Common garden problems
In my work in the Baltimore area, I have noticed that while every design solution is different, there are certain issues that occur frequently. This article will address a few of the most common problems I encounter.
1. Clay soil: What to do about poorly draining clay soil is one of the most common questions I encounter in my work. My general approach is as follows:
• Do not add sand to clay soil in an effort to change the soil structure. This most often results in making the situation worse by creating a near concrete soil condition that is difficult to repair.
• Incorporate compost such as kitchen compost or leaf-gro ™ in copious amounts over a period of time. Remember that compost breaks down over time, and will have to be replenished.
• Mound planting areas to improve drainage and soil aeration.
• In extensive areas of poorly draining soil, or standing water, improve drainage, or choose plants that tolerate these conditions.
2. Sudden death of recently planted shrubs or trees:
There are some primary reasons for this to occur:
• Planting too deeply: Trees and shrubs need to be planted so that the level of planting in the container or root ball is set one to two inches higher than the surrounding soil. Do not place any soil on top of the root ball.
• Girdling roots/pot bound roots: Sadly most of the container grown material available from local garden centers is badly root bound. Take the time to spread the roots out in the planting hole, and remove circling roots before planting. Simply placing the plant directly from the container into the planting hole without loosening the root ball is asking for trouble.
• Existing conditions: Inspect nursery material carefully before purchase. Do not plant material that does not look full, healthy and weed free. Check for mold or mildew on the soil surface, yellow or spotted leaves, and insects such as scale or spider mites. Look on the underside of leaves. Poorly pruned or severely pruned plants or plants with broken or damaged root balls should also be rejected.
• Failure to dig a proper hole for planting: The hole should be 2 to 3 times as wide as the root ball or container. Do not backfill with topsoil, instead mix compost or leaf-gro ™ with existing soil at a ratio of 1 to 3 by volume. Tamp lightly, and water well. Mulch to a depth of 2 or 3 inches, do not pile mulch by the stem or trunk.
3. Poorly performing perennials:
The most common reason perennials fail to thrive is planting the wrong plant for the site conditions. Make sure you have a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight for sunny perennials, for example. Check soil moisture requirements for the plant you are considering. Most perennials require adequate drainage, so soil preparation will also be important for your garden. Resist planting perennials too close together, allow for adequate ventilation to combat fungal infections. Also, be patient, most newly planted perennials do almost nothing for the first three seasons.