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Reviving a Maple Bed

Host Paul James shows you how to revive a garden bed with beautiful results.

Some plants thrive despite neglect. For instance, in Lisa's yard, a Japanese maple tree and the hosta underneath haven’t been watered or fertilized in nearly a year, yet they still look amazingly healthy.

The rest of the bed, however, is a different story. After giving the existing bed a once-over, Gardening by the Yard host Paul James gives Lisa his ideas and analysis.

"The focal point is obviously the Japanese maple, which is a beautiful specimen and looks really nice," says Paul. "It just needs a little pruning." He uses hand-held pruners to remove the deadwood, making sure not to cut flush to the main trunk. "Leave about a half inch or so, a branch collar, which allows the wound to heal properly," he explains.

Pruning helps shape the tree, gets rid of deadwood, eliminates crossing branches and shortens the branches that hit the house. A good pruning rule of thumb: try to never remove more than one-third of the growth each time you prune. It’s also a good idea to stand back and evaluate the tree’s shape after every few cuts.

After the Japanese maple is pruned, Paul and Lisa begin creating a new planting bed underneath the tree. Using a square-edged shovel, they outline a softly curved bed starting at the edge of the steps and ending at the corner of the house.

Next they remove the top inch or so of soil using flat point shovels. Because Paul sees no earthworms or other signs of life in the soil, he decides to amend the existing soil with with compost. A good soil amendment boosts water retention, restores nutrients to the soil and will enhance the bed's color.

Next comes low-maintenance, shade-loving plants. Before planting, Paul shows Lisa how to place plants to get a sense of where they need to go to look their best. The plants Paul has chosen include 'Patriot' hostas, similar to the existing hosta under the maple, and Heuchera 'Crème Brulee' and 'Key Lime Pie'.

To keep the new plants well watered, a soaker hose is placed throughout the bed. Multipurpose edging defines the bed and also keeps the soil and mulch in place and prevents grass from creeping into the bed.

The finishing touch: a layer of mulch to suppress weeds, preserve moisture and hide the soaker hose. Remembering to water won't be a problem for Lisa. Paul connects an automatic water timer and programs it to run every third day.

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