Winter's the time to reassess, reorganize, and prune your garden

Use the starkness of the winter months to assess your garden and make changes , then use the rest of the year to enjoy the fruits of your foresight.

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    If you'd like a spring garden that looks a bit like this Irish gem, now's the time to start planning how to achieve it.
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For many gardeners, the new year starts in September with lawn renewal, followed by the planting of bulbs, shrubs, and trees well into the autumn.

For others, it starts in February or March with the selection of a fresh array of seeds for the flower and vegetable beds.

So aside from finishing with the leaves and other leftover autumn jobs, this is a pretty slack time for gardeners.

But slack time for work does not mean slack time for thinking.

In the next couple of weeks, put your gardener's mind to work on what's right and what's wrong with your garden.

The landscape is now at its barest point in the year, which gives an opportunity to assess whether the trees and major shrubs enhance the setting of your house, or are so tall and wide that the house is obscured (or at least diminished).

Sometimes removing lower limbs and gently thinning the canopy can make a shade tree look better without reducing its value in blocking summer sun.

Shrubs, too, can be spruced up with pruning. The general rule for flowering shrubs is to prune after bloom, but evergreens such as hollies, boxwoods, laurels and privets can be pruned before the growing season starts.

Also be on the lookout for where a path might be needed, perhaps leading to a garden shed, the trash cans or the children's play area.

Such paths are easy to make with paving stones, sold in many shapes at large garden centers. You will have to kill or dig up the grass around them, because mowing may not be practical. It looks nice to give your pavers a couple of inches or more outside the perimeter of the walkway.

In spring, you may see this as a nice place for low-growing herbs, ground covers such as ajuga, or perennials chosen for the amount of sun or shade in the area. Or you may just use nice-looking mulch.

Surveying your garden will help you decide whether your shrubs attract too many insects, are in the wrong place and demand annual pruning to keep them at the right size, or just aren't attractive.

As I have says many times over the years, plants are not people. They aren't even pets. They are there to look good, provide enjoyment, enhance your house and make you happy.

So if a plant isn't working for you, take it out. This gives you the opportunity to replace it with something better.

When you do this, consider the year-round beauty of your landscape.

I think we have passed the time when people put all their space and money into the spring landscape filled with azaleas, camellias and dogwoods.

Yet there is still not enough attention paid to the autumn and winter landscape. Encore azaleas help add color to the fall garden, but many more good shrubs and trees can brighten up these seasons.

A garden should have something beautiful every day of the year.

This could be blooms (such as camellias in fall and winter), beautiful bark (such as that of the Natchez crape myrtle), and silhouette (such as a leafless willow oak or Japanese maple).

All these attributes help make the garden beautiful year-round.

Start by assessing the attributes of every major plant you have. Give points for flowers and form, demerits for inappropriate size and the trouble factor. Consider all this and decide which might go.

That done, you can seize an opportunity to meet your goal of year-round beauty.

Editor’s note: For more on gardening, see the Monitor’s main gardening page, which offers articles on many gardening topics. Also, check out our blog archive and our RSS feed. You may want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. Take part in the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions. If you join the group (it’s free), you can upload your garden photos and enter our contests.

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