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Pretty garden need not be hard |

Pretty garden need not be hard

Jessica Walliser
A low-maintenace ornamental garden.

Ornamental plants are the core of most gardens, and they are often where we find the greatest pleasure. The trees and shrubs, annuals and perennials we plant help create a unique space, all our own. They can provide a respite from our hectic lives and lift our spirits. Though we appreciate them mostly for their beauty, ornamentals also can raise property values, reduce cooling costs and offer us endless free therapy as we putter in the garden.

We all want our landscapes to be lush, thriving and low-maintenance, and while there is no such thing as a no-maintenance garden, there are some things we can do to reduce the amount of work it takes to care for our ornamental plants. The trick comes in the ability to create a beautiful garden that does not become a chore.

First and foremost, it’s important to choose appropriate plants, ones that are bred for disease-resistance, do not require a ton of pruning and are not susceptible to common pests. Don’t be afraid to ask nursery employees questions; tell them the traits you’re looking for in a plant and have them explain several options so you can make an educated choice.

Avoid trees and shrubs with a projected maturation height or width beyond what the area can bear. Be honest with yourself, because contrary to popular belief, pruning is not a good way to keep a plant’s growth in check. Plants are always going to want to grow to their genetically predetermined height. If size restrictions are an issue in your garden, you are much better off seeking out dwarf or smaller-statured varieties of plants. Pruning should be done judiciously, not viciously.

Secondly, design your garden intelligently. Give plants plenty of room to grow; space them appropriately. This improves air circulation and cuts down on fungal issues. Put the right plant in the right place. It sounds like a no-brainer, but shade plants go in the shade, and sun-lovers go in the sun. It’s important to understand the cultural needs of the ornamentals you want in your garden. Putting them in conditions where they will thrive leads to healthier plants that require far less maintenance than stressed-out ones.

And, thirdly, pay attention to cultural practices. This is all the stuff you do in the garden. From fertilizing and watering, to pruning and deadheading, proper cultural practices right from the start lead to decreased maintenance needs as the garden matures. Divide perennials when they need to be divided (often every four to five years) rather than allowing them to grow into overgrown giants, stake taller flowering plants before they flop over, regularly remove weeds to avoid future infestations, prune lightly every year to keep shrub growth dense and in check. All these cultural practices can mean the difference between healthy, flourishing plants and a disease-ridden, overgrown, high-maintenance garden.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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