Garden Makeover: Tips for Editing an Existing Garden

This summer are you looking around your garden and finding that it needs a change? There are many reasons why a garden might need minor editing or a complete overhaul. Find them here plus tips and strategies for changing up your garden to better fit its spaces and your life.
Some reasons you might desire a garden makeover:

  • Plants have outgrown their spaces, creating a crowded and cluttered look or forcing out less vigorous growers.
  • Maturing trees and shrubs or new construction has created more shade than there was when the garden was planted, and “full sun” plants are no longer blooming or thriving.
  • Your needs have changed—perhaps you want a garden that includes a sitting area, or you want your garden to provide fruits and vegetables instead of only ornamental appeal.
  • Your ability or availability has changed—perhaps a different work schedule, additions to the family or new hobbies have reduced the time you can spend working on your garden, or maybe you’ve had a change in health that limits the tasks you can perform.
  • Your taste or interests have changed—maybe you want to incorporate more locally native plants into your garden, you want to attract more birds or butterflies or you want to create a garden that appeals to all five senses.

Strategies for a garden makeover:

  • Assess your needs, desires and availability as well as the garden’s plants and structures. How is it all working together?
  • Take photos of your garden spaces in different seasons. Study the images for things that could be changed, in addition to spending time within the garden assessing its appeal. For some reason it can be easier to see opportunities for improvement and come up with ideas when looking at photos, rather than standing in the garden itself.
  • Consider the garden’s present conditions (light, moisture level, soil) and decide which of the current plants are thriving in these conditions. When considering new and replacement plantings, make sure they match up with the space and conditions.
  • Plan your garden makeover from start to finish. It all doesn’t have to happen at once; match up the timeline to your budget and availability (or availability of professionals if you’re seeking their services). Start with any changes to hardscaping and large trees and shrubs. If you’re adding lighting or irrigation systems, schedule those after large plants have been removed but before more plants have been added. Improve the soil before planting. Planting comes last.

Horticulture contributor and former nursery woman Julie Lane-Gay offers this example timeline for a garden makeover:

Early fall or spring:

  • Remove dead trees and shrubs. Prune large trees if needed.
  • Modify or replace patios or decks. These new surfaces can be great spots for planters, which will offer a creative planting outlet while your larger project goes on.
  • If desired, put in new paths or fencing, water features, irrigation, lights.
  • Tidy things up and reassess the garden’s new bones. If it looks too bare (in spring), consider scented geraniums and other annuals for filler plants in sun or part shade, as they’ll fill in very quickly, flower all summer and cost little. Use abundantly planted containers to distract the eye.

The next fall or spring:

  • If you are removing the lawn, dig it up now.
  • Get a bulk delivery of well-rotted manure or compost and amend existing soil 6 inches deep where the lawn was, 12 inches deep where there were trees or large shrubs and 4 inches deep in other beds.
  • Choose and plant new trees and shrubs carefully, asking yourself: Are they suited to the sun or shade and to the surrounding plants? Will they have enough room when they are full grown?
  • Plant food crops, perennials, annuals and grass seed or sod.
  • Take time to enjoy your garden and the process!

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