Updated: Aug 18, 2020
Our world has changed so much so fast. There are people still living that remember when space exploration was a seemingly impossible dream; look where we are now. People in their 80s remember cars that didn't have air conditioning. Now, rear hatches are smarter than me, not to mention all the other stuff cars can do now. Computers! Don't even get me started. There are even big cultural differences between baby boomers, millennials, and generation Z.
The gardening world wasn't unaffected by all the changes, either. Of course, there is the googling of plant knowledge and the Amazons of gardening supplies, but I am reminiscing about the way we garden now. It was during my lifetime, that when a new home was purchased, there was no fence, no sod, and no landscape. The home was sold with the driveway and a concrete path to the front door, and, at best, a little concrete patio in the back of the house. After closing on the house, next up, was to clean up the builder’s dirt clods and Mountain Dew cans and whatever else was buried in the hard clay gravel left on the construction site.
But those days are bygone, and now, when a buyer checks out a new house, the norm is to see solid grass yards in the back and the front with bushes planted next to all the walls, and there is usually a privacy fence to show where the boundary lines are. Often, in the front yard, there will be a green electric box sticking out like a sore thumb. These additions have made it easier for the new home to sell, and they give the buyer the sense that a major important necessity and expense have already been checked off the honey-do list. Of course, after the painstaking process of procuring a mortgage, who would want to have to spend more money on the yard stuff?
However, very often, the reality of this is that the buyer will ultimately have to pay for it twice. Most builders don't have the time or the knowledge to prepare the soil correctly for laying sod and adding plants. I constantly see incorrect plants put in the most incorrect places when I drive through these new neighborhoods. For instance, planting magnolias three feet from the corner of the house just won’t work out a few years down the road when the tree grows to maturity. In their haste to get these homes sold, they seldom consider drainage, which usually results in a host of problems. The decline of landscapes such as these begins in about two years. That's when the homeowner comes to us to ask what they're doing wrong.
My first questions are, “When was the home bought?” and “Was it a builder landscape?” At this point, the big decision to be made is whether or not to pull out the entire landscape to amend the soil and install a new landscape that is more your style or to try to rehabilitate the existing plants through pruning, fertilization, and proper watering. The rehab route is going to be a tough battle because the soil these plants have been parked in is foundation soil that has been brought in to build the house on. It’s even a step worse than the Mississippi soil that is underneath all of the rubble. Our clay soil retains water for an unbelievably long time. A plant that is drowning in our clay soil looks exactly like a thirsty plant that needs water.
Most gardeners will add water to the situation, making it even worse. Even if that battle could be won, the homeowner should ask themselves, “Are these even the plants that we would want in the first place?” But an even more important consideration than plant preference is to question if the selected plants were even planted in the right location...probably not. I shouldn't be complaining about this, because replacing plants from these situations is what keeps us nurseries in business. However, I would rather sell plants to people that have a design that suits their style and who have had an opportunity to amend the soil for the health of the plant. I think by the time homeowners have been faced with this dilemma once, the next house they build, they will request that the builder stop at what he does best and leave the landscaping to the individual.
Another big change is that not too long ago, weekends were for cranking up the lawnmower and getting a chance to spend some time in your yard. This was often even a family event, with the help of your surly teenager, who was perhaps earning an allowance or doing time for coming in after curfew. Now, there are so many things that take us away from being able to spend time in our yards. Our schedules stack up with weekend sports and school events. Of course, there's nothing wrong with participating in these events with your family. But a side result of this fact is that it has created a huge new industry….the residential grass maintenance industry. During the weekdays, many driveways have a yard maintenance truck and trailer parked in them. These guys do a great job for a reasonable cost, probably cheaper, faster, and better than you can do it yourself. It’s a no-brainer. The problem is that once we see the yard guys have come to do their thing, we are less apt to walk around the yard, ourselves, to check what's really going on. Plants need to be checked for insect and fungus problems. Drainage needs to be looked at to make sure things are running correctly. Our busy schedules make it difficult to find time to do this like we used to do. Usually, when we find a problem, it is getting too late to deal with it. It is much easier to keep a constant eye on things, staying on top of these issues, so it won't be so difficult to fix the problem.
We knew we didn't want to cut our 6 acres of grass when we bought the house we live in now. To properly cut, weed eat, and clean up all the debris would cost me my entire day off each week. I wanted to be able to do the fun stuff in my yard like pruning, creating beds, and adding plants. Hopefully, you can find time several times a week to check into the nooks and crannies of your yard to keep an eye on what you like to see and what you don't like to see.
Remember, this is the time to be adding trees and bushes to your yard while plants are dormant. It's much easier to dig a hole now, and it's easier on the plant to go from winter into a cool wet spring and be established by the time our Mississippi summer gets here. Mimi and I planted four big trees and transplanted a 12-foot tall holly this past gorgeous Sunday and still had time to get some crawfish and rustle up some friends to enjoy the weather in the yard. We will continue adding plants throughout the spring, but I like to get the bigger trees done while it's winter, it's so much fun to watch the trees take off when the temperature begins to warm up.
Another big change for the gardening world has nothing to do with our fast-paced world or technology, but the fact that Mother Nature is getting squeezed. The deer population in our state has changed a lot about what gardeners can and can't do. The size of our pansy crop that we grow for fall sales has literally been cut in half because people have thrown in the towel to combating the deer herd. We put up a nine-foot fence around our yard because I want to plant what I want when I want to. There are all kinds of tricks to repelling deer from your yard, but most of these methods are short-term. There are plants that deer aren't interested in, but I feel like a deer's mineral needs change seasonally, so what might work at times may not work later. Pregnant does have certain needs during pregnancy, but these mineral needs change during the nursing stage, which causes them to feed on plants they previously overlooked. The deer problem is one that won't go away and probably will just get worse.
Gardeners will have to figure out the best way to keep these beautiful pests to an acceptable population by fencing them out, using repellents, or using any combinations of methods to keep them at bay. One thing that won't change is that spring is coming soon. Our greenhouses are filling up, so we will be ready when Mother Nature says it's time. I hope you can find some time to get your yard prepared to plant when the time comes. I also hope you will make some time to spend in your yard with friends to grill or dive into a big pile of crawfish. After all, the reason we want our yard to look great is for our own enjoyment and to show it off to anyone that will look.