Feb 28, 2014

Fix My Bush

Fix My Fireplace garnered some useful tips from readers.  Your ideas helped me morph the poop colored brick and 1990s brass:

Into this:

Now that the inside is tight, I'd like to work outside this spring.  Once the permafrost melts in April/July, I'll soak some vitamin D from the sun and reboot my landscape.

Here's what things look like when spring showers wake the lawn and rhododendrons beg for attention:

Shading the front is a 40' pin oak and mature hard maple.  The rhodo's will stay in place.  Everything else is getting axed.  River rock, nondescript bushes and evergreen shrubs that smell funny are going kablooey.

My parameters are simple, these five:

-Max spend is $1,500
-Low maintenance (no water or fertilizer)
-Yard has lots of shade and -20F in the winter, so plants need to be tough and tolerate low light
-I'm fairly set on replacing the river rock with chunks of black coal
-Landscaping should mesh with the character of the house, so simple, clean and nothing crazy

I need to give Google a workout for some ideas.  Ornamentals like reedgrass and fountaingrass are promising:

Some grasses hit 8 feet, so I'll need to be careful about placement and avoid windows.  I suppose the idea is you stagger species of different heights, so will keep an eye on dimensions and growth rate when mapping this out.

Miniature Japanese maple (below) and weeping cherries look nice, although maybe I don't want more trees since there are two big boys out front already.

Hostas are tough and drink the shade, but dull on the eyes and everyone has them.  Maybe in moderation:

Whittled hedges are comely but prissy for my ranch and high maintenance, so nope:

Let me know what ideas you have to fix my bush.  Send me links and tips, we'll get the front yard looking fresh this spring.  The backyard also needs help, but I don't want to think about that right now.



  1. The grasses need a lot of light to thrive - I know, I've got some pretty crappy looking grasses out front because I live in denial and love them. Ferns are nice in the shade, low maintenance - don't know how tolerant they are. Would LOVE to see a photo of the coal you have in mind.

    1. Coal looks good, got the idea when I saw it used as landscaping rock at an airport. Images on Google are rare. This is close, but probably volcanic rock vs. coal: http://www.houzz.com/photos/943676/Sunset-Idea-House-asian-landscape-san-francisco

      I want softball size boulders of anthracite coal.

    2. Here's anthracite, carbon black w/luster:


    3. Anonymous3/03/2014

      Ferns are cold-tolerant. They poke their little green shoots up every spring (May) here in Saskatchewan

    4. Ferns are so sassy.

    5. Anonymous3/06/2014

      Don't do it! Ferns are the absolute devil to dig up, should you change your mind after a year or two.

    6. Warned you those ferns are all sassy.

  2. There are some grasses that thrive no matter what. I'm trying to remember one that we have that does... pampas grass? I think that's it. Anyway, my advice is to research which plants are native to your location and go heavy on those. They will more easily thrive, they will enhance the soil more than burden it, and basically be a friend to your local ecosystem.

    Because we are coastal, our county requires us to plant X number of native plants after certain projects (like building a deck) for the reasons above and to offset the environmental impact of such projects, but I think the idea of native plants works anywhere.

    1. That's a good idea, I'll do some digging to learn what was growing here 100 yrs ago. The native brush would tolerate the brutal winter here, plus it would cool to restore what once was. There's a large prairie a few miles outside of Des Moines that seeds native grasses and brush. They should be able to help me get started: http://www.beardandpigtails.com/2013/06/prairie-pow-wow.html

  3. Hostas are my jam. So hard to kill and there are a ton of varieties. The leaves also come in many colors/sizes from elephant ear to delicate mouse ears. Plus they're perennials. Iris and day lilies also don't mind shade and offer a full season of color depending on type. I like to also layer spring bulbs (plant every few years) so you get early crocus then tulips and daffodils then Lilies and hostas.

    Succulents are my other fave. There are tons of hardy sedum varieties that are very cool and a lot flower so they don't just stay stagnant. They'd also look cool with black rock.

    Final question: what is your desired winter look? Perennials look dead and only evergreens really look decent in colder climates. I'm ok with that but my hydrangeas look like dead sticks in the snow. Some grasses will hold their shape over the winter but a strong snow could make them collapse. Your local garden center is a good source for what works we well in your area. My grasses were also annuals so I only got one year. Rhodies keep their leaves but if given 20 years can grow bigger than your house. All bushes require some pruning.

    1. It's been a challenge to get the grass growing out front. Comes in strong May and June, then the oak and maple leaves bloom strong and block all light, choking the grass. The only thing that somewhat works is plugging fertilizer sticks around the yard. This feeds the tree roots with some leftovers for the grass to munch on.

      I've got a few hostas plugged out front, those puppies multiply like rabbits and are stout against shade, drought and heat. Will keep them in place, but they're boring and everyone has them.

      Hadn't considered succulents, usually I think of those in a small indoor planter for dry, warm weather. Will check out the sedum variety you mentioned. Not too concerned about the yard for winter, it all gets coated in snow and everything's shriveled.

      3" of powder dropped last night and the wind chill's 20 below zero right now. Average temp's supposed to be 40 by now, running outside has been terrible, spring needs to get a move on it.

  4. I'm sure you've read this - but it might be worth hiring a landscape designer. YHL did this a few years ago. Here is the post: http://www.younghouselove.com/2012/04/the-wilderness/

    You could go to Home Depot and guess or hire a professional to protect your $1,500 investment.

    Just my $.02.

    1. That looks to be a pretty good deal, YHL paid $60 for a one hour consultation with a landscaper that knows what they're doing. Picking the right plants for the soil, temp, shade, plus the different growth rates, height, color and all that jazz makes it easy to get lost quickly. I'll see what's available around here for help, thanks!

    2. I neglected to mention that our local greenhouse (I'm assuming we don't live in the same town) offers a spring landscaping special with consulting services. Of course they expect for you to purchase their products, but they offer the same warranty as HD or Lowe's.

  5. Don't neglect your local universty/college extention. Besides guiding you to local flora, you may find the price is right.

    1. Thank you, I'll tuck that into my bush binder.

  6. I would worry about the sulfur in the coal changing the ph of your soil as it leaches out. Depending on the plants that you install, it could cause serious issues for your new plants and existing bushes/trees.

    As far as what to install, I can't be of much direct help, but I would recommend to do a little research, learn your zone (I am in Zone 7a but have a couple of spots in my yard that can stretch to Zone 8 plants). Also, as with most of life, don't be dogmatic (You must plant natives! You must grow food!) and don't be fooled by anyone trying to sell low-maintenance gardens. As someone that is currently finishing installing the hardscaping and structure in my yard, I can tell you to do what makes you (and your family) happy while not worrying about the neighbors, et al (assuming you don't have to keep an HOA happy).


  7. Anonymous4/23/2014

    In front of our 1950s rancher we had weigelas (variegated like so: http://www.marshalltreesandnursery.com/Variegated-Weigela.asp). In front of those were various spring bulbs to brighten it up before the leaves of the weigela came on: think tulips, hyacinth, daffodils and lilies. They're early enough in spring shade shouldn't be too big of an issue. Later added some wine and roses weigela (darker leaves and blooms) and miniature versions of the same on the other side. Red dogwoods are nice as their branches remain red throughout the winter. Miniature burning bushes work well as well. I'd nix any idea of ferns. Hostas are nice in moderation (and good to cover up the dead foliage from the early bloomers).


Thanks for the note, check back for my response!