Have you moved recently? Here are valuable tips from
garden writer Marge Talt, of Maryland:
You need at least a full garden season to really find out what is in a
mature garden. Your first task needs to be to identify all the plants that
iare growing - woody plants, perennials, bulbs, etc.
If you've only been in your house a month or so, I would seriously
suggest you wait a bit before you start yanking anything that is not
totally dead. You need to find out what the plant is before you
consider it a total loss. Many plants will recover if properly
pruned and cared for.
You need to consider how you will use the garden. What changes need
to be made to make it work for your family? What do you need that is
not there - space for kids to play? patio or other outdoor living
area? a pool, a pond, a cutting garden, a compost heap? What? Once you have determined that,
you will have a starting point for renovation of the garden.
Then you need to think about massing - what is there that works for you?
What does not and why? When you've sorted that out, you will have an idea
of what kinds of plants need to be replaced and with what.
If you need to remove large bushes, you need to consider what is around
them; the forms and shapes and what to plant in their place that will
enhance that part of the garden. Yes, anything you put in to replace
them will take a while to mature; no question about it, but that does not
have to be a detriment; you just have to select something appropriate
and perhaps do some judicious pruning of the plants that had grown into
and around the old bushes so that they relate to the new additions better.
I have been creating gardens in a mature woods for nearly 30 years
and I have a client with a mature garden that we are reshaping. When
you're dealing with mature woody plants, you need to *carefully*
consider your moves because all of them are either going to create a
certain amount of havoc that will take time to restore and/or require
a good deal of physical work or the expense of hiring of labor to do it.
Dead stumps and roots can be planted around if you have room enough
to dig planting holes; they rot and feed the new plants. If a dead
root is in your way, simply saw it off and pull it out. Stumps will
rot but it will take several years - at least 4 or 5, depending on
what the plant was that died. Some woody plants - trees and shrubs -
have amazingly hard wood that takes forever to rot and others rot
fairly quickly - in a year or so - enough so you can hack them out.
Covering stumps with organic material and keeping it moist will
encourage the wood consuming fungi and may shorten the time that it
takes the stump to rot.
You have two choices in removing stumps. The first is to hire a tree
guy with a stump grinder to come in and grind them out - this is a
large machine that will destroy any plants in about a 5' swath around
the stump, but it does remove stumps, leaving you with a pile of
chips. Personally, I'd only do this for large tree stumps that
absolutely had to be moved. I've had it done; it's not cheap.
Or, you can dig out dead stumps and roots; this creates a fairly
large size crater in the ground for working space, but you can
control to some extent where the crater soil goes, which you can't
with a stump grinder. I have done this; am currently doing it. Dead
stumps are actually easier to remove than stumps from trees that have
just been cut down; many of the roots will have decayed, making them
easier to remove.
To dig a stump, you have to remove soil around the stump until you
find a root, then cut the root - use loppers or a saw - a small chain
saw that you're not too concerned about is faster than a handsaw, but
unless you completely expose the root with room to maneuver the
chainsaw, you will likely get soil in the chain. Continue to dig and
cut until you've severed the roots all around and under the stump or
enough of them to pry out the stump. Shrubs are generally much
easier to remove than trees because trees put down amazingly large
anchoring roots. It may take a few days to do this - took me a month
of working every evening and all weekends to remove a substantial
maple stump a few years ago. It is not easy work, but it can be
To remove a thriving shrub is not all that different from digging a
stump except that you need to cut back all stems so you can get at
the trunk and root system. Then you start digging to expose roots
that you can cut. Once all roots are severed, the stump will come
out easily. Some shrubs have deep roots and you have to dig and cut;
some have relatively shallow root systems that you can loosen with a
garden fork until you can pry under the main part and heave them out.
I find a sturdy garden digging fork much better for this work than
a shovel or spade.
Marge Talt, zone 7 Maryland
Thanks a lot, Marge!
Marge runs a garden design business, Shadyside Garden Designs.