Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
May, 2008
Regional Report

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Watch the volcano mulch, it's damaging to the tree.

Landscape Don'ts

At the risk of starting off on a negative note, I'd like to give some tips on things to avoid in the landscape. Sometimes we just don't realize what we might be doing wrong, and a better understanding of the situation can prevent costly mistakes.

Mulch Volcanoes
One landscape practice I see frequently is the mulch volcano. This is quite common in public areas that are managed by nonprofessionals, but I've seen a good bit of it in home landscapes as well. The intentions are as good as the mulch, but the method leaves a bit to be desired.

When mulch is applied in a circle around a tree trunk, it should be about 3 to 4 inches deep and should taper down toward the soil level as you move in toward the trunk. Mulch heaped against the trunk or stems holds moisture and can cause fungal problems.

Toping Trees
Tree topping is the practice of cutting back the main stems of a shade tree, effectively removing a good portion of the crown. Not only does it make the tree look completely unnatural, but the severe cutting causes the tree to put out a considerable number of succulent stems and foliage right at the cuts. This foliage is extremely susceptible to disease and physical problems. Most importantly, there is no reason to top a tree.

Prune to Natural Shapes
There are very few shrubs that are naturally round like a ball. Pruning is best done to follow the natural lines of a plant rather than trying to make it look like something it is not. Also, shearing the outer tips only creates a shell of foliage on the outside and leaves the inside without air or light, causing dieback.

Select Plants to Fit the Site
Planting a shrub that grows to 6 feet is not the right plant to put under a 3-foot-high window. And pruning will not keep it in top form. Trying to reduce the size of a plant drastically will only end up causing health issues with the plant, not to mention the fact that it will not even resemble what the plant should look like.

Watch Overplanting
How often have you noticed an overplanted landscape? We need to realize that open spaces are design elements, too. When choosing and installing any plants, find out how wide they will spread and then add 6 inches for the proper spacing. Crowded plants are disease prone and just plain don't look good. We choose plants because they are beautiful. Let's make every effort to keep them that way.

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