Best way to re-do old flower bed

vegangirl(z6 VA)June 13, 2004

I have a L-shaped flower bed that is about 60 feet long, along the driveway. It's backed by an old split rail fence laid out in a zig zag pattern. There are 4 sections (one corresponding to each section of the fence.) I started this bed 24 years ago and basically neglected it for 15 years while we were working and traveling elsewhere. We came back here 6 years ago and I have been craming perennials that I have started from seeds and cuttings and rescued daffodils into it as a holding place while we are building our house. (We finally started some nursery beds to put things because the flower bed is so full). Anyway, my question is how is the best way to re-do this bed? I will have to only do one or one-half a section at a time. There are several plants that I don't want to move-red hot pokers, gas plant, and peonies. Can I dig out everything in a section that I want to move and safely keep it a day or two in the shade while I dig out weeds, add nutrients, etc? I don't want to lose anything. I have lots of grape hyacinths and other bulbs in there too and I don't know if it would be better to just dig and ignore them or try to salvage them. I really don't have the money to replace them all. When is the best time to do all this? It looks so awful that I would like to just get it over with:-)

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saypoint(6b CT)

I think it depends on the plants. Hot summer weather will add stress and make watering a constant chore for new transplants.
Plants that are drought resistant will tolerate being moved now more than those that are not. If possibly losing a season's blooms is not an issue, you can move plants anytime if it's necessary, making sure to water frequently. Waiting for cooler spring or fall weather will stress the plants less and give you a better survival rate. Irises should be moved in summer after blooming.
You can dig the daffodil and hyacinth bulbs up and replant immediately, or dry them in a shady place for a week and store them in onion bags or paper bags until fall, then replant.

If you work on one section at a time, and want to do it right away, dig up your plants, put them in plastic nursery pots in the shade and water well until you can replant. If it's for a couple of days, plastic bags are OK, again in shade and watered well. You'll have to baby them for a while until they get re-established.

Of course, some plants are nearly indestructible. Sedums can be abused horribly and will recover. I transplanted some marguerites a week or two ago, and only watered them once, and they never even wilted. They're putting out flower buds already.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2004 at 9:39PM
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vegangirl(z6 VA)

Jo, thank you for replying and for the good advice. I just read your post and looked at your photos on re-doing your gardens. The photos are lovely. I hope I will be as successful as are you!! I've pulled enough weeds out of section 1 to see the plants and be able to dig them out so it's a start:-) Now if it will just stop raining. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2004 at 4:43PM
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Sometimes I like to dig furrows in a shady location. Long trenches about a shovels depth. Heeling all the plants into the trench and slightly covering them with soil. If for any reason an emergency comes up I have taken the responsibility of creating a nursery to baby-sit my root stock and help the excess foliage wanting to wilt.

Do this to warm up youre muscles when calm and the morning hours are still cool. You'll thank yourself if the weather turns hot and plants that you couldnÂt get divided and transplanted for another day or two were left to bake. Summer is here.

In this way you can set the pace of work. DonÂt let the garden dictate when you are needing to rest the body. By preparing this way you can retire early and prepare dinner or tend to aching muscles. Gardening can be enjoyable with the heeling of plants while renovating large beds. If you need to quit in the middle of the project for a few days time you add more soil literally planting the heeled plants. Water them heavily. Just be neat when trenching. Clean work is rewarding when in a rush at the end of a long day. Keep all the soil piled neatly along one side of the trench. So it can be pulled back easily atop the plants.

At least this will give you time if preparing new beds means cultivating unexpected hard soil.

Sounds odd but I sometimes keep a kiddy pool full of water. So I can wash out the soils of tuberous roots and divide them rapidly. Once again if IÂm leaving for an emergency plants like Triadescantia Spiderwort (IÂve never spelled that one corrctly)Â.you get the idea. Some plants can sit in water for a week. Happy and able to keep thier foliage strong.

When IÂm working with woodland types such as Trilliums, Gaultheria, Troutlillies, Bloodroot, Solomons Seal, Jack in the Pulpit, Ferns, etc I have a low dividing and or transplanting death rate using the pool with enough cool water out of sunlight . Some of the old gardens IÂve worked in have these woodland perennials as part of the gardens content and they are the aristocrats of pampering.I work with them like a florist cuts stems underwater. Some needing a bucket full of soil from underneath a particular tree like a hemlock grove to be reworked into the new beds soil.

Any way youre perennials are easier. The key in my opinion if you are designing on the whim is preparing trenches to heel youre stock in case of mental block or physical exhaustion. Make sure they are well watered for the week in advance if no rain is in sight. With very large rootstock perrenials I'll leave the hose overnight on a slow drip like run to soak the plant like a true rain would. That is for the ones I really like. Such as when Transplanting Japanese maples I use this method of slow soaking. That helps.

I like to cut squares of burlap of different sizes. Many in fact. So I can place a perrenials rootball atop the square and lift the plant easily. Keeps the lawn clean also carrying around plants.

Summer plantings can require unsightly wells for each grouping or individual plant. This will be invaluable come summer drought and heat. More so in Virginia. I keep a pole or thin crowbar and poke a few holes around the well as I water. Sticking the hose into the hole and soaking the soil from bottom up. Cinching the hose to limit the flow of water so as not to rush water out of the hole poked by the bar. Its slow but the air pockets get saturated with water. I never liked pounding the surface with water knowing the bottom of the plant might still be dry. This is great for kids to try. They love mudpies. And its a good way to reming plants need care and water.

On another note:
I spent my summers in Virginia with my mothers parents. My grandmother was a gardener and painter. She had to deal with those hot summer days and nights with that orange clay soil that would bake like a potters kiln. A big change from the North East garden she tended. Near Roanoke, Town of Huddleston across from Lynchburg. Smith Mountain Lake. Appalachian Power Company Dam Project. Virginia makes my heart ache. I miss her. Appalachian trial. Chatanooga River and North- South Carolina into Georgia. What a magical place. And the round bails of straw! Used to hide in those when the farmer would come chasing me and a friend occasionally shootin Rock salt from a shot gun. WeÂd be taking all his catfish from the cattle pond. To make up for his large sized stock weÂd put little ones from the lake into the pond. Mr. Wilkerson.Âs pond. Surrounded by hundreds of acres of Tobacco, Corn and straw fields. I donÂt know who the guy that was shooting was. Never really got a good look since it was always in the night. I still think it was the guy adjacent to the farm or down the road.. IÂd see him fishing the same pond during the morning daylight. I could recognize that hunched over back form from the night silhouette. We were a crazy pair of kids about fourteen years old.. Picking Tobacco worms off the plants all day., Placing Tobacco into the slated wood inside the barn to cure for pocket money. That stuff burnt a whole in my cheeks chewing it half dried. WeÂd pocket a bunch of leaves for the nights fishing. The closest store was an hours drive more or less. To far to walk. Pass time spitting.Cicadas and lightning bugs. I swore I caught more catfish spitting tobacco juice onto my chicken liver and bread. Sometimes the mosquitoes were so bad we would leave the poles and bury ourselves into the round straw bails.Falling asleep not realizing a light rain passed through. Untill a lightning crashed our sleep. Lightning seems to have a livlier personality while cruising across Virginia Farmland. Like its waiting to get you. After a while we kept one bail as our secret stash of fishing gear. Kept the cooler inside to. We were typical mischevious adventerous boys. But my friend was another local farmers son so at leat my Yankee butt had some protection. And he made sure I learned the local slang over those years so as to fit in. It sucked to come back to N.Y. where the kids never understood the finer parts of growing up. The better half of the English language. Southern accents made me feel like I'd live a longer life. That laid back tommarows a new day attitude. My N.Y. friends all went to summer camps. While I was living a summer like a by gone era. We even used Mr Wilkersons Outhouse. He had no plumbing and was a millionaire. He liked me. And for A while I hated Yanks just keep him from finding out I was a yank. Everyone including adults were afraid of him. He disliked the D.C. folk and New Yorkers buying up his lakefront land. His lots a few years later were fetching two hundred thousand dollars each. . Around 1992. He was smart and wealthy.But I wish to this day he could have kept his land. I saw the pain in his eyes to see the others moving onto his familly land. Guess me being a kid he adopted me as a local kid.I had the tanned skin and orange stained shoes to look like the rest. Along with the fresh cured tobacco hanging out of pockets. Never asking where I was from. Making me feel at home.Sitting on his front porch the local newcomers who bought his land were in disbelief to see me with him. They never spoke to him after the sale of land. But went rushing over to my Grandparents to rat me out. They didnt like most of the locals. But acted like fakes when face to face. Saying hello and being all proper. Funny how adults acted looking back at those summer months gone by. Mr. Wilkerson wanted nothing to do with those rude obnoxious people. And in that sense I felt the animosity still pent up from the civil war. He was honest. He let me know that the South still is proud and alive. A way of life. I felt what books couldnt ever teach. I was an impressionable youth. But my Grandparents were New yorkers retired on his land so I was fearfull to talk. I always just sat quietly. Looking out into the fields. Letting Mr. Wilkerson talk on the rare occasion. And I now feel like the luckiest kid from New York to meet Old Mr. Wilkerson who was a southern gentleman. I understood then how silence means being respectfull of the other persons viewpoint. I was silent out of fear. But I learned a southern viewpoint on Northerners buying up the soil his family and generations before had tilled. That must be like adding salt to old wounds.

I miss the South. Hope my grandparents donÂt read this. My summers in Virginia were quite peaceful months to their recollection.

Sorry for the lengthy post. Gardening is giving so many flashbacks of past experiences I want to let them loose.


    Bookmark   June 16, 2004 at 2:23AM
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vegangirl(z6 VA)

Ricky, thanks for the excellent gardening tips! I enjoyed reading your memories of the South. We are fortunate to live in the mountains where the day temps rarely get above the 80's and the nights always cool down to the 50's and 60's. No orange clay soil either:-) I spent my entire childhood and most of my adulthood here and I understand perfectly what you are saying. How lucky you were to be able to spend your summers in the South on a farm. I have traveled to 46 states and two other countries and would not want to live anywhere else than right here, in this very "holler" by this very creek LOL.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2004 at 8:44AM
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ginger_nh(z4 NH)

Plastic shopping and grocery bags can be used to hold the sturdiest plants for quite a while if you don't want to put everything in a holding bed. Tough plants like sedums,hostas, and daylilies can last for months in plastic bags; just water the divisions after placing in the bag, then roll the bag tops down a bit for air and to keep the plants cool. Bag handles make moving the plants around easy as well.

Most perennials are quite forgiving when being moved or divided, although there is an optimum time for each variety. Check out Tracy DiSabato-Aust's The Well-Tended Perennial Garden for detailed information according to variety. Spring or fall are the best times for division.
Put all your bulbs in a container of some sort as you find them. Then sort and replant; bulbs are expensive, I think.

This is a big undertaking. Work goes faster and is more pleasant with a helper: paid, unpaid, working for free divisions and bulbs, as a gift to you for birthday, anniversary or other celebration - do you have any prospects??!!

Ricky's answer was lovely indeed.


    Bookmark   June 18, 2004 at 12:01AM
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vegangirl(z6 VA)

Ginger, thanks for the good tips! Yes, I do have prospects of help, husband and two adult kids:-) They don't have time to help me full time but I know I can expect help.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2004 at 7:34AM
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BrierSnelling(Z4 NH)

Though possibly too late for your project, I wanted to share our two year flower bed makeover. In our case, we had several formal and informal beds/gardens of various sizes. Using many of the techniques already posted as far as care of the plants while they were out of their regular homes, we were dividing. Armed with two wheelbarrows and one lawn tractor drawn cart, I would fill the cart with compost, remove plants one section at a time, and dig the soil out. Each shovel was sifted though a framed screen that fit over one of the wheelbarrows. Stones, stray grass/weed plants & roots were then dumped into the other wheelbarrow for disposal. The sifted soil was mixed with the compost and shoveled into the excavated garden spot. This process took time but the result was fantastic. We will be doing it again and again though we are timing the gardens over a five year period. To the best of my knowledge we did not lose a single plant. Happy gardening. Steve

    Bookmark   July 5, 2004 at 12:01PM
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vegangirl(z6 VA)

Steve, no, not too late! We haven't started the project yet. I like your idea of sifting the soil. We have some old screens we can use. Do you have an idea of how many square feet of bed you can re-do in a given time?

    Bookmark   July 14, 2004 at 6:38PM
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