Day of the Dead Lanscaping Needs Reviving. Where to start?
January 17, 2012 6:59 AM   Subscribe

Day of the Dead---In desperate need for front landscaping makeover but want to DIY. Where do I start?

Our original landscaping is from 1985 and needless to say 1/2 of it died. We ripped out a dead plum tree. The evergreen bushes need to go (they are in front of a window and I would like to replace with hydregneas). The other green shrubs (more leafy kind) are ok and I'm trying to save money so I'm fine with keeping them. The 5 small boxwoods we planted in 2003 were affected with winterburn so I cut away the dead and it looks like they're slowly coming back. The rocks in the landscaping are very sparse where the underlayment is showing. We have these pain in the ass day lillies everywhere. In short, our front looks like total ass.

My husband hates the rocks. We want to go cheap but pretty.

Is it better to dig and replace rock with mulch or can we just mulch over it?

The dirt is clay. Lots of it (our burb was built on a clay depository) and even with rental equipment, good luck in digging anything for depth (it stopped the tiller). How do we break it up to plant new things without killing the existing plants we want to keep?

I heard mulch can bring termites and other nusance insects. As long as we keep it away from the foundation, are we ok? We already have a bad carpenter ant issue (Orkin is our friend)

We are in the SW burbs of Chicago. It's heavy sun. I don't even know where to start.

Here are some plants that I was thinking of:

hydregneas in front of the bay window (want something that lasts a while in the season).

Azaleas for color but dont' know much about it. Planted one on the side of the house but didn't get to plant it deep and well, leaves look ok but the flowers died.

Don't mind hostas but this is a full sun area.

Thought about some decorative grasses but don't want to be overrun when they grow out.

Not sure what else is out there that is pretty easy to maintain and has a good all season growing cycle. For example, our yard, I planted peonies and salvia. Peonies die after May. Salvia just overgrows. So the rest of the season just looks like a mound of dirt and dead plants. This isn't what we want for the front.
posted by stormpooper to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: And we are looking for low maintenance. I have a brown thumb and we aren't around much to maintain.
posted by stormpooper at 7:00 AM on January 17, 2012

See if an area garden nursery offers design services. You can get a design done and implement it yourself at your own pace. They should be able to make it low-maintenance specific, etc.
posted by evening at 7:19 AM on January 17, 2012

I'm in a different part of of the country (Florida) but would recommend you talk to a neighbor who has a yard you admire. What do they have? Drive around your neighborhood, check out similar houses to yours that have attractive, simple landscaping and try to replicate or become inspired. You can even take some photos.

I'm all for removing the rock before you mulch. I find that wood mulch needs to be replaced/refreshed yearly. Wood mulch is not the most environmentally friendly but I prefer the look of it.

For front landscaping I would recommend low-maintenance hardy bushes (native if possible). If you feel like it, you can add color with annuals in a border and/or pots. You can also spruce up/liven up the front of your house with new paint or stain on the front door/new door handle/hardware/flag/lighting/wreath/doormat/etc.

Check with your local extension, talk with neighbors, and the local gardening centers.

Hydrangeas and Azaleas require maintenance. Not much but they both require special fertilizer and azaleas can be water hogs. I also think Azaleas do best in dappled sun. At least in my part of the world they do.
posted by Fairchild at 7:35 AM on January 17, 2012

Do you have an irrigation system? Hydrangeas need water in the hot months. That said, if you're getting a couple of hydrangeas, why not consider the oakleaf variety - it has great fall color in addition to elongated sprays of flowers.

There aren't many plants that will provide continuous color for the entire season. The way to do this is to find a series of plants that will bloom at various times. You're dealing with a slightly difficult set of conditions: sun and poor drainage. This is why you ended up with a series of not terribly interesting shrubs the last time you did this. You should talk to your neighbors - talk to the local guys at the nursery - the local extension guys may also have good information.

Siberian Irises have attractive foliage when they're not blooming. They will require you to cut them back at the end of the season.

Asters can provide fall color. Ditto mums - they're reliable, but if you buy those nice bun-shaped plants, know that they're trimmed to make that shape and will look wider and lankier the following year.

Bulbs are your friend for the spring - you'll plant them in the fall and they'll give you a lasting show for years. I'd go for a mix from a reputable seller like Brent & Becky's (link is to their mixes). Bulbs don't take terribly long to plant and are extremely low maintenance.

Grasses are a good bet, but they will require that you cut them back at the end of the season. A group of blue fescue (Festuca glauca 'Elijah's Blue') will give you some nice frosty bluegreen and is extremely tidy in my experience. Miscanthus tends to be good about remaining upright and there are a few good varieties out there.

In terms of dealing with heavy soil, I've found that a digging fork - like a pitchfork but with stronger tines - can be extremely useful. (I've not used the one linked to, but wanted to show an example).
posted by sciencegeek at 7:40 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a lot of clay, but that doesn't stop things from growing. It's just more difficult planting, etc.

When planting, create a bigger hole than usually recommended, and mix in topsoil, or planting soil with the clay. You can also tiller up the top couple of inches, and mix in topsoil with that, as well.

Mulch, if you get it from a decent nursery, won't bring termites and pests. It should be refreshed every couple years at the least - usually once a year, depedning on how fast it is breaking down.

Boxwoods are nice, I went with inkberry, as it flowers and has berries, so is a bit more showy than the boxwood standard. Also recommend the oakleaf or mapleleaf hydrangias.

But, with full sun all day, you have tons of options. Daylilies, when placed right, are a great thing to have. Dig up the ones that are out of place and plant them in some shady 'dead' planting areas so if you want to use them somewhere else later on you can.

Azaelas are hot and cold with me - some don't do well in full sun, some do, and then they can get 'woody' and need to get properly trimmed.

The recommendation that worked great for us, is to go to the nursery once a month once spring hits. Buy 1 or 2 plants of the same variety that are in bloom when you go. And keep filling in the spaces (tall in back, short in front). that way, each month, from spring through fall, you'll have something of interest blooming. Plus during the winter you should have some color, etc.. from evergreens and whatnot.

One thing I like is the red twig dogwood - it's flowering, and the branches turn a bright red for the wintertime. It's a nice 'centerpiece' plant to have in the middle and then stage other plants around it in reducing heights.

And also second bulbs, bulbs, bulbs. A good solid knockout rose or two are a nice addition, as well - the newer varieties are very disease resistant and don't take much care as opposed to the more show-quality ones, yet still look great.

up front, some low-growing plants like creeing thyme or some other creeper along the borders give some good definition and help keep run-off from washing out the mulch. googling different styles of plants can give you some good pictures, or going to someplace like springhill or brecks, you can search by different plant type and conditions to at least give you some ideas - but I'd only buy bulbs from Brecks, and springhill's plants are all pretty young - I'd buy froma local nursery instead.
posted by rich at 8:35 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

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