Best-Bet Borders

from Country Gardens
If your backyard perennial garden lacks definition, try our easy border tips to make your perennials pop.

Plan Before You Plant
Beautiful borders can be the result of careful design rather than back-breaking labor if you follow our pointers.

Begin with the soil. Exert at least as much effort creating good soil as you do selecting the plants for your garden. Most gardeners find that their soil benefits greatly from the addition of high-quality compost, which helps soil retain moisture yet drain more evenly, and also adds nutrients and beneficial soil microbes. If in doubt, get a soil test from your local county extension service or garden center to determine what soil amendments your garden needs to thrive.

Be picky about plants. Give your garden the best chance for beauty by selecting plants that are well-suited to your climate and soil. Plants that are not cold-hardy in your garden, or are stressed by your droughty or rainy conditions, will be less attractive and more work in the long run. Look for native plants or their close relatives for the basis of your garden, opposite, and ask other experienced gardeners in your locale for their recommendations.

Weave in woody plants. Use flowering trees and shrubs for structure and fullness, to add height and dimension, and to visually tie your border bed to the rest of your landscape. Spring blossoms, fall leaf color, and wintertime landscapes will be more interesting with woody plants. Shrubs or small trees with edible fruit, such as crabapples, will also attract birds to your garden, which in turn will help reduce insect populations.

Consider color. Develop a color theme — two or three colors that harmonize, above, or two colors that contrast, right, are more visually effective than a jumble of all the hues of the rainbow. Green foliage can be one of those colors, or it can be a neutral that ties the garden together. Look at magazines, go on garden tours, and visit display gardens for color combos that stand the test of time.

Annuals are all right. If perennials do not have the color impact you prefer, don’t hesitate to use annuals in your mixed border. Insert a few annuals to keep color charged all summer; add low-growing annuals for greater impact along the edges or plant some to fill bare spots throughout the season. Consider planting a few self-seeders that will come back year after year.

Change can be good. If you find you have planted something that is now hidden behind taller plants, or perhaps a shade-lover is shriveling in the sun, it’s permissible to move it. It’s best to make that move in spring well before the plant blooms, or in the fall before freezing weather begins.

Long-Lasting Good Looks
Now that your garden is planted, here’s how to keep it looking great season after season.

Apply mulch. Besides helping the soil retain moisture, a layer of organic mulch will reduce the number of sprouting weeds. Mulch makes the garden look more tidy and “finished.” Even a layer of clean, screened compost can be used as mulch, and your plants will love it. Organic mulches, such as pine needles, cocoa hulls, shredded bark, or compost break down and enrich the soil over time; the finer the mulch particles, the faster they will decompose. Mulches typically need to be refreshed every spring.

Keep it tidy. Remove faded flowers and leaves as they wilt, or every few days. This doesn’t have to be a difficult or tedious job; many gardeners make it a simple matter by strolling through the garden before work in the morning or after dinner in the evening. Deadheading every day or so will make each pass a quick task and take you closer to your lovely garden. Hang a small basket on your arm for old flowers and leaves, and discard them on your way out of the garden.

Maintain Crowd control
Dig and divide. Perennial plants will grow and spread a bit every year. That means that over time, older growth will become crowded and weaker, and may stop blooming completely. Keep the plants looking their best by dividing perennials every three or four years. Some aggressive plants may need to be divided more often, and others may not need it for five years or more. Replant divisions elsewhere in your yard or share them with friends.

Suppress seeds. Annuals and perennials can create seeds that may grow the next year, unless you have planted sterile hybrids. Some annuals have many viable seeds that can quickly take over a garden or yard if not kept under control. Deadheading before seeds mature, is one way to prevent problems. If you do allow seeds to mature, thin new seedlings in the spring before they crowd each other out and cause the entire garden to struggle.

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