Lies about landscaping

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

I would like to discuss some misconceptions that seem to be prevalent in the area concerning gardening and landscaping. I'm not sure how these misconceptions got started, but I do know that these ideas sure affect the way people purchase plants and plant growth aid products.

Probably the phrase I hear most often is "I want a no-maintenance landscape." For your information, there is no such thing.

Plants are growing, living entities. They need water, nutrition, and a mix of favorable environmental conditions to grow and thrive. You, as the gardener, must provide for all these needs. If you don't, your plants may not survive and they surely will not thrive.

Plants are like children. Would you go to a doctor and tell him you want a no-maintenance baby? See what your doctor's reaction is when you tell him you would like a child that needs very little milk or water and no diaper changes because it causes a mess (acorns, gum balls, or crabapples). Since feeding takes a lot of time, you want one that doesn't need a lot of expensive food (fertilizer). You also want him or her to continuously have rosy checks (be a dwarf plant that is evergreen and blooms all of the time).

I think all parents would like a self-sufficient, perfect child from the get-go. In reality we all know that there is no such child. Yet for some reason, when it comes to plants, we have the idea that man has developed some that require no maintenance.

We also expect all plants of the same kind to perform exactly the same way. I often hear a consumer make the statement "I planted three shrubs of the same variety. Two are doing OK, but one is not growing like the others. I can't understand why they are not growing the same." Plants of the same variety are expected to perform exactly the same in all situations.

Ask the mother of twins if both kids react the same in all situations. I can guarantee that she will say no because they have different personalities. Yet we expect all plants of the same variety to grow, look, and respond the same in all situations.

Not only do we expect the plants in our landscapes to be perfect, but we also expect other parts of our landscapes to be perfect as well. For example, we use weed barrier to cover the soil surface between plants in our landscape. This fabric is then covered with mulch or gravel. This combination is expected to provide a weed free landscape. But you and I both know that a weed seed can germinate in mulch or in some soil that has washed or blown into the gravel above the weed barrier. Yet because the weed barrier is there, most people assume that there will be NO WEEDS growing in their landscape.

I have heard frustrated homeowners say they are so fed up with their lawn, that they are going to install artificial turf. The artificial turf would eliminate maintenance. I'm sure they would be surprised to learn that the cost of maintaining artificial turf on an athletic field is quite a bit more than that of maintaining a natural playing surface.

I have also heard individuals say that they are going to pour concrete or lay asphalt, paint it green, and install plastic bushes. Have you ever seen the weeds that grow in cracks in concrete and asphalt? Even concrete and asphalt require some maintenance. Oh, and don't forget that plastic bushes fade in sunlight, and require dusting every few months.

Maintenance is a part of gardening, just as it is in any other part of life. Learn to enjoy it. Listening to birds chirping while you water a newly planted shrub is music to the soul. Watching flowers respond to fertilizer by seeing a new flush of blooms tells you that many things in this world remain the same year after year. Enjoy time with your children or grandchildren in the landscape. You will be surprised what information you can find out. Happy gardening.


Send your gardening questions to Paul Schnare at P.O. Box 699; Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63702-0699 or by e-mail to

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