Column: Blocking view of neighbor's unsightly motor home is easy
Every year at this time I can predict the two questions that my customers will ask the most.
This has been the week for questions about powdery mildew. It looks like a white powdery substance covering the foliage of flowers or shrubs and literally sucks the life out of each plant.
At the last stages of this disease the leaves fall off and the plant looks dusty and very pale. The solution is simple. Use "Systemic Fungicide" foliar spray every two to three weeks until the humidity and monsoon pattern have passed, or until all signs of disease are erased from the plant.
Ed in Prescott Valley submitted this comment along with the other most frequently asked question: "Ken, I read your garden column faithfully every week and your advice really works. I would like you to touch on plants I could use to hide that new motor home my neighbor just parked in the backyard."
Just imagine that your neighbor has built his dream garage or, like Ed's, has installed his new motor home and now obscures a view you've come to enjoy. This is the perfect place for a "living wall." However, your goal is not to block this new eyesore completely, but to draw the eye forward to something more pleasing.
If you have sufficient ground space this is best accomplished by planting two types of large evergreens. First, plant slow-growing large evergreen specimens strategically placed to camouflage the garage. This is an excellent spot for a huge Arizona or Leyland cypress, deodar cedar, Austrian or Scotch pine.
Next, plant fast growers that will be cut down when the slow growers finally mature. I like aspen, poplar, birch, cottonwood and willow for this purpose. These are extremely fast growing trees that are full of leaves. Because they grow as much as 6 feet in one season they are great for fast concealment and soothing shade. They will fill in the space until the slower growing plants mature.
In time the overplanted trees will crowd out their space; so, when the preferred living screen grows up, simply power up the chain saw and cut down the fast growing specimens!
In small yards where space is an issue, hedged shrubs work well. With the right plant choice and the proper pruning, a hedge can be as precisely dimensioned a barrier as a masonry wall. Some of the best plants for this type of hedge are red-tipped photinia, golden euonymous, sea green juniper, emerald arborvitae, golden bamboo, silver berry and red cluster berry.
The mixed, or "loose border," is an interesting alternative to a hedge. Hedges are homogeneous compositions but a loose border is composed from a variety of evergreens and deciduous shrubs and trees. Depending upon the style of your landscaping, you might find a loose border more to your liking than the formal austerity of a hedge.
Loose borders should be layered for maximum effect. Put your tallest shrubs and upright evergreens in the back row and shorter shrubs in front of them. Actually, an attractive loose border is built with the same design principles used to create a perennial flowerbed:
Place plants of the same type in odd-numbered groups: three golden bamboos here, three Wichita blue junipers there. Even-numbered groups suggest an attempt at symmetry that is out of character with the "loose border" style.
Use repetition to "tie in" areas of the border. If you planted a group of three butterfly bushes in one section of your concealment hedge, repeat those same three plants somewhere else in that row.
Triangular patterns result in the best designs. Group like plants in a triangle or zigzag pattern for a more natural-looking style.
Vines can be grown up walls, chain link fences, and trellises for fast beauty and better views. The best choices are Halls honeysuckle, Akebia, wisteria, and silver lace vine. Within two seasons one plant will cover a 6-foot by 8-foot panel.
Remembering that "living walls" can add color to a landscape, this is an ideal opportunity to enhance the yard with lilac, forsythia, rose of Sharon, butterfly bush or any of the other large flowering shrubs. You'll have the dual bonus of fragrance and flowers while you enjoy the screen these plants provide.
If you need suggestions for local plant choices, the next time you visit the garden center ask for my printed handout the "Preferred Plant Guide." I'm sure it will help you create an attractive block to an unsightly obstacle.
This week's free garden class, "Wildscapes: Working With Nature Not Against It," is today at 9:30 a.m. On July 25, I teach the wildly popular "Keeping the Critters Out, with Fewer Weeds." Look for the entire class schedule on www.wattersonline.com under the "Classes for the taking" link.
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.
Throughout the week Ken Lain is at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, and can be contacted through his website at www.wattersonline.com. Ken says, "My personal mission is to help local homeowners garden better in our mountain landscapes."