living a well tended life... at any age

a year in my garden: february, part two

In my last post I shared tips for designing a garden “from scratch”. But what if you are working with an existing garden? I often get calls from homeowners who have “inherited” a garden that was either poorly planned, has suffered from years of neglect, or is not to their liking.


Tearing everything out and starting fresh is typically not an option – and usually isn’t necessary. Some careful observation and shrewd planning (and planting) can elevate a tired, overgrown garden into something special. Here’s how:

montauk daisy

Prune – take a look at your existing shrubs. Do they obscure windows or other details of your house? Are they leaning into walkways or blocking doors? If so, then it’s time to prune. By restoring your shrubs to a more appropriate shape and size you will improve not only their appearance, but also their health and vigor. For flowering shrubs it’s important to know your plant’s habit so that you prune at the right time and don’t lose the next season’s blooms. Books, the internet and the folks at your local nursery can be helpful resources before you begin. If you’re still uncomfortable doing the work yourself, hire a landscaper – paying a professional for a few hours will cost far less than replacing large, mature shrubs.

Divide – if you have perennials that have been in the ground for a few years, it is probably time to divide them. Signs that a plant needs division are:

A “hole” in the center of the plant, where nothing is growing
Flowers are smaller and/or fewer in number than the year before
The plant has become too large for its home

Dig up the plant, discard any spent growth and separate it into smaller sections. You can then replant these sections elsewhere in your garden – free plants! Swap divisions with friends and neighbors to add variety to your existing beds. You can read more about this in a post I wrote about dividing plants.

Amend – creating an optimal growing environment for your plants will yield a dramatic improvement in their size, blooms and overall health. Every fall and spring, work into the ground a combination of compost, leaf mold and/or manure. Water in and cover with mulch – this “top dressing” will decompose, enter the soil and continually enrich it.

Remove– a leggy, overgrown shrub that is producing few or no blooms is sometimes past the point of repair. By removing plants that are no longer viable you will improve your garden’s overall appearance and make room for either new plantings or for existing plants to spread out and grow.

Plant fast growers – by selecting perennials and shrubs that spread quickly you’ll get fast results with fewer plants. Perennials that fill in rapidly include: Gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides), Catmint (Nepeta) and  Coneflower (Echinacea). Fast-growing shrubs like Butterfly bush, Spirea and Forsythia are easy to grow and produce pretty flowers too. And for instant results plant some annuals. They bloom right away and last all season.

These suggestions are low-cost and easy easy to execute yourself. And as gardening reduces stress and burns calories you’ll reap even more benefits than just a beautiful landscape………..

karley rose fountain grass

Have a specific design problem? Want to know more about a particular plant? Ask me here!


  1. Melinda@LookWhatMomFoundandDadtoo! on March 1, 2012 at 10:43 am

    our veggie garden was so bountiful last year I was looking forward to working on it again this year. I look at it now and am discouraged, over the winter it got filled with weeds, dug up by our old dog and was just neglected. Now i’m just trying to ignore it, don’t know where to start.

    • sheri silver on March 1, 2012 at 12:39 pm

      I know – I try to avoid looking at my garden at this time of year – so depressing! Around mid-March you can start getting out there to weed and clean up . The cool weather makes it more bearable and you don’t have to worry about stepping on emerging plants. Tackle a little bit each week and by spring-planting time you’ll be ready to go! Let me know if you have any questions; happy to help! 🙂

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