Designing Landscaping In The Midwest

If you live in the Midwest, there's no shortage of plants for you to choose from to create a beautiful and water-efficient landscape in your yard.

Landscaping your yard can be a huge problem if you install plants that aren't meant to be in your climate zone. Unhappy plants mean more work for you, and that's the last thing you want. After all, your garden and yard should be a joy, not a chore. More and more people are turning to a method of landscaping called xeriscaping, and if you live in the Midwest, there's no shortage of plants suited to your area.

Xeriscaping - from the Greek word "xeros", which means "dry" -- is a method of landscaping which uses the area's natural climate - from sunshine to rainfall - to grow plants. That means that your plants should grow just fine without any additional watering - perfect if you're in an area prone to summer droughts. You don't have to make your entire garden water-efficient, but if you cluster your thirsty plants together in one spot, and keep the drought-resistant ones in another area, it will help cut back on your water usage tremendously.

It's also a good idea to do a soil test before you begin any large landscaping or gardening project. Contact your local university extension for a test kit, and they'll provide you with an analysis that will tell you what elements your soil is lacking. You can add those elements to the ground later. The soil itself is key in keeping a well-landscaped yard drought-resistant. You'll want rich, organic soil. Sandy soil or dirt with heavy clay will need to be amended with compost before you can really begin gardening.

Mulching is another important part of landscaping. Choose good quality mulch, because it not only keeps the moisture in, it prevents weeds from sprouting and stealing the water from your plants. Some gardeners like to use a tiered landscaping approach, which is perfect if your property is uneven or hilly. You can section off different areas with stones or bricks for a layered effect.

Finally, choosing the right plants is crucial in any landscaping project. If you live in the Midwest, you may live in an area that has high humidity, a rainy season, and a drought phase all in the same summer! That means you'll need plants which are shade-tolerant, dry-spell resistant, and can stand cold winters and hot summers. Consider planting drought-resistant perennials as the foundation of your landscape or some of the silvery-leaved foliage - herbs do very well and require little maintenance.

Plants that do well in sunnier parts of the yard: Peonies, oriental poppies, stonecrop, yarrow, black-eyed Susan, Echinacea (coneflower), mints, day lilies, coltsfoot or butterfly bushes.

Plants that do best in a shady spot: Hosta, columbine, bleeding heart, periwinkle, monk's hood, violets, primrose or lobelia.

Some gardeners eliminate their lawn completely in favor of xeriscaping, going on the principal that lawns are useless - your kids trample all over them anyway - and basically just green ground cover. If that seems too extreme for you, at least be sure to use grass that's suited to your climate and temperature zone. If you're not sure which zone you're in, check with either a local garden supply store or a university extension. In most parts of the Midwest, you can plant dwarf fescue for a substantial amount of savings on your water bill. It's a hardy grass that is water-thrifty, and it looks nice, too. You can stimulate early spring grass growth by mowing your yard early in the season, and mowing often. Unless your grass is really heavy and thick, use your mower's mulching blade to return the grass to the soil.

Native wildflowers are always a lovely addition to any yard. Midwestern homeowners can also add a number of ornamental grasses to create depth and dimension to their landscaping. Be careful with both of these, though - the self-seeders will spread around the yard, and you may find flowers or grass popping up in places you didn't expect them.

Trees are beautiful, but many people make the mistake of planting them in the spring. In the Midwest, fall is actually the best time to plant new trees. Select container-grown plants, and avoid the balled, burlap-wrapped trees.

Some people refer to a weed as just a flower that blooms where you don't want it. Most folks, however, don't think of weeds as pretty, but as a nuisance that needs to be eliminated. Mulching your beds will keep weeds from getting too out of hand, but sometimes they'll just pop up in random spots - like all those sunny yellow dandelions that suddenly appear in your yard some May morning. In that case, you can either pull them out by hand - if you do, make certain you get all the way to the root - or you can use a spray-on chemical treatment. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's directions, and keep children and pets out of the way while you're treating the lawn.

Take the time to do a little planning and research before landscaping. No matter which part of the Midwest you live in - from the cool ranges up north to the dryer, hotter climes of the south - you should be able to find the right selection of plants for your yard. With a little tender loving care, they'll give you years of fragrance, flowers, and tranquility.

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