Landscape makeovers can be almost instantaneous or can proceed gradually over several years. You may want to create a native garden, turn a wilderness into a rhododendron plantation or make a grassy slope easier to care for. Such renovations on a large scale involve heavy machinery or a herd of goats, but for smaller projects, there are three main methods: dig up the whole area; smother all existing vegetation; or keep most of it until the new plants are established.
Stream bank reclamation in New Zealand. Photo by Sheila Watkins
As a puttering gardener, I prefer the third method, especially on a slope which is vulnerable to erosion. Precious topsoil is preserved, and the transplants are protected from hot sun or extreme cold. Smaller, less expensive transplants will survive.
To plant shrubs, mow the whole area, then dig out individual holes, twice the diameter of the pots, about one metre apart. Plant, water in well, mark with a stake, and mulch.
On a stream bank reclamation project I am involved with in New Zealand, 1,500 phormium, cabbage trees, hebes and other native shrubs have been planted, where previously pasture ran down to the water’s edge. In spite of several rainless weeks, the small transplants, mostly from 10cm pots, are healthy six months later. A few look dead at first glance, but have new shoots at the base. After 18 months, the most vigorous species from last year’s planting have started to shade out the grass. Less than one per cent have died, mostly because they were swamped by high tides.
Volunteers go through the area two or three times a year, pulling out weeds and carefully cutting the long grass close to the shrubs. The rest of the grass can be cut with a weed eater. Blackberry canes are cut at the same time, and in a year or two, their roots will be dug out. Before clearing, the new plants are hard to spot in the long grass, so each one is marked with a bamboo stake between it and the river.
I carried out a similar project in North Vancouver a few years ago. There, the District Parks Department recommended a one-metre spacing between the new shrubs and ferns. Five years later, native ground covers had returned. The commitment to periodic maintenance over the first few years is vital — but the time involved over the course of a year is a lot less than that required for fortnightly lawn mowing.
— Sheila Watkins, Master Gardener