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Sullivan's Landscaping

Frequently Asked Questions

What is low-maintenance landscaping?

Low-maintenance gardening requires less watering, pruning, weeding and transplanting. Why —because of the plant’s drought tolerance and location in the garden. Maybe the plant is a dwarf cultivar, or has a modest habit. Then again, a plant will grow only at the root (Liriope, Pachysandra). These specimens don’t grow vertically as much as they do either at the root or by horizontal roots (stolons, rhizomes). Plants in a low-maintenance landscape have a good performance record in our USDA Plant Hardiness Zone (6b-7).

Deciduous vs. evergreen—explain?

A deciduous plant loses its foliage in cold weather, when there are colder temperatures and shorter days. Decreased sunlight slows photosynthesis. Evergreen trees and shrubs lose foliage but replace leaves and needles simultaneously. Hard to believe? Look under a Magnolia grandiflora, which by the way is high maintenance, since you’re always raking leaves if you want a clean understory.

Photosynthesis is what?

Sullivan'sIt’s the process of combining radiant energy (sunlight) with chemical compounds in the stems and leaves of a plant (carbon dioxide and water) to produce food (glucose) for the plant. At its optimum, photosynthesis depends on a healthy root system, moist soil and nutrients in the soil. The structure of a plant (leaves, stems, and branches) must be growing in sunlight without constricting vines or other plants which block the sun. Crowded plants compete for valuable carbon dioxide in the air and that retards photosynthesis. During photosynthesis, oxygen is released by water molecules into the atmosphere.

What is a ground cover?

Ground covers are small plants that grow more horizontally than vertically. They can grow by stolons or rhizomes, which are above or underground runners. Most ground covers have small root systems, grow in sun or shade and live in tightly packed soil areas where exposed tree roots dominate. Ground covers also slow erosion and runoff with their “carpet” habit. Even Lily of the Valley is a ground cover since it has little vertical presence and bear-hugs the soil with its strong roots. Ever want to transplant some of it? Grab the shovel since a trowel won’t do.

What is a perennial?

A perennial plant returns yearly for 3-5 years. A “tender” perennial has a shorter life; a hardy perennial, longer. Hardy perennials are stronger due to cell structure and tolerance to cold weather. Come fall/winter, perennials decline. You’ll know it when you see the brittle brown foliage. Flowers on a perennial have a limited show, some lasting just 7-10 days. Most perennials flower in the spring and summer. A garden full of perennials can have a “wildflower” or crowded appearance, unless planted in an organized fashion. A bulbous plant (tulip, hyacinth, and crocus, daffodil) is a perennial. When the beautiful flower is spent, the long, graceful foliage will decorate the garden, skirt the foundation or even mask the curved, aluminum frame of a lower-level window well.

Can plants grow in shade?

Sure. Aucuba, Mahonia, Dwarf Sweet Box, Camellia and Leucothoe are examples. Look at the plant label to ascertain sun/shade requirements. If you plant a “sun-loving” plant (Crape Myrtle, Lilac) in full shade, flower production is compromised. Plus, the health of the specimen (disease tolerance, leaf production) will be compromised. Plant a shade-lover (Pieris, Pachysandra, Clethra) in full sun and the leaves become yellowish to pale green. Even plants that traditionally welcome sun (Abelia, Weigela, and Hydrangea) thrive in the shade of Zone 6b’s summer humidity.

What’s the best way to water?

First of all, regularly. Some plants are more drought-tolerant. Watering levels depend on the plant, USDA Plant Hardiness zone, season, temperature, time of day and even the wind. Try to water the root zone, not the foliage, as with an overhead sprinkler —that is for newly laid sod, established lawns, the kids and your Labrador retriever. Roots extend to the drip line or the outermost branch tips. When the water bubbles up around the soil during watering, back off. Over watering is harmful for the roots, so don’t leave the hose running. Lack of water in the root zone will deny a plant minerals from the soil. Watering foliage can breed fungus or leaf burn if the sun is direct. Plus, plants get water from the root. It’s the leaf that transpires water back into the atmosphere. Remember, any plant in a pot needs more water, since roots there can’t pull moisture from the ground.

Why is empty space valuable in a garden?

To encourage wind pollination of flowers, space is vital. Dense foliage or plants hold moisture, which breeds fungus. A cluttered garden is unhealthy, especially if there is an airborne pest or a diseased plant nearby. Plants compete for carbon dioxide, which enhances photosynthesis. Plus, if the entrance to your house is shielded by dense plant cover, it could pose a security threat at night.

Why mulch?

Because it keeps the soil around plant roots cool in the summer and warm in winter. It retards weed growth, prevents water runoff and retains moisture around plant roots. Organic mulch improves soil fertility as it decomposes. Mulch is aromatic and gives the garden a refined appearance, especially definition where it meets the lawn. A plant’s green foliage is almost brighter above a fresh layer of brown mulch. Apply it too thickly and it will breed mold, mildew, fungus and root rot. Never pack it up against the main trunk or root of a plant as it will invite insects. Piles of mulch can be hiding places for unwelcome rodents. Trust us – we once found a snake nest in just three inches of large bark mulch – and this was in a condominium development, not out in the country.

How do you plant a shrub?

First of all, don’t sink the ball. Make sure 2-3 inches of the top of the root ball sits above the soil line. Dig a hole wide enough so there is excess spacing around the circumference of the ball. This allows the plants’ roots to grow out into the surrounding soil area and permits water to leech down toward the roots. Before setting the root ball in the ground, loosen the roots on the bottom and sides of the ball with your fingers or tool. Add backfill and soil conditioner but not excessive fertilizer, as this may burn a plant’s roots. Add water in a fresh hole, especially if it’s hot or the ground is clay-hard and rocky. It’s okay to fork off a couple inches of the ball’s base if it is thatch-like, tight and dry because at times, a ball has excessive roots growing circularly. Pry them free with a spade fork until they’re loose. If a root ball is burlapped, cut it off and then loosen the tightly-compacted soil before setting it in the hole.

What if the plant I want is too big for my garden?

Look for a dwarf of that genus. Or try a cultivar, a cultivated variety of the plant. Some plants have many cultivars, which can have varying growth habits and sizes. Also, if you must have it in your garden, you may be able to prune it to fit. The Japanese perfected this art, known as Bonsai. If a 6-foot Nandina won’t fit, plant its dwarf, either ‘Firepower,’ “Moon Bay,’ or ‘Harbor Dwarf.’ If a 16-foot Colorado Spruce won’t do, try a “Fat Albert,’ which offers the same bluish effect with its foliage.

Why prune and when?

Check the pruning schedule for each specimen (or call us). Prune at the wrong time and the specimen won’t flower in the spring. Some plants flower on old (existing) wood, others on new (current season’s) wood. Know the flowering structure of your plant so you don’t have flowerless branches. It is wise to prune dead or diseased wood, which can harbor bacteria and insects. For shaping purposes, especially in patio gardens, it’s best to keep the specimen pruned to a practical size. Sometimes, radical pruning encourages dense, bushy growth. While unnatural in appearance, this will increase shade while providing more foliage and flora, as with the Crape Myrtle. When selecting a tree, make sure it will fit the planting area when it is mature. A healthy, full-grown specimen is more formidable during drought, humidity and the cold.

How do I invite birds to my garden?

Sullivan'sJust hard-rake the soil of all leaves, grass and brush and watch robins and catbirds come hopping along for earthworms and insects. They can better hear and smell for meals underground when soil particles are loosened. Beyond man-made feeders or birdbaths, try planting Purple Coneflower or Black-eyed Susan. The seed heads attract Goldfinches in particular. I’ve seen them stand on flimsy petals (remember, they have bird legs) and dab their bills into seed heads for minutes. Tubular-flowering perennials such as Cardinal Flower, Weigela and Abelia invite the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. Fruit is another treat for birds. The Cedar Waxwing and Mockingbird enjoy the fruit of the American Holly and Crab Apple.

Does plant variegation occur naturally?

It does. Variegation usually lines the edge of a leaf or occurs randomly in spots or swirls. It comes in tints of yellow or white and sometimes, salmon. Variegation brightens an evergreen since its inconspicuous flower will not. Euonymous is the most common variegated specimen. Without noticeable flower, this plant showcases its variegation alongside its tomato-soup-colored fruit.

Does bark actually exfoliate?

Yes. Take a look at a Crape Myrtle, River Birch or Sycamore and you’ll see the bark curl and fall off. Some of the peels are orange and red and add dimension and texture to a vertical, “bare ankle” landscape.