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Six secrets of successful gardeners

The following are six practices professionals use to keep their garden looking good. The word practices means that these are things that need to be done over and over again and usually on a weekly basis.

The first is observation. Other people may view your garden from a distance, but you need to get close to it to keep it looking good. You need to walk through it regularly, if not on a daily routine. It is good for your spirit to make a trip through so you can admire the beauty of the foliage and blossoms. In Minnesota it may only be three to four months of the year that this privilege exists. Have a set day, like Sunday evening, walk through and decide what needs to be done this week. It is also handy if you have a garden basket close to the door with clippers and gloves that it is handy to pick up and take on your walk. If you are in your garden, you will find some weeds that need pulling and some plants that need trimming or deadheading.

The second practice is pruning. Pruning keeps a garden looking fresh, because you are manipulating the plants by deadheading, cutting back and pinching. Deadheading keeps plants blooming, redirecting the plant energy, and looking trim and tidy. Cutting back promotes rebloom in some early season bloomers like delphinium, salvias, penstrmon, nepeta and daisies. When flowers are 75 percent spent on these early bloomers, cut them back, usually by July 4. These can be cut back to about six inches so the sun can hit the plant better. If they will not rebloom, it is good to trim back the foliage especially if it is looking ratty or overgrown. It also will make space for other perennials that are yet to bloom, so they can grow and make their displays. Pinching is done to make a plant fill out and become bushy, and to stagger the bloom of flowers like fall asters, shasta daisies, and upright sedums, and to prevent bloom in plants such as coleus, heucheras and hostas.

The third practice is weeding. As you go out to your garden take your basket or pail with you gloves and clippers and as you walk along garb that weed and clip that fading flower. If you do this as you are admiring the magnificent blooms, it doesn't seem so much like work. Weeds pull easiest after a good rain. Mulching will also help eliminate weeds, especially if you use at least four layers of newspaper underneath the four inches of mulch. If you use a pre-emergent herbicide that prevents germination, it has to be used on a regular basis.

The fourth practice is edging. Your garden is going to look cleaner is there is a crisp, definite edge between your garden and the lawn. This can be done with hardscape rock or edging material, or by defining the edge of the garden using an edger or flat spade.

The fifth practice is cultivation. If you garden is not all mulched, it is good to work up the soil as it becomes compacted. This will do a lot to refresh the appearance, be careful to avoid working too close to the root area of plants. Cultivation can minimize the impact of gaps in plantings, especially if you have cut back something. It makes it seem as the empty spot is a sign of potential, rather than a sign of failure. This is especially true with annuals that are lost to frost. Late in the summer it is sometimes necessary to replace spent annuals with some fall mums, which can be picked up for a reasonable cost at most garden centers. The remainder of the garden will also look better if dead or spent flowers are removed.

The sixth and last practice is staking. This should be done as inconspicuous as possible, but is necessary to keep top-heavy and floppy plants looking their best. The list includes peonies, asters, lilies, tall delphiniums, tall sedum, bleeding heart, baby's breath, phlox, or anything that needs support to look good. Bamboo sticks with green twine or string blend in well with the foliage. In some cases all that needs to be done is to tie the plant together and it will support itself. If it is not a plant that you are going to cut back, the foliage may need attention to keep it looking healthy and attractive.

Kyle Schulz is a Wadena County Master Gardener from Sebeka, and the regular gardening columnist for the Wadena Pioneer Journal.