Digging in for maximum color in minimal space

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SmallbedB4N6118S.jpgI am glad I went to your workshop on 8 Months of Color. Lots of good ideas. However, I have a question. Early on you said for color for 8 months we probably need a bed or beds that add up to 200 square feet. But, you said, you can make do with 50 square feet if you work at it. 50 square feet is about what I have where I garden for my mother and for a neighbor.

So, which of these things you told us about in your month by month notes, were what it takes to make that work? Deadheading? Cutting back? Doubling up? - D.P. -


Yes, to all of those! In order to have something colorful all the time in such a small space, you need to use every trick in the book.

Here's an example of changes we just made recently to keep the color going in an island bed of about 25 square feet. We make must make the most of that plus about 40 square feet in the foundation beds.SmlBedSalvendN6120s.jpg

The bed's been pretty, but now its shaggy time has arrived, just as the impatiens we planted along one side three weeks ago are beginning to have impact. In other years at midsummer we've simply deadheaded the perennials that will rebloom (Gaillardia and Salvia superba) and pumped up the foliage color by trimming the rest to encourage new leaves. (More about all this cutting in What's Coming Up 97 and What's Coming Up 148.)

This year, the roses in the foundation beds are off stride after a very early and stretchy start, so we needed to do more.



Our to-do list:


  • Remove two of the three variegated lilyturf (Liriope muscari 'Variegata') for the time being. They'll wait in a holding area for now. Their main contribution is in winter, and during spring when they camouflage bulb foliage.
  • Cut off the leaves of the hosta clump's outermost ring of eyes, to reduce its bulk. Put it on the list to divide later.SmallBedMidN6137S.jpg
  • Remove excess variegated iris (how this Iris pallida 'Aureo Variegata' does spread!) and cut back the foliage of the remainder. New leaves will grow, crisper in appearance.
  • Chop the salvia 'way back and move it to our "holding area". They'll bloom again after the cut but rebloom is never as full as first bloom. We need more power than that this year.
  • Deadhead the blanket flower (Gaillardia, a compact variety, perhaps 'Goblin.')SmlBedwMidN6140s.jpg
  • Then, we add a few more impatiens at one end of the bed for flower color and begonias ('Waterfall Encanto Orange') at the other for bloom and texture.

We don't add impatiens all 'round. That would create an overpowering color spot in comparison to the other plants. Here, we work in plant clusters of 4 to 5 square feet -- big enough to have impact when they bloom but not so big that they distract when they're off peak.

We divide the perennials we move out to "hold." Younger plants -- including divisions -- grow most vigorously. If we divide and keep everything, we'll have two- or three times more than we need when it's time to move them back in. So we compost some, and give others away.

SmalBedaftrN6144S.jpg SmlBedWAftrN6145s.jpg

We're just following the same advice we give you


These steps are per the notes in our 8 Months of Color handout*:

  1. March: Time to assess bed size. Close at hand, 50 square feet may be fine for a bed. More often, 200 square feet is a minimum.
  2. June: Time to cut back hard
  3. July: Full-dimension month. Texture takes center stage. New plant placement: Best planted in clusters.

*That material is available to download, along with others from our workshops, in About Us, Invite us to Speak.deadhdGailrdN6142s.jpg

Our Doubling Up plant charts and Quest for Color bloom sequence lists are still waiting in line to come onto the site. Please do a Search, since between the time we're posting this and you're reading it, we may have placed them. Or else, you can:






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