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Posts: 1
Joined: Thu Oct 30, 2008 3:21 pm
Location: Raleigh, NC

I have no idea what I am doing

OK, so we just bought a house in Raleigh, NC. I have never had any luck with plants inside or in pots outside... so I am probably doomed to fail with gardening... but I need/want to do something! My problem is that I have a huge (to me at least) flower bed in the back that needs maintenance at the least. I would like to completely redo it, but I have no idea how... and have no vision for design even if I did know enough about different flowers to do it.

The back yard is fenced with the standard wooden fence. Along the back of the fence there is already a flower bed that runs the length of the yard, but I don't really like anything in it and now that it has been growing unchecked for the two months we've been in the house it is looking pretty awful. In one corner is a Willow tree and in the other corner is some small tree that looks a little sickly... probably a fruit tree of some kind.

The flower bed has kind of a scalloped edge and comes out 4-5 feet or so from the fence. It looks like there is mulch paper covered by a thin layer of old pine straw, and lots of leaves from the willow tree on that end. In the middle of the fence it looks like there is a lattice attached to it, and there is a big honeysuckle looking vine growing on it. To the right and left of that are some other vine things that I don't recognize. I think I want to pull these down because I am afraid it will damage the fence.

There is a large gap between the fence and the flowers that I don't really like. Along the edge of the flower bed (near the grass) there are what appears to be zenias or mums and small crete myrtles as well as a couple other things I can't identify. I don't really like any of the flowers, and now they look pretty ugly because I don't know what to do as they die off. There is also a lot of grass and weeds starting to pop up in the empty space.

I also have a small L-shaped flower bed edging the sidewalk to my front door, which has red mulch in it and more of the zenias or mums... and they are looking pretty awful now too.

My end goal is that I want to re-mulch the back so that it has the same red mulch as the front because I think it looks nice. Although I heard you shouldn't mulch around trees so I thought I might just use some sort border/edger in a semi circle to block the willow off into it's corner. I also think I want to put some sort of edger between the flower bed and the grass, as there is something like that in front of the house and it looks good. I want to have some nice pretty flowers that are easy to maintain.

I purchased some tulip bulbs and another mix of bulbs (I can't recall what they are right now) that I want to attempt to plant. But I have no idea how to arrange them so they look nice. I am thinking I might should just rip everything out of the little flower bed in front and put all the bulbs there to start... and then just try to maintain the back yard for now. I just don't know what to do! Also... those bulbs all seem to say they bloom in spring, and would be gone by May or so. I would really like the beds to to look nice as long as possible. Is there anything that would look good mixed in with tulips that would last later in the year?

What help/advice can you offer a complete beginner? I have no idea where to start! Should I pull out all the ugly pinestraw in back? Should I just wait until the ground warms up to tackle that mulching project? How do I re-paper that area before I mulch? What do I do to the dying flowers? Help!

thanks in advance...

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Posts: 27976
Joined: Thu May 01, 2008 11:21 pm
Location: Zone 6, NJ (3/M)4/E ~ 10/M

OK, here's what I think, FWIW :wink:

I think it would be hard to tell what should stay and what should go without knowing exactly WHAT they are. You say you don't like this or that -- what is it about them that you don't like? Shape, size, color, smell? You said you've been there for 2 months, so we're talking late August. There may already BE perennials that had flowered in late spring or early summer that would grow and take over after spring bulbs, just like you want. Also, without knowing what is planted there, it's hard to tell what will start growing earlier or how tall at maturity.

But, by all means, plant your bulbs -- With a very basic design scheme, you can just plant taller tulips and daffodils towards the back, hyacinths in the middle, and crocus and muscali in the front, massing them in groups. Some people say, for the most natural look, draw general outlines (blobs) with powdered lime and just toss your bulbs inside the area, then plant where they fell. (You can either prepare the bed with amendments first, or toss in things like Bulbtone or compost/bonemeal in each hole, depending on the condition of your flowerbed.) If you prefer the soldiers at attention look, observe the recommended spacing and plant in a grid pattern. If you are planting bulbs with single colors, place them according to what appeals to you. If they're mixed color bulbs, don't sweat the colors -- let nature take its course.

As for the flowers that are fading now as we approach late fall and winter, zinnias and cosmos, for example, will frost kill and turn brown, but *I*m leaving them standing because wild birds like goldfinches will perch on the dead stalks and eat the seeds, and what seeds fall to the ground will re-seed next year. So there's one approach. The honeysuckle vine will attract hummingbirds when they're in flower, and it provides food for attractive moths like clearwing moth larvae (The caterpillars are lime green with a single horny tail and black spots along its side, and they turn rosy pink just before pupating. The moth is also called bumblebee moth and has black and yellow striped body with clear wings)

Other flowers, shrubs, vines, and tree, depending on what they are, will need different care at different times of the year. Ask anybody here and they'll tell you one of the first things they needed to learn was how to distinguish between friend and foe -- desirables and weeds (and oftentimes, a "weed" is in the eyes of the beholder). You might want to give your garden a chance to display and identify themselves through the different seasons of the year before deciding what to do....

Good luck! :D

Oh, BTW -- if the bed is 4~5 feet deep, the gap between the fence and the flowers might be intentional -- so you can walk through and tend to the garden (plant flowers and pull weeds!) in the back as well as prune/trim the vines on the fence.

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