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Fixing up your side yard

Few homes in urban and suburban locales escape the challenge of a narrow side yard. It often ends up a neglected space, filled with derelict weeds or odds and ends waiting to be discarded.

But side yards don't have to be abandoned wastelands. With little effort, you can turn them into pleasant passageways and charming garden sites.

Before drawing up a plant list to fill the space, first determine the amount of sun and shade in your side yard.

If it runs east and west, chances are you have at least 6 hours of summer sun available for nearly any type of vegetable and many different flowering plants.

To make best use of the limited space, use a trellis or sturdy cord attached to a side fence to support vining peas in spring followed by pole beans, cucumbers, squashes, gourds, tomatoes, or melons.

All can be trained to grow vertically where there's enough sun.

With only a few hours of sunshine a day — especially in hot inland microclimates — grow non-climbing crops like lettuce, chard, kale, kohlrabi and even rhubarb.

Always be sure to first enrich the soil and give it adequate moisture.

If you prefer planting ornamentals, plant climbing vines or roses against a fence. Use lattice, sturdy cords, or sections of wire fencing for support. Avoid weighty, rampant growers such as wisteria, trumpet vine (Campsis), or cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) in favor of a hybrid clematis or espaliered shrub.

Narrow plants

In a space 6-feet or wider, there's room for annuals or perennials with a narrow pathway down the center. Foxglove (Digitalis), larkspur (Consolida), coneflowers (Echinacea) and other naturally narrow perennials will do well where there's half-day sun.

Some tall growers such as flowering maple (Abutilon) are easily managed by clipping off protruding stems as they sprout outward at ground level.

In shade, try evergreen Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica) or its hybrid relative xFatshedera. Both eventually grow to 8 feet and are valued for large, glossy leaves on fairly rigid stems, though support is sometimes needed.

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