Gardening With the Experts

Up your gardening game with these tips and tricks from 417-land pros.

By Vivian Wheeler | Photos courtesy Tom Lakowske, shutterstock

Mar 2015


Repeat Patterns:  Springfield Master Gardener Tom Lakowske suggests using repetition in your garden to help create a cohesive look, just as he does in his own space


Healthy plants come from healthy roots, and healthy roots come from healthy soil. Treat your soil like the living organism that it is. Supplementing our Ozarks soils with plenty of good compost is always advised to give your plants the best possible growing conditions.–Dow Whiting, Garden Adventures Nixa



Create a focal point to increase interest in your garden. It could be an arbor, unique pot, statuary or an unusual plant or grouping of plants. When you are designing a new bed or adding to an existing one, consider one thing that will catch the viewer’s eye. You will want to tie the focal point to its surroundings in some way—think color, shape or size. A focal point should standout but also make sense for the space.-Ann Kynion, Springfield Master Gardner



As a garden design element, repetition is like a hammer; fundamental and useful no matter what project you are working on. Repetition will make your garden look cohesive and professional. One easy way to incorporate repetition is to plant in multiples (or drifts, in fancy gardener speak) of three, five or seven. Repeat the drifts throughout your garden, and voila, you are on your way to a top-notch garden.-Tom Lakowske, Springfield Master Gardener and President of the Greater Ozarks Hosta Society 



 Do you love daisies? Well, think of a daisy, but better. Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum superbum) literally “bloom their heads off.” They are hardy perennials that produce lots of white petals. The intense florescent nature of the flower means the plant exhausts itself after a couple of years. Ideally, clumps should be dug every other year, divided and replanted. The result? Even more of a good thing.-William Aldrich, Springfield Master Gardener



Make sure you purchase potting soil that is sterile or pasteurized. This will ensure your soil is free of pests or their eggs, pathogens and weed seeds. You can also purchase mixes that already have nutrients incorporated, which is great for beginners and for those who lead busy lives.-Lori Padgett, per course Agriculture faculty at Missouri State University 



To enjoy your outdoor living space all year long, incorporate plants that bloom in different seasons. Some plants will be useful in more than one season. Short ‘n Sweet Sweetspire, for instance, blooms in the late spring, has gorgeous fall color, and has interesting reddish-purple stems in the winter.–Dow Whiting, Garden Adventures Nixa



Consider using edible plants as decoration. Mixing in attractive edibles adds texture and variety to a garden. One of my favorites is a summer blooming flower called monarda (a.k.a. bee balm). A member of the mint family, its leaves are commonly used as a tea. Missouri is native to a plant that blooms pink, but we prefer the taste of the red blooming variety.-Josh Sommer, owner, Summer Roots Gardening and Landscapes



For truly healthy plants in the landscape, make the switch to organic fertilizers. These products release slowly to provide a constant food source. Apply once in the spring, once in the fall, and enjoy your garden all year long.–Dow Whiting, Garden Adventures Nixa



Potted containers are difficult to relocate, or to bring in if needed. Most plants, especially annuals, only need 3-4 inches of soil to flourish. Flip a smaller pot upside down, and set it in the bottom of the container you want to use. This forms a large air space making the pot lighter and easier to move. The upside down pot also helps with drainage and saves water.-Ann Kynion, Springfield Master Gardner



Use your weed eater to cut weeds as short as possible. Then, cover the whole bed with a layer  four sheets thick--of newspaper. Add four inches of mulch or compost on top of the newspaper. By covering the weeds, you are essentially smothering them, which helps to keep the weeds at bay. Another option for weed issues is to adopt a “no-bare-ground” policy. A thick groundcover of vinca or liriope greatly reduces weeds. Cover with a three-inch layer of mulch until they get established.-Tom Lakowske, Springfield Master Gardener and President of the Greater Ozarks Hosta Society



Gardeners can never have enough go-to tools. My recent addition is a telescoping rake from The Eclectic Gardener Store ( It gets in the tight bed areas that always seem to need cleaning and has also come in handy for dredging leaves out of my small pond. It’s collapsible and easy to throw in the car when gardening away from home.-William Aldrich, Springfield Master Gardener



Don’t skimp on tools. The cobrahead weeder and cultivator is about twice the price ($25) of similar tools, but worth every penny. It’s my all-purpose tool, and I feel handicapped if I forget to bring it. As tough as it versatile, it’s useful in flowerbeds and gardens as a fine-tipped hoe for detail weeding. Locally it can be found at Baker Creek in Mansfield, and of course it can be bought online.-Josh Sommer, owner, Summer Roots Gardening and Landscapes



Shake things up by adding ornamental grasses to your garden design toolbox. Ornamental grass is increasingly popular as it is low-maintenance, does not require excessive water or nutrients and is quite hardy. With its green color and mesmerizing movements, the grass adds visual interest to a garden in the summer. In the winter, the dry foliage acts as mulch to protect the grass crowns at ground level from extremely cold temperatures. Most ornamental grasses are perennial, so with a little work, make sure to check for mature size and plant requirements, you will have years of enjoyment-Lori Padgett, per course Agriculture faculty at Missouri State University 



Consulting with a landscape professional at a locally owned, independent garden center is the best place to start. These people are trained to know what plants grow best in our climate, and can help out from the design phase to planting tips, and all the way through to the finished product.-Dow Whiting, Garden Adventures Nixa



Certain plants, especially if they grow from the roots out, are aggressive and can quickly overtake a space. To keep them in control, plant them in a pot and then plant the pot. Cut out the bottom to let the roots grow. The sides of the pot will prevent the plant from taking over your favorite garden bed. Loosestrife and anything in the mint family could benefit from this trick.-Ann Kynion, Springfield Master Gardner