BY ANTHONY REARDON
With winter weather now well established here in western Kansas, the devout gardener might be feeling a bit antsy at the moment. Soon enough, you’ll be trudging out the work boots and prepping your spring vegetable gardens.
Even sooner, you’ll be starting the seeds for said gardens. One task your days stuck indoors can accomplish right now, however, is planning for your 2022 garden. Now is the perfect time to be designing your landscape, choosing your desired plants, and ordering the plants that might be difficult to find.
The first and primary factor that should be considered when designing a landscape is accounting for the full-grown size of your plants and spacing accordingly. Overcrowding is a common factor in the death of many landscape plants and, unfortunately, it is an easy mistake to make in a landscape’s infancy.
Newly planted, your landscape is likely going to include mere scions of what the plants will one day be. This, in turn, leaves ample space to be yet filled in. Resist the urge to fill in this space as it will be needed down the line. And while it may look good now, overcrowding could spell disaster for your landscape later.
You’ll also want to take a look at the location, the soil structure, and the drainage of the areas that you intend to landscape. Is there irrigation nearby? If not, can you feasibly get regular irrigation to the area? Is the soil structure of an area one that retains water for exceedingly long times? Does the soil sieve water quickly? Is the area in a low spot that is likely to wash out or drown plants in the event of a heavy rainstorm? These, and more, are all questions that should be considered when designing a landscape. You know your plants will need to be properly watered, how are you going to achieve this?
Light being another primary factor in a planting’s success, does your intended landscape have a canopy above it, or is it in the full, blaring, sun? Plants need to be placed in their intended light. When this requirement is neglected, improper light can, and likely will, spell their demise. Watch your landscape area at not just one time of day, but throughout the day. How many hours of full direct sunlight does the area get? This will determine what plants you can and should include in your landscape.
There is also the matter of curb appeal. A landscape needs to be designed accounting for the “flow” of how it is going to be viewed. Shorter plants up front so as to not be hidden, medium plants in the middle to show off and fill space, large plants in the back to add ambience, tone, and mood; this is where your artistic creativity is given the leisure to do what it likes. But make sure that each plant has a purpose in its location.
You’ve decided to place a plant “here”? Great. But why here? What is it accenting? Is the plant meant to be looked at individually? To be screening in the background? Filling in as a collective with other plants? The “why” can quickly make or break a well-designed landscape, especially when there is a lack of one.
And then there are still other classic aspects of design to pay attention to. Colors of plants that match or complement each other create a cohesive portrait for the eyes. Themes to a landscape that are shared amongst the plants, such as a shade garden, a pollinator garden, an herb garden, etc. can lend a landscape interest in its purpose. Focal points, specifically meant to guide the eyes to a given spot, once again lend to overall flow. And even the textures and forms of plants add interest, diversifying a landscape and breaking up monotony.
More information on these specific design aspects and how to account for them can be found in the KSRE publication “MF2925: Landscape Design,” available for free from the KSRE bookstore. While choosing your plants, be sure they can fit within these design factors while also meeting their survivability requirements. Of course, the cold hardiness of your plants should always fall within the zone they are planted. And then it is time to order!
Ordering plants in the early months of the year gives you, and garden retailers, ample time to track plants down, which can be especially handy if you are looking for a plant variety that isn’t commonly stocked, or a plant that isn’t typically used in the landscape. If you like including specialty bulbs or seeds in your landscape, this may be the only time of year that you can order them before they are out of stock, so getting them ordered now is especially important.
If you would like to learn more about the ins and outs of landscape design, “Principles of Landscape Design,” a one-night class taught by myself and Landscape Designer Sara Gleason, will be presented at 7 p.m. on Feb. 8 at the Finney County extension office. This program will coincide with the meeting of the High Plains Horticultural Society and would be an excellent opportunity to gage ideas for your current landscapes, or to get some new ideas.
Please RSVP for this event by calling our office at (620) 272-3670.
Anthony Reardon is a horticulture extension agent with the West Plains District