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Aha! Guide to Gardening

Your Garden Design Questions, Answered

Florence Boogaerts creates lush scenes for discerning clients (and shares her wisdom with students at the New York Botanical Garden). When it comes to sprucing up a yard, she doesn’t beat around the bush.

Florence Boogaerts sitting at her deskMatthew Williams1 of 2

Is there an Rx for sparse-looking hedges and shrubs?

They might need topsoil and fertilizer. Landscapers use leaf blowers, which can blow all the topsoil away. Hedges are left standing on their tippy-toes, roots exposed. Cover the roots and give them a balanced fertilizer. You can ask for one at a good local garden center.

What’s the most common mistake you see?

Creating volcanoes of mulch around the bases of trees. This actually makes it easier for insects to get into the bark and kill the tree. You want to have only a thin layer of mulch, and the mulch should be a few inches away from the base of the tree. This practice could save the lives of millions of trees.

Anything else?

Planting trees and shrubs too deeply. People think they have to dig a big hole to make it a happy plant. But if you go too far down in the soil, the roots are not capable of getting the water and nutrients they need. You want to be able to see the flare of the tree at the base of the trunk. Shrubs need a hole only as deep as the root ball.

How about some guidance on gardens?

For flat yards, I create a curving bed line. It always looks more graceful and, mysteriously, makes the yard appear bigger. As for flowers, stick with a limited palette. A good combination is blue and white with a touch of yellow. Or keep it even simpler and do plants with only white flowers. If you limit yourself, you tend to be more successful. The same holds true for types of plants. People just cannot resist adding new plants to the mix, but it ends up looking too busy. Either do a lot of one type of plant or a few big things.

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