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It’s tough for soil to get any respect. To most people, it’s just dirt. But the truth is, soil is a miracle, a universe unto itself right under our feet. It may seem weird at first, but the soil is essentially a living thing, teeming with bacterial life (mostly in a good way) and tiny critters that enable plants to thrive in a wide variety of conditions and environments.

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It’s not uncommon for homeowners to fall out of love with their landscaping. Often, life seems to get in the way and doing “yard work” falls by the wayside as other things capture our time and attention. At best, some homeowners fall back on what we call “landscape maintenance” – completing only the most basic tasks necessary to keep wild and untamed nature in check.

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The 2018 growing season is coming to a close. Thanksgiving is behind us and the next holiday season is closing in. In Massachusetts, we’ve already had eight inches of snow dumped on us. At my company, as we’re valiantly struggling to keep working through the snow, rain, frost, and mud, I realize the mixed blessing that garden making is for me, my staff and our clients. Full of ups and downs, successes and failures, working in the landscape and with nature is not a task that anyone should take on if they expect a predictable, repeatable work environment. That isn’t a good description of the outside work life...at least not where I live.

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Shrubs are a major element in just about any landscape design, but knowing how they fit into the overall garden scheme and having knowledge of shrubs beyond the handful of traditional go-to’s is key. In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at the wonderful world of shrubs and how to break out of the “same-old, same-old” shrub selection rut.

It’s important to remember that every landscape design can be broken down into five essential layers that can help you plan your work and make better decisions about what to plant and where. The shrub niche is number three in the layering system and it’s a large one. It spans a broad height range that enables you to expand your shrub pallet beyond the usual rhododendrons, azaleas, and boxwoods that we see so often in a typical residential landscape. However, because there are so many choices that can be made, it can be a little overwhelming.

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Astilbes are one of those garden plants that are just so easy to love. Originating in Asia, there are now a number of hybrids available worldwide, providing gardeners with a wide range of choice in size, color, and growth characteristics. There are so many different species and presentations -- from short to tall, rigid to droopy, and even wispy to bushy.

Their striking good looks complement just about any garden, especially when planted with variegated hostas, grasses, and a variety of ferns. Astilbes in general are gorgeous when they are in flower and the blossom can last for quite some time. Once done flowering, their seed heads also can last a long time, adding texture and visual interest to many gardens with their vertical, bottle-brush, feathery shape. Colors range from white to pink to reds. Astilbes do well in shade to partial sun but they need moisture, so the more sun you offer, the more important it is to have a moist soil profile that enables them to handle it.  

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After bursting forth in a riot of color and greenery in the spring, our gardens can use a little “freshening” during the summer to keep them looking their best. That means removing the crusty brown flower petals and heavy seed pods that are now weighing down our plants and making our gardens look a little untidy.

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Roses can be intimidating for many gardeners. After all, roses, in their seemingly infinite variety, attract the most ardent flowering plant enthusiasts, bolstered by an enormous body of literature full of detailed advice about how to best grow and care for these ancient and treasured blooms.

The truth, though, is that roses are tough customers that can stand up to a good pruning and even tolerate mistakes more readily than many other plants. There are several types of roses to choose from, each blooming slightly differently:

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Here’s a timeless gardening truth -- after spring cleanups are completed, and mulch is refreshed in the gardens, most homeowners do not do anything more to support or prepare their landscape for the long hot days of summer.

The reason is simple. We have escaped the winter doldrums, and spring is such a gift that we accept it gratefully and simply sit back and enjoy it. Leaves spring out, the grass grows, and trees and shrubs are flowering. We are lulled into thinking that we don’t need to do anything more. But sooner than you think, the blooms are gone, the weeds explode, and you stand there, stunned, saying “what the heck happened?”

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This may seem obvious, but it bears stating here: there is a direct correlation between how long you let your landscape go without maintenance and the increased amount of work it takes to restore it.

While many folks might shake their heads and say, “well, DUH!” it’s funny how many still tackle the out-sized problem of an overgrown landscape with ineffective, status-quo pruning and trimming. The fact of the matter is, a seriously overgrown landscape needs some seriously major work. The first question is where and how to start.

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Let me start off by thanking all of you who subscribe, read, and comment on The Garden Continuum's Garden Design & Fine Gardening blog. We totally appreciate your engagement with us!

We try to keep the information concise and relevant by posting in-depth articles that we hope are helping you to develop into a better gardener and to build and maintain a beautiful landscape that brings you joy and satisfaction in every season.

But even with that focus, I'm guessing that there are times when reading an entire informational blog post isn't possible. Am I right? 

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