Feb 1, 2006 | Gardening, General

Spring is just around the corner — we hope! Do you have any ideas? Hints? Comments? Contact Us! Any ideas about rabbit-resistant plants? Or, better still, plants that are both deer-resistant AND rabbit-resistant?

We are proud to present the first ideas we’ve received so far!


Walking is a wonderful form of excercise! Walking around our complex is not only healthy, it is very enjoyable. In the past few weeks, we’ve been able to watch the daffodils, tulips and flowering trees bloom. I’m sure the grass has never been such a perfect shade of green.

Another good exercise is bending. Why not combine the two and carry a bag when you go walking? (You might also want to wear a gardening or plastic glove.) When you see litter, pick it up and put it in your bag. If you see a yellow sign on a stick saying, “remove after 24 hours,” put this in your bag also. The Chairperson of the Gardening Committee has granted special dispensation and you may put this bag in the dumpster if you desire.

The advantages of the above combination of exercises are threefold:
  • They are good for your health and appearance
  • It will help our complex look better
  • We won’t have to pay the maintenance crew for additional time to do this for us

If you can help, it will be greatly appreciated by all of us!



By Mike Fletcher

The snow’s melted, the ground is thawed, the daffodils are starting to show, and you’re getting that itchy feeling to start planting. All right, not everyone gets that itchy feeling, unless it’s athlete’s foot, but this article is meant for those with an urge to get their hands dirty.

If you look around our complex, you will see mature trees and shrubs which have thrived here. This obviously means that flowers, shrubs and trees will do quite well here. However, (isn’t there always a however?) in order to be successful in your planting efforts you need to be aware of the major flaw with our grounds. We have a heavy wet clay soil. Dig down more than 8” and you will see that red and sometimes blue clay which is under this whole area. Clay retains moisture longer than a sandy soil but when it dries out it can turn rock hard. Neither is ideal for plant roots. Even the topsoil around here is far from the ideal loamy soil which makes green thumbs happy.

The trick to dealing with a heavy clay soil is to add some organic matter to the soil before you plant. Organic matter softens the soil allowing small roots to grow easily. It helps the soil to retain moisture for a longer period without getting soggy and drowning the roots. It also provides the plants with some nutrients as well. As the organic matter gradually decomposes, it releases the nutrients which have been stored in it.

An important aspect about organic matter is not to use new organic matter. Plant material decomposes through the action of soil bacteria, fungi, worms and other critters. The first thing that happens when new organic material starts to decay is that these soil “bugs” start to reproduce like crazy. In doing so they will rob the soil of its existing nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus. Flowers or perennials planted in this soil will languish for weeks before the soil recovers. Use partially decomposed organic material or add some balanced fertilizer to the soil when you add new organic material.

Mulching is another aspect of planting. Mulch will help retain soil moisture, will keep soil temperatures stable, and will keep weeds to a minimum. In the landscape beds we use a heavier mulch around the trees and shrubs. Around flowerbeds a lighter mulch might look nicer.

I am in charge of which trees and shrubs get planted where. The Association has a budget for replacement trees and shrubs each year. Choosing the type of bush or tree to plant depends not only on the design but also on the location. There are many shrubs – rhododendron, holly, hemlock – which can’t take full sun. Likewise there are many shrubs – lilac, mugho pine, sand cherry – that don’t do very well in the shade. Others, like arborvitae, some junipers, and tall hedge, do equally as well on the north or the south sides of the buildings. Location, location, location. Sun is not the only determinate when picking plants. Is the ground very wet or does it drain away? Some bushes – upright junipers, mountain ash – do not like “wet feet.” Also, does your plot get morning or afternoon sun? The afternoon sun is much hotter than morning sun. It tends to dry out the soil and the plants very fast so frequent watering is needed.

Flowers, with the exception of begonias, impatiens and some other succulent plants, will usually tolerate and love full sun. Be careful when choosing your variety at the nursery. Virtually all nurseries now have a small tag which tells the buyer how much sun the plant needs.

Many of the landscape planting on the market now come with variegated (two color) leaves. Many also come with yellowish or purple leaves. Most of these mutations gain their different colors by producing a chemical which hides the green chlorophyll a plant needs to grow. The vast majority of these plants will only do their best in full sun. Many times these plants will not show their bi-color traits if they are planted in the shade. Remember, everything comes with a “however.” Read the tag which comes with the plant or ask the nurseryman.

Perennials are becoming more and more popular. They provide interest, color, and flowers year after year. Remember to check up on the long-term traits of some of these plants. Some will reproduce quickly and crowd out other plants and flowers. Also, some perennials only produce flowers at a specific time of the season. You might be disappointed in what the plant looks like the rest of the year. I have developed a love of hostas. They come in innumerable varieties of color and leaf size. They tolerate poor soil well and usually grow vigorously. I’m not overly enamored with their flowers because they have small flowers spaced widely on a tall stalk so the show is not impressive. There is no need to protect them over the winter because every year they die back to the ground.

Finally, we have the problem with critters. Squirrels, mice, voles, rabbits and deer. Yes, we have all these animals cohabitating with us in the Charter Communities. Actually, the deer problem has declined quite a bit in recent years. They do seem to sporadically visit the outskirts of our property. They love the outer twigs of arborvitae, taxus, flowering trees, burning bush and sand cherry. They won’t touch junipers (I myself try not to – they’re sharp), lilacs, dogwoods, tall hedges, and forsythia. The same can be true of many of the smaller rodents. During the winter these guys can do significant damage to fruit trees and burning bushes by eating their bark. During the summer we also have the chipmunks. These rodents have the good sense to sleep away the winter but will trim the succulent new growth off just about anything, including flower tops, when they finally wake up. We really do not have an inordinate number of these critters, but when you’ve found the plants that you’ve lavished your attention on cut off about 3” above the ground, one critter is too many. There are some deterrents you can buy which are supposed to keep rodents away. Remember, if you find one that works you will probably have to reapply it after every rain.

The Board has encouraged homeowners to plant flowers throughout our complex. We do ask though that you not plant too much in the front beds. We have had occasions where lilies have taken over a bed and crowded out the shrubs that the Association has paid for. Also, too many perennials can give a messy look to the front beds which detracts from the landscape design. Around patios, in pots on the balconies, and occasionally on the sides of buildings are ideal places for homeowners to exercise their green thumbs.

Spring weather will soon be here so happy planting. If you do find that that itch was indeed athlete’s foot rather than an urge to plant, visit the local drug stores. There are many products on the market to cure that problem.

More Gardening Tips:

  • In the spring, daffodils flourish but something ate every tulip.
  • The animals don’t like marigolds but neither do I – they need constant deadheading.
  • Hostas do very well in Charter Oaks but the rabbits that reside in Chappelle Villas think we only plant them for their dinner.