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Landscape design tips for southern Oklahoma

The Daily Ardmoreite
Pat Neasbitt
Master Gardener

Landscape Design Tips

January is a good time to plan for the new gardening season. If it’s too cold, wet, windy, or icy to walk around your yard, walk around inside and check the view from your windows. Make notes of what you enjoyed last year, and definitely make notes of what you would like to change or improve when the weather permits. With the leaves off most trees and shrubs, you can see the bones of your garden including hardscapes and can decide if you need to improve certain areas. Gardens are never finished and are always changing and evolving. Plants you placed in a sunny location years ago may need to be relocated because the trees you also planted have gotten large enough to provide enough shade to require totally different plantings. Gardeners are usually optimistic and look forward to each new season with hope and faith that this will be the best one ever. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind when planning a landscape.

• Do a simple plan on paper. It’s a lot easier to use an eraser than a shovel.

• Trees should be used to frame the house and provide a background. They should not block or hide the house. Don't plant too many trees that will get too large, and don’t plant them too close to the house. Be careful what kind of trees you plant (check out OK PROVEN.ORG). For various reasons, definitely stay away from willows, cottonwoods, Bradford pears, sweetgums, silver maples, regular old elms, black walnuts, pin oaks, and sycamores. If trees get so big they won't let any sun in your windows, have roots that will ruin your sewer system, drop limbs constantly, sprout in every nook and cranny, fill your pool with leaves, or get so big they will overhang your roof or blow over on your roof, they are a chore instead of a pleasure and will be very, very expensive to remove and repair the damage they cause.

• Simplicity is the key to good design. You don’t want to have cluttered plantings, ornaments, lots of small beds, or shrubs scattered around the lawn without being part of a larger bed or border. You are going to have to mow or weed eat around them, and that isn't much fun in August. Use curves instead of sharp angles. They are more pleasing to look at and you can mow around them more easily.

• Border plantings can be used alone or in conjunction with fences to define property lines and achieve needed privacy and lessen noise. This is the perfect place to plant native plants to attract birds and butterflies that you can enjoy from inside as well as from your yard.

• Don’t put all your best plants against the foundation in the front yard where only the neighbors can see them. Plant for your enjoyment by putting plants where they are visible from your windows. A nice bed around the mailbox could be appreciated by you as well your mail carrier.

• Do not plant the typical builder boxwood hedge across the front of your home. It’s known as the dreadful “Green Necklace” look. It is boring, and you surely have better things to do with your weekends than to trim them.

• You don’t have to plant the whole foundation of the house. Foundation plantings were originally used because houses had tall, ugly foundations that needed to be hidden. Groundcovers between small shrubs will tie plantings together. In general, do not depend on a foundation planting of only perennials, annuals, and deciduous shrubs in front of the house. You need a few small evergreens for winter color and interest.

• Keep everything mulched. Mulch not only makes the plantings look better, it keeps weeds down, keeps the soil cooler in summer, conserves moisture, and improves the soil as it breaks down. Use natural hardwood mulch instead of dyed red or black fake mulches. Not only are they fake and ugly, they are often made from old ground up pallets that can contain harmful chemicals such as arsenic.

• In order to make the entry welcoming, do not put large shrubs near the door. Use larger shrubs or small trees near the corners of the house and gradually taper them to lower ones near the door. Don’t plant shrubs that will get so large they cover your windows.

• When planning your landscape, strive for year-round effect and pick plants that bloom at different times. Choose some evergreens and shrubs with berries for winter interest and to provide food for birds. Plant some things with beautiful fall color as well as some that bloom in spring and summer.

• Select plants that will grow well in your area. Use dependable native plants and Oklahoma Proven Plants as basic plantings and gradually add new things each year.

• Create focal points and centers of interest. These can be outstanding plants, a view, a pergola, or tasteful statuary (definitely not 20 plastic pink flamingoes from the dollar store). The entry is the usual focal point in front; however, it is important to have a focal point in the back yard for your enjoyment, also. Statues, benches, and water features can be used as focal points, but choose them carefully and don’t use very many.

• The most important thing is to have something you enjoy and that works for your family and location. Something as simple as having water faucets readily available with hoses you can get to and a place to keep your tools handy makes gardening easier and more enjoyable.

• Most importantly, remember gardening should be fun and not all work. Don't forget to put a small sitting area under a shade tree so you can take a break and enjoy the lovely view you have created. Stay Safe & Happy Gardening!