Give your yard’s shady spot a splash of color courtesy of Dear Dolores hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Wyatt LeFever’). This bigleaf or mophead hydrangea opens 8-inch flower heads all season long—pink in alkaline soil, blue in acidic. (Add aluminum sulfate to soil to make it acidic.) The first wave of flowers appears in spring, followed by blossoms from summer to fall. Prune after flowering and/or in early spring to shape the plant. This classic bloomer grows 5 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 5-9. Good to know: Mulch soil around hydrangea to help maintain moisture and keep weeds down.
Durable and easy to use, pound-in edging provides a quick solution for edging a lawn. Simply use a rubber mallet to pound individual pieces into place. With this edging, you don’t have to cut sod, except in the hardest clay soil. Pound-in edging features a polyethylene (plastic) construction, which means it holds up for years. Lawn edging usually comes in different depths. Shallower edging works well when you have hard clay soils or want an edge that’s flush with surrounding lawn. For deep weed protection, an 8-inch depth works well. Choose deeper edging (up to 12 inches) for loose, sandy soil.
Digging is at the heart of gardening, and one of the quickest ways to tuck seedlings into soil is with a hand trowel. Look for trowels with an ergonomic design to lessen hand and wrist fatigue. Trowel blades with inch markings take the guesswork out of proper planting depth. Trowels that feature a seamless handle-blade design won’t break or fall apart. Other hand tools worth considering are a short handled pick mattock (for rocky soil); a Korean hand plow (often sold as a ho-mi and one of the most versatile tools ever conceived); and a sturdy weeder (cobra head type works like a gem).
This annual weed thrives in shady areas with moist, fertile soil, but it’s adaptable and can also sprout in dry areas. Chickweed forms a low-growing crown of stems that spread and sprawl. In a planting bed, the stems crawl through perennials and annuals, showing up as far as 12 to 18 inches from the plant’s crown. In lawns, it usually shows up in thin grass with heavy, moist soil. For a small infestations, hand-pulling works fine. Try to get plants up before they set seed, which can number up to 800 per plant. For heavy infestations, look for herbicides that list chickweed. There is also a perennial chickweed that spreads by seed and stem or root pieces.
Sharp blades are vital to successful gardening, whether they come in a pair (pruners) or as single blades, like these tools. The large tool is a perennial divider. The heart-shape blade slices through the center of perennials like pudding, and the short handle provides enough space to get some real oomph behind the effort. It also makes quick work of edging a small bed. The big knife (sold as Fiskars Big Grip Knife) makes quick work of weeding, seed planting, dividing small plants and digging holes for bedding plants. A similar tool is the Japanese hori-hori knife (which can easily take the place of a trowel). While these types of bladed tools are somewhat specialized, their versatility in the garden makes them worth the investment.
The nightmare of dandelions is the deep taproot (up to 15 feet long) and puffball seedhead, which disperses seeds on every breeze. The best defense against dandelions in the lawn is growing thick, healthy turf, which means mowing at the right height and fertilizing correctly. In planting beds and paths, these familiar weeds tend to show up in the worst places, such as rooted in the center of a perennial clump or tucked right in the edge row of paving stones. The best ways to get rid of dandelions? Spray them or dig them. When spraying, kick dandelions a bit first to scuff and wound the leaves—it helps the spray penetrate better. With digging, make sure you get at least 2 inches of taproot or they’ll return as two plants.
Canada thistle brings a thorny problem to any landscape where it appears. This prickly beast grows from seed that can blow into your yard, or it can sprout from root pieces, which sneak in with bulk topsoil or mulch loads. Size varies, with many mature plants reaching 5 to 8 feet tall. In a single season, one plant can produce a 20-foot-long root system, and it only takes one piece of root to produce a plant. Control through weeding, but dig carefully and deeply to get the horizontal root. After digging, if another sprout appears, pull it, too. Or use an herbicide. The best time to spray is as soon as leaves break ground. Spray repeatedly through the growing season, and you will eventually kill it.
Also known as wild morning glory, bindweed is bad news. Hedge bindweed spreads by seed and creeping underground stems; field bindweed spreads by weeds and roots, which grow up to 30 feet deep. These plants open flowers that look like morning glory, which is why many gardeners let them grow. They’ll grow along the ground like a ground cover, but if there’s a support nearby, like a rose, fence or tree, the vines twine and climb. Since these plants are tough to eradicate, it’s important not to let any get a foothold in your yard. Pull them as soon as you see them, and continue pulling each time they emerge. It will take possibly years for the roots to exhaust, but you can eventually beat them this way. For quicker kill, apply an herbicide that kills the root. It may still take more than one treatment, but you will kill these persistent plants.