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Fixing Gardening Mistakes

Tips for correcting common problems: plants that are out of control or in the wrong place.

Over the years, master gardener Paul James has made several gardening mistakes in his yard. Here he highlights his most recent blunders and offers solutions for fixing them:

Ivy on the Side of the House
Problem: A few years ago Paul planted Boston ivy on the side of his house to soften the brick wall and create shade from direct sun. The ivy worked fine for a couple of years but now has gotten out of hand, growing up and over the wall. Ivy grown on the side of a house or other structure creates a bridge for a variety of pests, including spiders, ants, rodents and, worst of all, termites.

Solution: Although Paul has periodically trimmed the ivy, the only real solution now is to rip it all out. The drawback here is that most ivies, including Boston ivy, are hard to get rid of. Start by tearing it out by hand directly from the wall and then dig up as much of the root mass as possible from the soil. You can use an herbicide if you're careful not to get it on other plants. Routinely check the area for any stragglers and pull them out.

"I don't mean to give Boston ivy a bad rap because under the right circumstances it makes for a dynamite vine planted along a wooden or stone fence," says Paul. "It's just that in this particular circumstance, it's not the right vine."

Wrong Plant, Wrong Location
Problem: When Paul originally planted zebra grass in one of his garden beds, it was actually a sunny location. (Zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus') is named for its yellow variegated stripes on its leaves that appear vividly in the sun.) Over time, however, a nearby arborvitae has grown considerably and now shades the grass. As a result, there's a distinct lack of vigor in the zebra grass, and it's actually losing a lot of its variegation, which happens when a plant like this doesn't get enough sun.

Solution: Dig up the zebra grass — and any other sun-loving plant — in this area, and replace with shade-loving plants. You can either transplant the grass to a sunnier location or throw it in the compost pile if it has completely lost its vigor. Or, share the plant with a fellow gardener who can offer it sun.

Overgrown Plants Hiding a Garden Feature
Problem: A few years ago, Paul had a striking boulder brought in and dropped into one of his garden beds. Since then, he has planted a variety of perennials and shrubs around the stone to accent it in the landscape. However, he overplanted: Several plants, including these autumn ferns, are almost completely obscuring it.

Solution: Thin out the plants around the boulder by cutting them back to scale or removing them. If there are too many plants in this space, transplant them to another location where they can grow without interfering with other garden features. Routinely check the area and prune back the plants as needed.

Overplanting Around a Garden Feature
Problem: The ornamental grasses around Paul's pond have grown to the point where the pond can't be seen very well.

Solution: Cut the grasses back in the fall with loppers, shears or hedge trimmers. Now is a good time to dig up any grasses that block the view of the pond and transplant them elsewhere. Note: don't use an herbicide if you have fish in your pond.

Reseeding Plant Becomes Invasive
Problem: Persicaria 'Lance Corporal' has an interesting variegation on the foliage and dainty, beautiful red flowers; it makes a striking addition to a sunny to partially shady perennial border. A major downside to this plant, however, is its aggressive tendency to reseed; it has spread throughout Paul's garden.

Solution: Unless you routinely and diligently trim back all the flowers just as they set seed, this persicaria has a tendency to become a real pain in the landscape. If you don't want to hassle with this plant, pull it out and throw it away.

Spreading Plant is Taking Over
Problem: Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) is a vigorous perennial groundcover that spreads by runners and grows well in wet soils. Controlling creeping Jenny takes some work and is often not totally successful. In this spot, Paul planted just three four-inch pots of this plant, and it has completely taken over this stream bed.

Solution: To keep creeping Jenny in check, hand pull and dig out the roots, being careful to remove the plants so they can't re-root. An herbicide may be required regularly if your goal is to completely eliminate the plant. Or, you can just periodically get down in the dirt when it becomes too dense and pull the plugs.

Overhanging Plants Hiding a Stone Wall
Problem: When it comes to planting, most gardeners are aware of the height of the plant in question. But very often they forget to consider the width of the plant. Gro-Low sumac (Rhus aromatica 'Gro-Low') is a groundcover with clean green foliage that changes to brilliant red in the fall. This plant can spread up to eight feet wide, and Paul had planted it too close to a stone wall. As a result, you can't even see the stone work. Plus, it overhangs the turfgrass below, blocking the sunlight and keeping it from growing.

Solution: While maintaining a natural look, prune the groundcover back to reveal the stone work. Provide occasional maintenance as needed to keep the grass growing and the stone wall visible.

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