Learn from my mistakes

When I purchased my first home in 1988, I started making gardening blunders. Our landscape was flat, with 20,000 square feet of lawn and dozens of poplars and pines planted in straight lines on the borders of the properties. There wasn't a shrub or flower in sight. Visually, it was boring, to say the least. In my excitement to remedy this, I started planting.

I thought I was being so clever planting my 21⁄2-acre yard with junipers in 1989. One-gallon junipers were only $1.98. They needed little water and filled up a big area quickly. All 20 of the junipers I planted grew to be more than 6 feet wide. They became havens for ground squirrels and voles, whose gnawing killed branches on each bush. Now I have half-dead junipers that are horrible to prune or remove. Before you plant a juniper, think about its mature size and leave room for it to spread. In addition, make sure it's outside of the 30-foot wildfire defensible space zone extending from your home.

Another mistake I made was overplanting, in general. Who knew that a 1-gallon blue spruce would grow to 30 feet so quickly? The blue spruces I planted are now too close together. I have too many flowers, too many trees and too many shrubs. I have so many plants that all my time is spent pruning or cutting things out. I laugh when I see the little carts or compost bins in gardening catalogs. I generate Dumpster-sized piles every few months, which my husband burns during burn season. I have a chipper, but it can't keep up with all the vegetation I remove. I need an industrial-size chipper! I advise other gardeners to avoid these problems by thinking long-term and planting accordingly.

My third mistake is due to my curious nature. Whenever I see a seedling I am unfamiliar with, I let it grow until I know what it is. Then I decide to pull it or keep it. Thus, I have ended up with rampant growth of evening primrose, day lilies, rose campion and bur chervil. I like flowers, but not in quantities that smother everything else! The aromatic plant I thought was a wild herb turned out to be bur chervil, with nasty burs like Velcro. I'm still weeding out residual plants 19 years later. If you are unsure what a seedling is, be sure to identify it before it goes to seed.

Twenty years ago, I had more planting passion than was good for one yard. Now, I reap the benefits, or in some cases, the drawbacks of my fervor. New gardeners, take some advice from an older, wiser gardener. Think long-term and don't make more work than necessary.

For more information on gardening, contact me at 887-2252 or skellyj@unce.unr.edu, or your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at www.unce.unr.edu. "Ask a Master Gardener" at mastergardeners@unce.unr.edu


n JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension Educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

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