Garden columnist Dan Gill answers readers’ questions each week. To send a question, email Gill at [email protected]
I need some help designing a landscape in my backyard. I’d like to put in a deck, beds of shrubs, flowerbeds and some trees, but I’m hopelessly lost in how to do it properly. Do you have any advice on seeking professional help? — Valerie Mitchell
The winter cool season is the ideal time to install new landscapes in Louisiana or redesign and renovate existing landscapes. If you’d like to hire a landscape professional but you don’t know where to begin, here are some helpful tips.
WORD OF MOUTH: Ask your friends, neighbors and colleagues for recommendations. Do some online research into the landscaping companies and landscape installation businesses in your area. Your best bet is to select an experienced, well-established firm or company with a history of completing projects similar to yours.
GET SEVERAL OPINIONS: Arrange a meeting with two or three different companies. Don’t feel shy asking about the training and educational background of the people who will be working for you. Get a feel for how well you could work with the individuals and how well they understand what you want. Ask for references, and check with the Better Business Bureau.
CHECK FOR LICENSING: Make sure the company or individual you’re dealing with is properly licensed by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, which is required by law. A licensed landscape architect has a degree in landscape architecture and can sell you an original design whether he or she does the installation or not.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF PRO: You may also choose to use a licensed landscape horticulturist. Landscape horticulturists may help you develop a design, but only as part of a package that includes the plants, materials and installation. Because landscape horticulturists are not required to have any design training to get their licenses, carefully ask them about their training and experience in doing designs.
The primary benefit of using any of these experts is to draw on their knowledge, experience and creativity.
Before you make a final decision, obtain a written estimate, including a projected date of completion. Make sure the contract you sign for installation includes a detailed list of all plants, materials, work to be done and specifications, as well as any guarantees on plants and other materials used in the landscape.
I’m seeing lots of dewberry brambles coming up in a garden of monkey grass. Is there any herbicide that will kill off the brambles and not hurt the monkey grass? — Wendy
Sorry, but no there are no selective herbicides I’m aware of that will kill the brambles but not kill the monkey grass. You can try cutting back the individual stems of brambles and then painting the freshly cut stem surface with the herbicide Cut Vine and Stump Killer containing triclopyr.
Only apply the triclopyr to the cut surface on the bramble stems and do not get it on the monkey grass. This is tedious to do but is effective. It will kill the roots and the brambles will not sprout back.
I need to transplant some red spider lily bulbs. Is this a good time to do it? — Sarah Ray
These bulbs are in their active growing season, so this would be a particularly bad time to dig them up and transplant them. Red spider lilies (Lycoris radiata) finish their active season and go dormant in spring — generally around April.
Watch for the foliage to start turning yellow. When you see that, it means the bulbs are going dormant. Dig them up and replant them where you want them to grow at that time.
TRIM GROUND COVERS: You can clip ground covers back now through February, before new growth appears, to remove unattractive foliage, rejuvenate the plants and control growth.
Hand prune individual unattractive leaves on plants like aspidistra and evergreen ferns. Liriope, monkey grass, Japanese ardisia and Asiatic jasmine can be cut back with a lawn mower adjusted to its highest setting, a string trimmer or hedge clippers.
When the winter solstice occurred Dec. 21, we experienced the day of the year with the shortest period of light and the longest period of darkness.
SPRING BULBS: If you purchase pots of spring-flowering bulbs in bloom it is generally best to discard them after they finish flowering. Some exceptions would be amaryllis, paperwhites, daffodils and other narcissi. These can be planted into the garden when the flowers fade. Wait until April to plant amaryllis in the garden.
TRANSPLANT TIME: Now is a good time to dig, divide and transplant dormant hardy perennials in your flower gardens. Do not dig and divide any perennials that are in active growth, such as Louisiana irises, calla lilies, Easter lilies, red spider lilies, acanthus and spring-flowering bulbs.
POTATOES: Plant Irish potatoes into the garden now through mid-February. Cut seed potatoes (available at nurseries or feed stores) into pieces about the size of an egg. Make sure each piece includes at least one eye.
Allow the cut seed pieces to heal a few days, and then plant them into well-prepared beds about 12 inches apart and 4 inches deep. Harvest generally takes place in May. Red LaSoda (red) and Kennebec (white) are generally the most readily available, and both produce well here.
Dan Gill is a retired consumer horticulture specialist with the LSU AgCenter. He hosts the “Garden Show” on WWL-AM Saturdays at 9 a.m. Email gardening questions to [email protected]