Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
November, 2011
Regional Report

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This Chinese photinia began as a foundation planting but has now reached its mature size, far outgrowing its space.

PLANting Season

The first four letters in the word plant spell plan. We gardeners tend to forget that. If you won't tell anyone, I'll admit to a few planting endeavors that had little planning involved. Of course this was a very, very long time ago and I'd never be so foolish as to do that again. At least that is what I'd prefer that you believe!

We love plants. There is always a new tomato or lettuce cultivar, a new flowering annual, rose, flowering shrub or vine that we just can't wait to put in our landscape or garden. I have long contended that there is an unidentified chemical released in the brain of people who garden by visual images of new types of flowers, fruits, and vegetables that inhibits the areas of the brain responsible for planning. We are not encumbered with thoughts of "Where would I put this?" or "Would it fit into my landscape?" when "I gotta get one!" hits the brain.

Planning is one of the most important gardening activities. Once a plant has been put in the ground its chances of success are already largely determined. The soil it will grow in has already been improved or left unimproved. The sun exposure is now set due to its location. The species or cultivar has been chosen; and not all perform equally well in any particular region and climate.

There are many factors to consider in our planning in addition to the ones mentioned above. One that I often see neglected is to consider the ultimate size of a plant.

It is no secret that plants grow larger over time. That thin whip of a tree out there in the yard may one day stretch across the entire property and reach 40 feet or more in height. The newly planted little shrub may be taller than the eaves on your house in a few years.

One of the most common mistakes made in landscaping is to plant shrubs under a window that will later grow too tall and end up blocking the view. This gives you the opportunity to get more practice at shearing than an Australian sheep rancher. Another common practice is to plant a potentially tall shrub beneath the eaves of a home. There are compact forms of many species. When a dwarf form is not available another species that is smaller would be a better choice. Ask how big they get before you buy.

Then there is the common mistake of planting shrubs close to a walkway, typically on both sides of the sidewalk. Visitors must get a running start to plunge through the foliage of the living gauntlet lining the path to your door. Or you can just add the letters BYOP to any party invitations (Bring Your Own Pruners). Find out the mature width of a plant. Half that number is the absolute closest you want to plant it to a walkway.

Trees under power lines are waiting for their destined appointment with the arboreal butcher. Trees near a home are likewise going to have to be pruned a lot to prevent branches from rubbing the roof. There are times when a tall tree is planted fairly close to the home for shading purposes, but you'll need to accept the fact that some pruning will be needed down the line.

If you put plants too close to your home the issue of foundation damage arises. I know that the new little tree with the broomstick sized trunk looks lost way out there in the middle of the yard. But in the long run it will look right and save you time and perhaps some expense too.

We also tend to crowd plants together. We want a dense hedge or a least a fully foliaged line of shrubs, and those we purchased look so small now. Again, consider their mature size. Save that money spent on too many plants and use it elsewhere in the landscape. Some plants such as roses will be more prone to diseases when planted to close to each other, as crowding reduces air circulation.

Fall, the best planting season of the year, has arrived. Before purchasing and planting plants take time to do some planning. I promise to do the same!

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