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Lawn & Garden

Ask Dayle

6/20/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Dayle Davis

Q: I recently moved to a new house that needs landscaping. The soil is a thick heavy clay that can be squeezed into a dense ball. Will your newspaper and mulch procedure help to eliminate this clay?

A: The practice of layering newspaper topped by mulch is recommended to control weeds or kill undesirable groundcover. It is of limited benefit to improve the overall structure of heavy clay soil. Please see the companion article below about improving clay soils.


Perennial flowers and vines bloom each year in Dayle Davis’ garden with little effort required other than the initial planting, annual fertilizing and occasional dividing.
Photo: Dayle Davis
Q: Annuals bloom all summer long but perennials don’t. Why do you seem to favor perennials over annuals?

A: This is a great question, the answer to which would be changeable depending upon my age when it was asked. Just for fun, here is a sampling of likely comments at different ages:

  • 20 years old: “Annuals over perennials? I don’t even know what that means, but my boyfriend sent me a bouquet of flowers today!”
  • 25 years old: “Do you think we can budget some money for a few marigolds to plant outside our apartment door? And if I plant them, will you weed them?”
  • 30 years old: “There. I’ve planted the last of the 20 flats of annuals. My back’s a little sore, but the neighbors will be so envious of all that color. Their gardens seem to only have lots of different leaves. They also don’t seem to weed as often as I do.”
  • 35 years old: “I am loving this water-soluble fertilizer sprayed on with a garden hose. The roses and other stuff planted by the previous owner are growing like crazy. And that’s good, because some animal came through last night and ate all my annuals to the ground. Now all the weeds show.”
  • 40 years old: “Hey, Mom, can I have some of those peony plants from your garden? Oh, and can I have some of your grandma’s old ostrich ferns and giant leaf hostas? They all seem to grow so well and look good all summer. I’d like to tuck them in behind where I plant annuals. Maybe the chicken wire fencing used to keep animals from eating my annuals will be less noticeable that way.”
  • 45 years old: “Hmmm, what’s this Ohio State University (OSU) Master Gardener Certification program advertised in the West Side Leader? Think I’ll check it out.”
  • 47 years old: “I’m gathering up containers of old unused garden chemicals to dispose at the city’s yearly collection site. Do you have anything in your shed you’d like to get rid of, I’ll add it to mine.”
  • 50 years old: “The perennial garden I began building just a few years ago is starting to fill out. I’m still learning and have made some mistakes with plant choices, but overall I am happy with its progress. A foundation of healthy soil is paramount.”
  • 55 years to present day: My early gardening days have morphed from a yard full of colorful, labor-intensive annuals to one filled with perennials that produce summer-long foliage plus lovely blossoms for a few weeks in their season of bloom. I have learned to love the different leaf shapes and their various textures and colors. There is always something in bloom throughout the season, just not all summer long nor all at once. I confess to three cement containers set permanently among the perennials that I fill with a few shade-loving annuals each May.

As the perennials have matured, there is much less open space for weed seeds to sprout and grow.

It’s such a pleasure to watch the flat surface of my garden in late February transform into a riot of fresh young foliage of different heights and blossoms of different colors — with no yearly planting effort from me, just the general cleanup required by all gardens in fall.

So there it is. Just a brief, tongue-in-check explanation for why I prefer perennials over annuals. Overall, it has mostly to do with age. My no longer youthful body welcomes the trade off of less bloom and more ease. And yes, rabbits, deer, squirrels, woodchucks and chipmunks eat perennials, too. The damage just isn’t as noticeable once all the plants have filled in for the year.

For more information, call The OSU Summit County Extension Hotline Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon at 330-928-4769, ext. 3, and request Fact Sheet HYG-1236-98, “General Maintenance of Herbaceous Ornamentals.”

Please note fact sheets are sent out free; there is a fee for bulletins. Many bulletins are available online at ohioline.osu.edu and can be printed from home or accessed at the public library.


Dayle Davis is a freelance writer and avid perennial gardener, with a B.A. in communications and course work in botany, geology and wildflowers. Davis is a master gardener emeritus under The Ohio State University’s Horticultural Extension. Readers can send in questions regarding lawn and garden issues, which could be featured in a future edition, as well as about the OSU Master Gardener program. Questions can be emailed to kcollins@akron.com, faxed to 330-665-9590 or sent to Leader Publications, 3075 Smith Road, Suite 204, Akron, OH 44333. Please do not send any leaves, seeds or other organic material. Inquiries about area garden clubs or groups should be sent directly to the particular organization in question.

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