Jennifer L. Williams Master Gardener column

Jennifer L. Williams

I know you’ve seen it: Trees and shrubs that looked great when they were first planted, but now, a few years later, they have matured and are overwhelming the space, each other, or even worse — their roots or branches are threatening to damage your home.

I saw it when we moved into our current home. The previous homeowner had planted several large shrubs and trees just a few feet away from the house or the walkways. Our landscape beds looked full and lush at the time.

But sadly, just a couple of years later, we ended up having to cut down several of these beauties, including a gorgeous maple tree that had been planted in the 3-foot space between the garage and the front walk. I imagine whoever planted it either did not care how large it was destined to be because it looked good at that time or they mistakenly thought it was a smaller variety of maple.

Unfortunately, the trees and shrubs were way too large to transplant (or, trying to remove the roots would have possibly torn up the sidewalk or damaged our home’s foundation), so they had to be removed instead … and we were left at square one for planting our front beds. If only the person (or company) who planted these had checked the plants’ mature height before digging the holes, there could have been a very different outcome.

Now, you can always prune plants to fit their space, but that can get time-consuming each year and overwhelming if you miss a cutting. It always is easier to start on the right foot by spacing out plants according to their mature height when deciding where to place them.

Plants often have different varieties, often that grow to different sizes. For example, according to the Azalea Society of America, there are several thousand varieties of azaleas, ranging from some dwarf types that grow no more than 12 inches tall to some large varieties that soar to more than 10 feet tall!

Take these various heights into consideration when planning your landscape beds. You may not want a 10-foot azalea to block the view from your window, but a 3- to 4-foot one may be just the thing that’s needed. Likewise, when planting different things together — make sure the largest one is planted in the back so your shorter plants will not soon be overshadowed by the growing large specimen.

Also look at the expected spread of your plants. If you plant a shrub that has an 8- to 10-foot spread, anything you plant closer than that can get overwhelmed and choked out —especially if it’s a smaller or slower-growing plant.

Yes, those information and care cards that come with most plants from garden centers can be incredibly helpful to you when planning your landscape, but this is Alabama, so you’ll need to take things one step further.

It has been my experience that many plants tend to grow a little larger than their “average height and width” here in the fertile Tennessee Valley. What to do? To be on the safe side, simply add on a little to the height and width when considering how large the mature plant may be in your landscape. Most plants thrive when given the space to do so.

So, resist the urge for instant gratification in your landscape and take some time to imagine what you want your yard to look like in five, 10 or even 20 years. It may take a small bit of research and planning on your part, but the end result of your efforts will result in a well-planned, well-designed landscape that you can enjoy, rather than fight, for many years to come.

— Jennifer L. Williams is a member of the Morgan County Master Gardeners Association. Members write columns periodically with gardening tips.
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