Congratulations on your new home. I imagine you’re really excited to get settled in and make the place your own.
The yard is overgrown? You don’t like dogwood trees? The ground looks too bare? The lawn is weedy? You have always loved rhododendrons near the front door like you had while living on the west side of the mountains.
Wait. Work on the house. Spend all your time and energy inside the house this year, and don’t touch the landscape. Just wait.
Wait one year — yes, that is four seasons and 12 months — before you do anything drastic. How do you know what is in the yard or what will appear? If you do not know the names of the plants, you cannot cut them out. They may be providing your winter interest — or your fall colors. What perennials are going to color your yard in July? Did you admire the sprays of tulips in April?
Wait to get familiar with what is thriving in your landscape. Then, you will learn the light patterns.
Most people tear out what they don’t like and insert what they love — even if it is in the wrong spot by being too hot or too shady.
Wait to learn the function the current landscape plants play in your yard — be it shading the deck, providing privacy or noise control, or creating a colorful accent.
Wait to see what is diseased or misshaped so you can make a plan to replace it next year. If you cut it out, you won’t be able to avoid making the same mistakes.
If all else fails, and you just can’t stand it, mow the lawn till it meets your expectations — but don’t get out the loppers, chain saw, backhoe or turf cutter.
Patience is necessary in the garden. I have witnessed the horror of people moving into an established landscape who made it “their own” immediately.
• Horror No. 1: This family moved into the house in the late summer and immediately decided to eliminate the weeds by laying down landscape fabric and bark all over the yard, leaving little holes for some of the bushes and wacking back the ones that were “overgrown” or too big. In the spring, hundreds of bulbs poked up and through the landscape cloth and undid the purpose of the barrier. Then, none of the dozens of late spring flowering shrubs bloomed since the buds were cut off last fall. Because it was so dry after the cuts were made, the branches of shrubs and trees died back. The weeds appeared in mass! They were, just as the previous year, mostly annual cheat grass whose seeds had blown in and grew in the bark and the bits of wind-blown soil just fine.
• Bad example No. 2: The shrubs and trees were too big and obscured the views, so the proud new owners chopped back the tops of the shrubs and limbed up the trees as soon as they moved in that first February. By July, they realized that some of the missing vegetation was what had made the patio and deck livable in the hot summer days. Then the shrubs got even by growing masses of new whippy growth that got as tall as it had been previously and even thicker. This was because it takes several years of selective pruning to rejuvenate an overgrown shrub, and now the shrubs were more unruly than ever.
• Bad example No. 3: My house. I followed my advice and did nothing in the landscape except revitalize the lawn the first full year. I needed to learn my landscape’s sun and shade even before I put in an irrigation system. The bad news is that the house desperately needed a paint job — the little remaining paint on the house was peeling off in strips revealing bare wood. I chose a color that would be the perfect backdrop for the landscape I wished to create. Except, I moved in the house in May after the very pink dogwood had bloomed — and it clashes horribly with the house color. So I am stuck with an unhappy color combination for the month of April. I have considered cutting the tree, but it is a landscape focal point for 11 months of the year.
The bottom line is new homeowners need to educate themselves first about the plants in the landscape. The WSU Master Gardeners can identify the plants and their characteristics and can provide lists of shade and sun plants that will thrive in our climate. Call 667-6540 before you cut.
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in the At Home section. Bonnie Orr is one of three columnists featured.