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GARDENING : Know Your Needs--and the Plants'


If maintaining the home landscape is more work than pleasure, changes are in order. Start by determining what you and the family like, dislike or have no strong opinion about. Then have a little fun by making a game plan--Keep It Simple.

Is it worth the effort, for example, to maintain a lawn? My home once had a gorgeous one. There was tiffgreen Bermuda in the summer and, Phoenix being a subtropical climate, even greener rye grass all winter.

But I had to empty the mower's grass catcher seven or eight times a week. The lawn was used less and less. Water bills kept climbing.

So decomposed granite and native shrubs and trees looked increasingly attractive. Now I fill only one grass catcher with each mowing. The saving in time alone is considerable.

One person's solution, of course, can be another's horror story. However, the basic idea is to simplify maintenance by eliminating the unnecessary.

If you've moved to a different climate, forget nostalgia. Heroic urban horticulture may keep alive longtime favorites from other states. But it's usually time-consuming, expensive and self-defeating. Can you even tell the difference between the East's lilac and the West's ceanothus?

It also makes sense to understand the cultural needs of your plants. Can they be replaced with something better or simpler to maintain?

Hybrid tea roses are a good example. Their floral display is seldom matched. Yet they need enormous care. One solution: Have a hybrid tea or two for cut flowers and replace the others with less demanding types such as floribundas or shrub roses.

Avoid scattered plantings. If cutting grass, can you keep going for long periods without backing and turning? Does a certain shrub have to be where it impedes the mower?

Fertilizer applications often can be simplified with slow-release types. They're a wonderful convenience and unmatched in container culture. Just be careful that timing of the application doesn't induce plant growth when it should be slowing.

Perhaps stone or gravel would look better in areas under garden benches or house overhangs.

Is a raised flower bed called for? Does foot traffic make grass a losing battle in a certain area, dictating paving? Would a ground cover hide litter from a tree? Do some plants always seem to be nibbled by grasshoppers, attacked by aphids or sunburned? Does a tree or shrub require too frequent pruning or leaf raking?

A pre-emergent herbicide will control many weeds before they start. Vegetation-killing sprays formulated with glyphosate are among the most important gardening developments in recent years. Even traditional toughies such as Bermuda are a soft touch. But don't get it close to anything green you want to keep.

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