Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
May, 2010
Regional Report

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Pretty as it is, this catalpa tree presents a hazard and should be removed.

Gardening Don'ts

Maybe it's creeping cynicism, but I find too many landscapes eye-catching lately for all the wrong reasons. This list of "dont's" starts with mulch volcanoes, but there are many other landscape hazards to avoid.

Mulch Sins
The aforementioned mulch volcanoes can be seen in many areas. Tree trunks are not just surrounded by a couple of inches of mulch, as is suggested. Instead, the organic matter is piled up a foot or more in a cone around the trunk. Not only is this practice wasteful, it can be damaging to the trees. Smothering plant material that is supposed to be above ground restricts its ability to grow. If the material stays very wet, it can harbor fungus diseases; if dry, the fire ants soon make it their home. Keep the mulch layer to 2" deep around most plants to enable it to suppress weeds and moderate water conditions as well as look good. Reserve deeper applications to areas you want to keep wet such as new shrub plantings facing a summer drought, a bed of LA irises or a fig tree that's shy to grow. Avoid pinestraw mulch if you want to be able to dig the mulch into the bed as many of us do. Or plan to remove it each fall and use it elsewhere in the garden to line walkways.

Trees to Avoid
Columnar trees are very attractive- at a comfortable distance. But just because they are narrowly upright does not mean they should be planted in tight spaces near streets and sidewalks. Their hazard to drivers and pedestrians trying to see traffic around corners or approaching driveways may only be understood when the trees approach adult heights. Blocked access visually is often matched by sidewalks raised by roots and the storm damage potential when standard size trees of any sort are planted too near the right of way. Few new tree-lined streets are planned or allowed in our regions these days as municipalities and neighborhood associations realize the expense of cleaning up when one topples into the public space. Choosing the right size tree for any site is important, and every gardener in our regions soon learns that plant labels and descriptions are approximate and usually conservative.

Plant Moving Times
Sometimes a plant sprouts and you don't know what it is or where it came from, but it looks promising. You leave it to see what happens and before you know it, the plant gets big and you like it, so it stays. When the plant in question is a tree or shrub, however, its ultimate size creates its own problems. Even if the plant does not block a view or threaten to topple, it will likely need very regular pruning to keep it in the space below eaves or close to structures. Unless you can string fencing between a row of such volunteer trees, pull them up or transplant them in winter. As to where these unplanted stands come from, remember the pencil cedars. Long prized for their wood, the trees were propagated by birds who sat atop telegraph lines in the early 20th century. The resulting straight rows of trees soon became natural fence posts in many parts of the Southeast US.

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