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Episode 51 – Getting edgy: the pain and necessity of your garden’s edges

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

By definition, a border separates two areas; an edge is a line at which a surface terminates. Don’t underestimate the impact edging plants can have on defining outdoor rooms or  laying out a  path through your backyard. But how should you edge? There are three choices: physical edging, physical labor, and plants. 

Edging can be as frustrating as hoses, as you may have heard us discuss in episode 40. When making a new plant bed I use a garden hose to lay out the border. If you’re landscaping next to a house, think of the architectural lines. I use the hose to lay out options creating a curved bed that softens the straight horizontal and vertical lines of a home’s exterior.

Physical edging comes in many different materials: plastic, wood timbers, metal, terrace board, aluminum, brick, concrete, recycled rubber, rocks and stones, scalloped concrete etc.

Time for an edgy Lim-A-Rick!

I tend to be a plant hoarder
So I bought them a physical border
It will work, they are alleging
This cheap roll of plastic edging
Dropped on my doorstep via mail order.

A bargain offer when I logged on
Bought with a discount coupon
The roll arrived permanently coiled
My edging plans are now foiled
I’ll just let the plants invade my lawn.

(Stacey’s note: I usually find it’s the other way around – the lawn trying to invade in on my borders!)

The first thing we often notice in a landscape is the edging. Our eyes go right to it. It’s what frames a landscape.  When homeowners use plastic or vinyl edging, or even the off-the-shelf steel edging it brings down the entire look of a landscape and screams out for help. A landscape will be immediately elevated simply by removing cheap edging. If you don’t have the budget for custom steel/aluminum edging or a stone border, simply do a shovel cut or plant along the border. It looks so much better and costs nothing. Bad edging is like giving someone a nice gift but not taking the time to wrap it nicely with paper and bow.

Then there is edging around trees. Cutting the edge and running into roots. Use mulch or groundcover! You don’t want to bury roots and you don’t want to affect the base of the tree. You want to see the root flare at the base of a tree.

No physical edging? Pull the soil from the edge (drop off) with “the shoveled edge.” Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver or Butchart Gardens or Proven Winners ColorChoice trial garden are great examples. For best results, use a half moon edging tool or a square spade that is nice and sharp. 

Diversity is good in a landscape but a single continuous border pulls it all together.

  • Shrubs: Low Scape or Ground Hug aronia, Double Play Candy Corn spirea, or low growing landscape roses like Oso Easy. Lo & Behold ‘Pink  Micro Chip’ butterfly bush or My Monet weigela.
  • My curbside/roadside experience: nepeta and sedum Rock N Round, Rock N Grow Rock N Low ‘Yellow Brick Road’ are great choices. Other perennials: carex, heuchera, lavender. Short ornamental grasses like Festuca glauca, sweet woodruff, perennial geranium or lambs ear or amsonia.
  • Herbs: parsley, golden oregano, thyme or sage
  • Annuals: I love Lemon Coral® Sedum mexicanum (not hardy in the north). The spiky chartreuse foliage looks like it would be tough and prickly, but is actually quite soft and “pet-able.” Color Blaze coleus or Sweet Caroline potato vine (curb edge) Vista Supertunias, Snow Princess lobularia and plectranthus are other great options.

Why: Lots of Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs make great edging plants – in fact, we have a whole section dedicated to them in our Gardening Simplified Landscape Guide. But today, I’m choosing Gem Box inkberry holly because it’s a unique choice that works with every style of home and landscape. We initially introduced Gem Box as an alternative to boxwood, as it looks similar. However, it’s a native boxwood alternative, and grows wild from the East Coast all the way to Texas. It doesn’t have the disease issues of boxwood, but it also lacks some of the boxwood’s best qualities. For example, it’s not as deer resistant or shade tolerant, and it really requires a moist, acidic soil. However, if you are looking for a beautiful, serene-looking plant for an edge or low hedge and value native plants, it’s a great choice!

It gets its name “inkberry” because its blue-black fruits have indeed been used to make ink by colonists – not surprising since it grows abundantly through the East Coast and Southeast. However, like all hollies, inkberry holly is dioecious – it bears male and female flowers on separate plants, and you need one male for every 4 or 5 females in order for berries to develop. Gem Box is a female holly, and up until we introduced Squeeze Box, there was no known male inkberry holly on the commercial market. Squeeze Box is a lot different in habit than Gem Box, but it can be planted anywhere within 50′ of your Gem Box hollies to get berries.

Who: Gem Box inkberry holly was selected right here in West Michigan by the Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs R&D team for its neat rounded shape and its ability to maintain foliage all the way to the ground, not unlike a boxwood.

How to grow: In the wild, inkberry holly grows in wet woods and boggy areas, which says quite a bit about its soil preferences. Moist, acidic soil is crucial, and it is not drought tolerant. It’s good if you have clay soil and/or an irrigation system. They also benefit from mulch, thanks to their shallow roots. They can grow in sun or part shade, but if the site starts to get too shady, they won’t look as lush and full. In the right soil, little fertilizer should be needed – if the foliage is yellowing, that likely indicates a pH issue. If you want a tightly-clipped look, it can be trimmed as needed when it is in active growth. It is hardy in USDA zones 5-9.

If you’d like to add Gem Box inkberry holly – or any of the 320+ Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs – to your garden or landscape, you’ll find a list of local retailers here

Gardening Mail Bag - Stacey

In addition to Leah’s question, she sent us an original lim-a-Rick:
In my mind, I’ve got a great vision.
I think I plant with precision.
But perfection I’m seeking,
So I’m always tweaking.
Please help me make a decision!

Either fall or spring transplanting are good options, though I would lean toward fall in your case. Why? Because once perennial hibiscus are dormant, it becomes difficult to see where and how big their root mass is, increasing the chance you’ll cut into the thick, tuber-like roots. They can survive that, but you’re more likely to avoid that happening by digging in fall when you can see where the stems were. Perennial hibiscus do develop very big, chunky root systems that can be hard to dig, though I don’t think you should have too much of an issue with plants that are still fairly young. Still, be prepared for that root mass to be quite a bit bigger than you expect.

We defer to our producer, engineer, and resident dog person Adriana Robinson to answer this question. Watch the video below to get her answer, but the short version is that she recommends perhaps designating a “pee zone” with a little fake fire hydrant or something like that to encourage dogs to use that instead of the garden. Once dogs start favoring that spot, other dogs will follow and hopefully, begin to prefer it over your beautiful garden bed.

We also got a similar question from Kathy:

Thank you for the Sweet Summer Love Clematis suggestion. I have several dead spruce trees that I do not want to remove (the birds love them). What other flowering vines (not self-seeding or aggressive) would be great for these trees (and my neighbors would enjoy 😉)?  I live in zone 5b.

So we thought we’d answer them both together by giving you some examples of some of our favorite woody vines that aren’t as rambunctious and poorly-behaved as trumpet vine and sweet autumn clematis. They include:

Bignonia, aka cross vine

Hardy aristolochia

Decumaria, our native climbing hydrangea relative, aka “woodvamp”

Vining honeysuckles –not invasive

Native passionflower

Native wisteria, W. frutescens

Japanese hydrangea vines like ‘Moonlight’, Flirty Girl, Rose Sensation

Do you have a question for us? We’re happy to help! E-mail us or use the contact tab above. Due to high volume, we may not get to your question, so if you need an answer quickly, please reach out via the Proven Winners website.

Branching News - Rick

  • After two fires in 100 years, this Maui banyan tree remains “in a coma.”  The survival of the 150-year-old banyan tree in Lahaina is a rallying point for the community. Its comeback will be a testament to the strength of the people of Maui for years to come. About 50 years after the tree was planted, a fire in Lahaina on New Year’s Day destroyed thirty buildings. And now, over 104 years after that fire, the tree has seen another one. Arborists from the Maui County arborist committee report seeing tissue still alive under the bark, with no significant charring, giving hope to the people of Maui. There does not seem to be a good sap flow after the fire. Since it’s not oozing out the sap, the tree is almost in a coma state and is treated as such by arborists. Current restoration efforts include a daily watering program provided by water trucks and adding a two-inch layer of compost and soil aeration. It will take four to six months to know what the future of the tree will be.   
  •  A British farm has urged visitors to stop posing naked for photographs in its field of sunflowers.
    The owners of Stoke Fruit Farm on Hayling Island, off England’s south coast, issued the unusual request on social media, having noticed a growing number of visitors stripping naked to pose for pictures among the blooms. In a post on Facebook earlier this month, the farm wrote: “Reminder to all we are a family area and please keep your clothes on in the sunflowers! We are having a increase of reports of naked photography taking place and this must not happen during our public sessions please!” Sam Wilson and sister Nette Petley run the farm that their grandfather set up. It comprises 350 acres, producing wheat, peas, potatoes, pumpkins, squash, sweetcorn, hay – and, of course, sunflowers. 
  • A Montreal runner is following 4,500-km monarch butterfly migration path to Mexico. Anthony Battah, says he hopes to inspire others to take action to protect the species. The Montreal lawyer has completed the Canadian leg of a planned 4,500-km run from Montreal to central Mexico, a cross-continental journey along the migratory path of the monarch butterfly aimed at protecting the insect’s population.
    Battah, who kicked off his Ultra-Trail Monarch campaign July 29 from Montreal’s Insectarium, finished the Canadian stretch of his run (more than 900 km) Wednesday, when he crossed the Ambassador Bridge from Windsor, Ontario, into Detroit. 
  • Goat farmer Mitzi Roy got the idea to add yoga to her herd’s business when she picked up spent beer grains at a local brewery for the goats to eat. People have asked her about using the animals to participate in yoga classes and it has become a popular activity.  Looking for goat yoga here in West Michigan? Click here – we’ve goat you covered!
  • Frustrated homeowner attempts to solve community-wide issue caused by one neighbor: a large, unmaintained swimming pool has become a mosquito breeding ground, so neighbors are resorting to throwing BT dunks over the fence. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a naturally occurring, soil-borne bacteria that has been used since the 1950s for natural insect control. The natural, soil-borne bacterium that specifically targets mosquito larvae. “Don’t ask for permission and don’t say anything,” advised one, while another added, “Just lob it over the fence like a grenade.”  
  • Stinky the Owl. A great horned owl that was rescued from a manure pit is now recovering at Raven Ridge Wildlife Center in Lancaster County. A state game warden brought the bird in on July 18 after it had been stuck in the manure pit for two days. The owl, nicknamed Stinky, had a red and injured eye. When the body started absorbing the blood over the next few days, it revealed a steel BB. The BB was removed, and there is no permanent damage to the eye. The wildlife center said shooting a great horned owl is a federal offense, as it’s a protected species (and it is a horrible thing to do, even if it weren’t protected). The owl had to be tube-fed at first. It was bathed several times, given medications and taken to a veterinarian for X-rays. Good news: Stinky is expected to be released by the fall.

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