Topsoil tips and trimming how-to’s

Credit: Flickr / TANAKA Juuyoh


Q: After 40 years gardening in SW Ontario I now live in Comox, BC and most of my garden is perennials and shrubs. Each spring after clean up I’ve added mulch, but I’d like to add topsoil this year and mulch afterwards. Just how deep can I put the layer of topsoil without digging and replanting everything (not an option)?

I have several sage plants which the deer have not touched. Should they be pruned. trimmed back or left to grow?

Should I cut back heather, removing the last flush of bloom, or leave it on?

1) It’s a bit late now to add too much topsoil, as all your perennials are up. You could add topsoil next year in mid February. I would only add about two inches at a time, with an inch of loose mulch over that. Keep it a few inches away from the stems of shrubs, however, maybe dipping it down to 1+1 inches soil+mulch near the stems with only mulch actually touching the stems of the shrubs. Two inches of topsoil wouldn’t hurt a large tree, but I wouldn’t add more than that at any one time.

2) I would gently prune the sage or leave it to grow. Mine is a bit sprawly, but I leave it alone. I’ve never cut a sage back hard, but I don’t think they would like being cut back hard.

3) On the other hand, the heathers respond well to a good haircut. Decades ago I worked in a large wholesale nursery. One of my jobs was cutting back the heathers after they had bloomed. Since they were in pots, we held the pot between our knees, pulled up all of the branches into a sort of “ponytail” and then cut off a good two inches of stem tips. This encourages them to send up new shoots in the centre, so the whole plant doesn’t get bare in the middle.

Of course, you cannot lift up your entire heather if it is planted in ground, but pull all the stems together into a bunch and chop a good two inches off the ends. This works so much better than snip-snip-snipping at the tips. It always looks choppy when done like that.