won’t spread.
Clean up all garden debris at the end of the season. Cut down the perennials, pull up the annuals, rake up leaves and haul it all out, because fungus can feed on dead plants over the winter.
Rotate your crops. Plant crops in different places in your garden then you did last year. Move the tomatoes to the spot where you had marigolds or the herbs to the spot where you had potatoes. If your garden isn’t big enough for this, don’t plant anything in the garden for a year or two so soil fungus has no host plants to feed on. You can plant in containers for a year so you don’t go without fresh veggies, then switch back to the ground garden next year.
Plant disease-resistant varieties. Look for veggie and herb varieties that have been bred to resist common soil-borne diseases.
Use a fungicide. Apply a fungicide early and often to your garden plants, before they get sick. Because the best defense is a good offense.
How Do I Get Rid of Soil-Borne Fungus in Containers?
This is totally more trouble than it’s worth. If your flower pots, containers or raised beds have a soil-borne pathogen problem, throw out the plant and the soil and get more.
Nothing ruins a day outdoors like a run-in with poison ivy. “Poison ivy is a member of the Toxicodendron genus of plants in the Anacardaceae family that includes poison oak and poison sumac,” explains gardening expert Melinda Myers. “All parts of poison ivy contain an oil resin called urushiol that causes skin rashes.”
Found throughout most of the United States, it’s not uncommon for poison ivy plants to pop up in residential backyards and gardens—especially if you live in a rural area. “Poison ivy prefers moist woodland environments, but can be found in gardens and landscapes, creeping in from surrounding woods, along fence rows, pastures, and disturbed sites where birds and deer visit and deposit the seeds,” Myers explains. Fortunately, if you do happen to find a patch of poison ivy in your garden, she says there are ways to safely remove it without getting a rash.
Learn how to identify poison ivy in your garden.
Myers says if you know what to look for, you can spot (and remove) poison ivy in your garden while the plants are still small and manageable. “Poison ivy has leaves in clusters of three, called a compound leaf,” she explains. “These clusters alternate along the stem—they are not opposite each other. The leaves can be shiny especially when they emerge in spring and the edges of the leaves may be wavy, have teeth, or be smooth. The leaves usually turn red in fall but can be yellow. The flowers appear in spring and berries ripen to a grayish-white in late summer and persist into winter.”
Just so there’s no mistake. Here is what poison ivy looks like:
Don’t underdress for the occasion.
Since all parts of a plant, including the stem, leaves, and roots, contain rash-causing urushiol oil, Myers says it’s crucial to protect your skin when dealing with poison ivy. “Always dress for the job,” she says. “Cover your skin, wear waterproof gloves, and I would even suggest safety glasses when managing poison ivy plants and debris.”
Try a targeted spray.
Once your face, hands, and skin are covered, Myers says you can use a poison ivy-specific chemical spray, such as Ortho Max Poison Ivy and Tough Brush Killer to eliminate a patch of poison ivy plants in your garden. “Be sure to read and follow label directions,” she says. “You will need multiple applications as this plant has an extensive root system and will keep sending up new stems. Keep in mind these chemicals will damage or kill any nearby plants they touch, so spot treat or paint the poison ivy leaves with the chemical to avoid damaging desirable plants.”
Remove it manually.
If you prefer to keep your garden chemical-free, Myers says you can simply keep cutting poison ivy back to remove it. “Continually removing the above ground portion eventually kills the plant, but you must be persistent and thorough,” she explains. Myers also says you can help diminish the growth of poison ivy in your garden by covering it. “Control isolated patches of poison ivy with black plastic. Edge the poison ivy infested area and cover with black plastic for several months or clear plastic for six to eight weeks during the hottest months of the growing season.”
Dispose of poison ivy properly.
After you’ve removed a poison ivy plant from your backyard, Myers says it’s important to dispose of it correctly. “Do not burn or compost poison ivy debris,” she says. “Instead, put all poison ivy debris into large garbage bags and dispose of it in the trash. Rake the area to capture any stems you may have missed. Mulching the area with a four- to six-inch layer of clean woodchips can help isolate any urushiol-containing plant debris you may have missed, reducing the risk of future exposure.”
Designers are leaning towards tougher gardens that can tolerate hotter summers and less rain due to climate change.
This means that xeriscaping – a type of landscaping that focuses on drought-tolerant planting – will be moving further into the spotlight.
Beauty and color needn’t be sacrificed. Matthew Childs (MSGD), for instance, comments on the use of long-flowering salvias, which are great for wildlife. Tina James (MSGD) is also a fan of these vibrant, colorful plants, and likes to blend them with ornamental grasses for a sense of movement.
Another planting pick set to come back into fashion is the rock rose, as predicted by Tommaso del Buono (MSGD). He explains how they can thrive in hot, dry conditions, and are low-maintenance, fast-growing and offer prolific blooms. They can grow over walls, in mixed borders, or in rockeries, he adds.
Prairie planting also works with this theme. For the Garden Media Group’s Garden Trends 2023 Report, Jeff Epping, the ‘Godfather of gravel’, suggests starting with grasses such as prairie dropseed, little bluestem, big bluestem, or switchgrass. Coneflower, rattlesnake master, prairie baby’s breath, smooth penstemon, cup plant, stiff coreopsis, asters, and goldenrods can then be layered for a beautiful, drought-tolerant tapestry.
It’s no surprise that the formal, water-guzzling, and high-maintenance lawn is still losing its popularity of the past. For 2023, landscaping with gravel is much more in vogue. Tomoko Kawauchi agrees with this prediction, and already includes gravel in all of her projects.
Don’t forget about trees. ‘Damage from heat and drought can stress them and make them more susceptible to disease and insect infestations,’ comments the Garden Media Group.
Dan Herms, Ph. D., a scientist at Davey Tree, says we need to make informed decisions about which trees to plant for the changing climate. Trees are one solution to battle a warming planet, he adds. Luckily, there are lots of drought-tolerant trees to choose from.
Use thermometers and barometers to track the temperature and know when bad weather is approaching. Thermometers should be placed in an area without any direct sunlight for an accurate reading. A barometer is needed to gauge changes in atmospheric pressure, as rapid fluctuation is a sign of unstable weather. Another easy way to note atmospheric pressure is to pay attention to birds. If they’re flying low to the ground, barometric pressure is low. High-flying birds indicate higher barometric pressure.
Keep wind out
Protect young or delicate plants from wind by hammering a few stakes in the ground surrounding them. Then, wrap a burlap barrier around the stakes to create a barrier that should deflect harsh winds. With young trees, wrap the trunks with burlap or commercial tree wrapping to prevent wind damage. These wrappings can be removed after the trees are more mature, or in about a year.
Prevent constant freezing and thawing
The constant freezing and thawing of plants can be as harmful as cold temperatures. Use mulch to limit damage by spreading three inches of mulch on the ground surrounding plants to help maintain a constant temperature. Then, cover with netting, chicken wire, or tree branches to protect from wind. But remember that once a plant has been damaged by frost, it most likely cannot be saved and the smartest move is to simply remove it from your garden. Keep soil healthy when it warms up by learning how to compost.
Remember the east-west line
When planning your garden, remember that the sun rises and sets to the south of the east-west line during wintertime. This will cast long shadows on the north side of your home, reducing sunlight and limiting the types of plants that will thrive in these areas. Additionally, winter light is more subdued to eastern exposures than areas facing south or west.
Shield small plants
If you know bad weather is around the corner and want to protect your small plants, cover them with a plastic bag, cardboard box, upside-down flowerpot, or even a plastic laundry basket to protect them. Whatever covering you choose, make sure to weigh it down with a stone or a brick. Or, drape a thick blanket or quilt over plants before nightfall to trap soil heat and protect plants from light frost. We’ll go ahead and add “blanket” to our list of must-have garden tools!
Consider plant hardiness
For plants that aren’t particularly hardy, plant on the side of the house placing south or southeast. The proximity to the house will protect the plant from severe winter winds and keep it warmer, and the plant will be given sun exposure in the mornings.
Protect early-blooming trees
Prevent damage to early-blooming trees by planting them on the north side of the house or on a north-facing slope. This will delay or lessen light exposure and provide safer, more gradual thawing. Plants that blossom early should also be obscured for direct morning sun, as a gradual thaw will minimize the damage done by frost.
Vines, shrubs, and trees that are found near walls can be protected from cold temperatures with a frost shade. Mount a piece of wood at the top of a fence or wall and use it to hang a piece of canvas or tarp. When temperatures drop, use it to cover plants. Raise the shade when it warms up, then lower it in the late afternoon to conserve heat for the chilly night ahead.
Go against your instincts
Run a sprinkler over delicate plants on cold nights. As the water freezes on the plants, it will give off heat and keep them warmer than the surrounding air. This trick is often used to protect fruit trees to protect crops from unruly weather.
Resist spreading salt
Though you may be tempted to sprinkle salt over walkways and driveways to prevent icy slips, remember that the runoff from spreading salt can damage plants. Instead, use wood ashes, sand, gravel, sawdust, or fertilizer to keep these areas safe.
For every problem area in your landscape, you’ll find perennials that not only survive but also thrive in the conditions available. Simply match the preferred growing conditions of each perennial to your site.
Perennials offer possibilities for every growing situation. As you contemplate digging into perennial gardening, approach it from the standpoint of solving landscape problems. There’s a perennial that will thrive in every growing solution.
If you have a slope too steep for mowing, you can trade turf for perennial groundcover. Near downspouts and low spots in your yard where water gathers after downpours, moisture-loving perennials can transform an eyesore into a beauty spot.
Where lower rainfall dictates water restrictions, tap into the world of xeriscape plants, which grow and flower profusely with little moisture. Natural deposits of acidic soil can support lovely perennials that will make you grateful for the locally low pH. Stop fighting to grow grass beneath shade trees—plant shade-loving perennials instead!
You can even find perennials that serve as lawn stand-ins—tidy, ground-hugging plants that withstand foot traffic and stay green year-round. In municipalities where surface runoff adds charges to your water bill, incorporating a rain garden filled with moisture-loving perennials will dissipate roof, driveway, or patio runoff into the soil and can reduce your water fees. Use this list of perennials adapted to various growing conditions to draft solutions to your landscaping problems.
Perennials for Wet Soils
If your garden bed is down in a ditch or next to the downspout, you’re probably stuck with soggy soil that drowns plants. There are plenty of varieties that can withstand (and even thrive) in that much moisture.
Woodland Phlox: Fragrant blue, purple, pink, or white flowers in late spring
Anemone ROB CARDILLO PHOTOGRAPHY
Perennials for Alkaline Soils
In certain areas of the country, soil’s acidic balance can be off-kilter, resulting in what we call alkaline soil. Alkaline soil doesn’t let much moisture in and has a weak soil structure that just can’t keep certain plants happy. You can still work with this type of soil without investing in pounds of soil amendments—just look for these plants.
While all plants need some amount of light to grow and thrive, some are more delicate than others and get scorched if they are placed in full sun. Some plants, however, do super well in hot and sunny spots in the garden.
Mallow: Shrublike with white, pink, or purple-pink flowers all summer
Perennials for Acidic Soils
Just like alkaline soils, acidic soil is a result of a lack of balance of nutrients in the soil. Instead of having too little acidic content, acidic soil has too much, which can be a result of organic matter, excessive rainfall, or too much fertilizer. But, you can still grow gorgeous flowers in acidic soil.
Bear’s Breeches: Tall flower spikes in late spring to early summer and texture-rich foliage
You know if you have clay soil—you come out of landscaping projects with sticky boots and a sore back from shoveling the dense earth. Because it is so dense, clay soil can block plant’s roots from getting water, which chokes them out. Some plants actually do well with these conditions.
Yarrow: Ferny foliage and drought-tolerant; golden-yellow, white, pink, red, or salmon-color blooms
Blanket Flower DAVID SPEER
Perennials for Sandy Soils
Sandy soil is high in sand content and doesn’t hold nutrients or water well. It’s also more lightweight and fine than other types of soil. If you have sandy soil, you don’t need to be limited to desert plants alone.
Artemisia: Silvery foliage is the key feature of this perennial
Blanket Flower: Long bloom season of orange-red daisies marked with yellow
Yarrow: Adapted to full sun and dry soils with wide range of bloom colors
Yucca: Succulent with spiky foliage and trusses of white bell-shape blooms
Hens-and-Chicks PETER KRUMHARDT
Perennials that are Salt-Tolerant
You may get a high salt content in your soil if you live by a coast, but you can also get areas of salty soil from winter deicing and plowing. If you can’t get the salt levels balanced, lean on these salt-tolerant garden plants.
Dianthus or Pinks: Carnation relative with grassy blue-green foliage and fragrant pink, white, or red blooms
Ornamental allium PETER KRUMHARDT
Perennials that are Deer-Resistant
Deer are beautiful backyard visitors, but nothing is more frustrating than having them eat the flowers and vegetables you’ve worked so hard to grow all season. If you’re methodical about the plants you choose, they’ll leave your garden alone.
Astilbe: Shade- and moisture-lover with feathery plumes of blooms
Barrenwort: Shade-tolerant groundcover with delicate-looking blooms
Russian Sage: Silvery-gray foliage and purple blooms in summer
Lupine ANDY LYONS CAMERAWORKS, LTD
Perennials for Cool Climates
Some plants love the hot and humid air of Southern states, while others do just fine in the more temperate Northern states. You can find colorful flowers in the North that you’ll appreciate having in your garden.
Delphinium: Long spikes of blue, purple, pink, or white flowers
Globeflower: Yellow springtime blooms with feathery centers
Japanese Primrose: Moisture-loving plant with globes of pink, purple, or white blooms in spring
If you have clay soil in your garden, you may have lost all hope of baskets full of lush vegetables and bouquets of fragrant flowers. But don’t give up so fast! Clay soil isn’t perfect, but it’s not all bad either, and it most definitely can be improved. Here’s how to take clay soil and turn it into soil that you and your plants will love.
How To Make Clay Soil Better
One good thing about clay soil is that it can be improved upon. With patience and effort, you can change the profile of your clay soil and make it easier to work with and more likely to yield the results you desire. Here’s how to improve your soil:
Break it up. Cut through the dense profile of clay soil with soil amendments. “Slowly adding decomposable, coarse organic matter, ” says Sam Schmitz, horticulturist with Ball Horticulture, “such as pine bark chips, and other, larger inorganic particles, such as coarse sand, can help break up the clay, keep the particles separated, and create more open pore space in the soil.” Just make sure these amendments are tilled into the soil, so they become well-incorporated throughout the clay profile.
Try raised beds. Gardening with raised beds, says horticulturist and garden educator Donna Balzer, will help drainage and avoid standing water on top of your plantings. “Raised planting beds mean less foot traffic and compaction on clay soils,” Balzer says, “and shifts the plant roots above the sitting water.”
Top it off. Balzer recommends sprinkling gypsum on the soil surface. “It replaces sodium with plant-friendly calcium and makes the neutral clay soil more workable,” she says. She also advises top-dressing clay soils with a light layer of straw, fine bark or compost in the fall, to protect against surface crusting. You can buy gypsum online and at garden stores.
Dig down deep. To help with drainage issues, Schmitz recommends digging through the clay layer into the soils below. “This can help alleviate any drainage concerns by opening up the flow of water through the soil profile.” If the density issue is severe, add calcined clay pellets along with the other amendments. “They will eventually break down,” he says, “but that typically takes several seasons. Hopefully, by that time, any issues with the soil will have been resolved.”
What Not to Do with Clay Soil
Clay soil can be pretty unforgiving. Make sure you avoid these common mistakes:
The wrong additives. “Many people make the mistake of adding compost and sand to clay soils,” says Schmitz. “Adding a very fine compost and the wrong type of sand can actually make things worse.” Mix the small particles of clay with the other small particles of compost and sand and, according to Schmitz, “what you end up with is basically mortar mix. Mix it together, compact it and you can build a house!”
Repeated tilling. Tilling the soil over and over again at the same depth is not productive. “As the tiller blades cut through the soil, they create a smooth compacted layer at the bottom of the till depth,” says Schmitz. “While the upper surface may be amenable to plant growth, the compacted layer underneath can cause major problems through the season.” Instead, Schmitz says to use a pitchfork to break up the compacted layer and allow excess moisture a way out.
Treading heavily. “Soils containing clay are super sensitive to traffic,” says Balzer. “If you put on your gumboots and walk all over your amended clay soils you will pack them down, squishing out the air.” She says that gardeners should avoid walking across any clay-y soil, adding that even a perfect loam with 30 percent clay will be flattened by foot traffic.
How To Maintain Clay Soil
Clay soil doesn’t like to be ignored. Leave it alone for a season or two and you’ll have a hard time changing course in your garden, Schmitz explains. “My suggestion would be to slowly change the soil consistency over time,” he says. “Soil tests can go a long way in telling you if you are headed in the right direction. By slowly working the clay season after season and adding in the proper amendments, you can turn your garden from a headache into a haven. Patience and persistence are the keys to success with clay soils.”
In his own garden, Schmitz says it took five years of tilling and amending clay soils before the first productive beds sprang up. “Considering that it probably took hundreds of years for the clay layer and soils to form on their own, or one round of major construction to compact them to near the point of no return, a five-year commitment to turn them back around isn’t all that bad,” Schmitz says.
Taking cuttings is a good way to keep your plants going from year to year. It’s so easy to do and if you become good at it is a great way of adding more of your favorite plants to fill out your collection. The good news is lots of beautiful flowers like fuchsias, pelargoniums and hydrangeas are all easy wins when it comes to taking cuttings successfully.
We’ve chosen eight of the best plants to take cuttings from right now. As soon as you’ve snipped your cuttings, put them in a polythene bag to conserve moisture and stop them drying out too fast. Then get your cuttings potted as soon as you can by following our easy guide on what to do next.
3. BUTTERFLY BUSH (BUDDLEIA)
4. PELARGONIUM (GERANIUM)
6. BEARDTONGUE (PENSTEMON)
8. JAPANESE ANEMONE
DO I NEED TO USE ROOTING HORMONE?
Rooting powders contain synthetic hormones that mimic the natural hormones found in plants. This can boost growth and speed up the development of your cutting. They also include chemicals that lessen the risk of your cuttings becoming diseased, which should increase your success rate.
Many gardeners think rooting powders are unnecessary, but it can be a good thing to use if you’re taking cuttings of more difficult plants. Fill a container with water and put some rooting hormone into a second container. Dip the end of the cutting into the water then into the rooting hormone and tap off any excess powder before planting your cutting.
Now is a good time to take cuttings too. In late summer and early fall hormone levels in plants are high so the cuttings will root and grow well. You’re out in the yard anyway on a tidying mission, so it’s perfect timing to start snipping from plants that do well for you, and that you would like more of to fill out your flower bed ideas next year.
Cordyline Hot Pepper Plant, also known as Cordyline fruticosa ‘Hot Pepper,’ is a popular ornamental plant that belongs to the Asparagaceae family. The plant is named for its attractive and vibrant red foliage, which resembles the fiery color of hot peppers.