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Growing Green: Save time, money when landscaping

Here are ideas to save time, money and aggravation when landscaping your property.

Take a soil test: One of the costliest errors that you can make is ignoring the composition of your soil. Doing a simple soil test is also one of the cheapest ways to remedy this problem.

Why do a soil test? Like humans, plants have elemental requirements and function best under certain pH ranges. If the soil they are planted in is right for their needs, they will thrive.

For example, azaleas like acidic soil (pH 5.5 to 6.0). If your soil test indicates you have a nonacid pH, you can amend that soil with garden sulfur to bring the soil into the proper pH range before you plant your azalea. This will greatly increase the chances that your new plant will survive.

There are do-it-yourself soil test kits available at home and garden centers. For $9, you can get one from your local county extension office.

Know your yard’s environments: Do you have an area that gets full-sun all day long? Is there a low, wet area?

By knowing the climate in your yard, you will save time and money by planting the correct plants in the correct environment. For example, if you have an area next to your house that receives sun all afternoon, a plant that can tolerate hot, dry conditions will thrive there more readily than a plant that likes shady, moist conditions.

General landscaping errors: Realize how big a plant really gets. Putting tall plants in the front of a flowerbed, in front of windows or too close to the house will cause problems down the road. Remember that what the plant looks like now and what it will look like at maturity may be two different things.

Avoid the straight and narrow. Unless you are planting an orchard, trees for a wind block or natural fencing, avoid straight lines or plants lined up like soldiers. Curves in the landscape add interest and draw your eyes to the plants.

Not having a theme. How will plants look next to each other or next to your house? Instead of having many different types of plants that look like a hodgepodge, select varieties of the same species and create vignette gardens.

For example, for the shady area of your yard, try different varieties of hostas or bleeding hearts. For greater eye appeal, plant in odd numbers. Groupings of three or five look better than groups of two or four.

Use color themes that work well together. Monochrome: various shades of the same colors, like all pinks. Complementary colors: those opposite each other on the color wheel, i.e., purples and yellows. Neighboring colors: those next to each other on the color wheel.

Tree Errors: Planting trees too close to your foundation, sidewalks or over septic or sewer lines may require you to remove the specimens when they reach mature size. Tree roots can cause problems if they grow into cracks in the house foundation, sidewalks or septic or sewer lines.

Trees are usually the biggest investment in your landscape, so these can be costly errors to fix. Generally, shrubs should be planted at least half the distance of their mature spread from your home’s foundation.

Planting large specimen trees under power lines. In our climate this can be a big problem. Ice, snow or wind can cause limbs to break and interfere with the power lines. Choose small-size trees for under power lines.

Topping trees. Please don’t torture trees by topping them. Tree topping is the drastic removal, or cutting back, of large branches in mature trees, leaving large, open wounds that subject the tree to disease or decay. Topping causes immediate injury to the tree and ultimately results in early failure or death of the tree.

This isn’t an error, but a suggestion. Landscape your yard so you can enjoy it from inside your home taking into consideration views from windows and porches. A well-designed landscape complements interior living space as well as providing enjoyment for you when you are outdoors.

“Growing Green” is contributed by Lehigh County Extension Office Staff and Master Gardeners. Information: Lehigh County Extension Office, 610-391-9840; Northampton County Extension Office, 610-813-6613.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY DIANE DORNA shrub was planted too close to a house, causing the shrub to lean away from the structure as it grew.