Organically Speaking
By Don Trotter



Flowers And Shrubs In The Natural Garden Hello fellow Earthlings, and welcome to the flower garden! Lets look at some fun ways to keep them blooming as the heat descends upon us this summer. 

When we bring plants into our ornamental gardens, it is because we like them as they are, or that we can envision how they will look in time. Although I love green landscapes, I am particularly drawn to colorful displays of flowering shrubs mixed with greenery. It adds flavor and some interest to the garden, not to mention a direct expression of the gardener’s creativity. Caring for green and flowering plants to ensure they continue to put on a show of their beauty is a challenge to any gardener. A display of well-tended plants around your home is a way to say to admirers that you care about your surroundings and that these plants have a good home. And this is something they can appreciate, especially if they are your neighbors. Taking the next step in understanding of how these ornamental gardens can be richer is the playground of the natural gardener. 

I love to see a landscape where there is a layer of mulch placed under all of the shrubs in an orderly manner. That says to me the gardener really cares about his or her roses and camellias because that gardener is making sure the soil these plants are growing in is being cared for so the plants will live a long and productive life. How many neighbors do you see in your neighborhood who are constantly replacing plants they installed only a few weeks or months before? They dig and dig and make no connection between the quality of the soil and the health of their plantings. You may hear things like “I just can’t get these blasted gardenias to grow in my soil” or “These darned azaleas just keep dying”. They will even say the soil conditions are to blame but won’t make the connection. 

To gardeners like these the soil is merely a place where the plants anchor their roots and has little or no part in the overall vigor of their garden. They will spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to keep their gardens looking like they just came off of the pages of Hearst’s Country Living Gardener Magazine but don’t understand how or why they have failure after failure. If we think of plants in our landscapes kind of like they were animals in a reputable zoo, wouldn’t we make sure the penguin’s enclosure was cold or that the tropical birdcages were warm? 

Plants are no different. If you want to grow gardenias and azaleas, give them what they need and begin with the soil. A living soil will provide your landscape planting investment with all of the things any plant requires. It is up to you to manipulate the soil to accommodate special requirements, but the main thing is to keep that soil alive. In the Old Testament of the Bible there is a chapter where a litany of begats and begots refer to the lineage of the human race. Well the nitty gritty of this rather long roster of names is that without life there is no more life. Or life begets life. This is a statement that could not be truer when talking about soils. A living soil begets more life and that life force ends up as a healthy landscape full of flowering plants and bright green shrubs. 

When choosing landscape shrubs and flowers there are a few things to consider. Is the plant you like capable of thriving in your climate and does it have special watering requirements that would make it incompatible with other plants. Does it have to be in the full sun or will it take some shade. Does it have to be in the shade or will it take some sun. And most of all, does it have special soil requirements. 

It is difficult to get rhododendrons to thrive in a cactus garden. And it is very difficult to get cactus to thrive in a rhododendron garden. Incompatibility of plant types is one of the easiest ways to fail in the ornamental garden, or in any garden for that matter. Choosing plant types that are compatible with one another is a great way to have a successful landscape. If you love hostas and know they require some shade why would you plant them in the full sun? Exposure to sunlight is another way to ensure plants succeed or fail. Planting shrubs and flowers that require long exposure to direct sunlight in the deep shade of a tree or on the shady side of the house seems a little silly just to get yellow flowers for a few weeks. There are oodles of yellow flowering plants that grow well in the shade; you just need to find them. In the case of shade plants being subjected to direct sunlight, unless you are doing experiments on sunburned foliage there is no point in trying it. 

Ask your nursery professional what kind of exposure a particular plant that has caught your eyes requires, they will be happy to tell you. And if you’re looking for those yellow flowers that grow in the shade, ask the nursery professional. The other thing to do when you are at the nursery or garden center looking for new plants is to look up. If you see the sun, chances are the plants you’re looking at prefer a sunny spot in the garden. If you look up and see shade fabric or it is a shady spot in the nursery, chances are the plant prefers a spot where there is little or no direct sunlight. This is a simple observation that will save you headaches and money. 

Growing shrubs and flowering plants in the garden is easy if you pay attention to a few small details. But remembering they have to grow in the soil, and concentrating on organic matter applications in the form of composts and mulches will serve you and your plants well for years to come. Feeding your landscape shrubs and flowering plants is an easy task that only requires two applications of food per year in most climates. Remember that composts and mulches are plant foods as well, so your fertilizer and mineral supplements should focus on correcting imbalances in your soil while providing nutrients to the plants. 

Got Questions? E-mail the Doc at . Don Trotter’s natural gardening columns appear nationally in environmentally-sensitive publications. Check out Don’s books Natural Gardening A-Z and The Complete Natural Gardener for more helpful hints on growing a healthy garden without chemicals. Both Books are from Hay House Publishing

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