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Thinking Ahead 103: Planting for the Future

By Toni Leland (tonilelandMarch 17, 2008

We've all done it - filled a small empty spot in the garden with a darling little tree or shrub. Then one day, we notice that it's not so little and no longer darling. What was used as filler has now overgrown its appointed place in the landscape. Nurseries and garden centers use the phrase "right plant for the right place." This means not only considering water, light and soil, but thinking farther ahead than the immediate future.

Gardening pictureIn photo A, when this house was originally built, the owners planted a small rhododendron close by the corner of the house, next to the walkway. The shrub thrived for almost 80 years with very little pruning. Magnificent as it was, the roots eventually woImagerked their way into the old clay sewer pipe, pressed against the brickwork, cracking the mortar, put pressure on gutters, and obliterated the view from one window.

In photo B, when a new deck was added to this home, a lovely Japanese maple made the perfect central focus of the adjacent flowerbed. Later on, a tiny Alberta spruce was added in a corner. The maple grew at a moderate rate, but the spruce grew quickly, and changed the balance of the flower bed dramatically. Additionally, the maple was planted too close to the deck and now the branches overhang the railing.
In photo C, this gorgeous Magnolia originally made a charming anchor at the corner of the home. Twenty years later, it encroaches the gutters, rubs against the siding, and the roots have pushed out several stones in the retaining wall. The tree was originally planted only 2 feet from the corner of the house. (See close-up)
When researching any plant material to use in your landscape, always check the mature size and growth rate. Keeping a tree or shrub pruned to fit available space is a never-ending chore, especially those species that quickly grow to great proportions. Think also about whether a shrub or tree will eventually over-shade the plants around it. For perennials, also consider spread. Daylilies and Cannas multiply every season, and can crowd out less aggressive plants in no time.

Shrubs and trees as foundation plantings around the house

A big mistake when planting a new foundation bed is to use too many small shrubs to "fill up" the open space. This desire for instant beautification will eventually produce a crowded, unstructured look to the area. Additionally, air circulation is hampered, causing mildew and excess shade on plants close by. Better to use a few spectacular specimens and be patient. Annuals or interesting ground cover can be interspersed between and around the shrubs to help alleviate the naked look. A list follows of some familiar varieties and their growth habits.

Some Familiar Short or Small Shrubs (4' tall or less at maturity)

English Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens "Suffruticosa"): 3', compact, slow growth
Barberry (Berberis spp.): 3', spread 2-3', slow growth
Euonymus "Emerald Gaiety": 2-4', spread 3-4', medium growth
Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster spp.): 2-3', spread 4-6', slow growth
Yew: 2-4', spreading habit 4-6', medium growth
Dwarf Forsythia: 2-3', spreading habit 5-6', medium growth
Juniper "Andorra compacta": 1-2', spread 4-5', medium growth
Potentilla: 2-3', spread 2-3', slow growth
Rhododendron: 2-4', spread 2-4', medium growth

Some Familiar Medium Height Shrubs (Up to 8' tall at maturity)

Abelia (Abelia x grandiflora): 3-4', 4-6', spread 3-5' medium growth
Aucuba Japonica (Aucuba japonica): 4-5', spread 3-4', medium growth
Wintergreen Barberry (Berberis julianae): 5-6', 3-5', slow growth
Japanese Fatsia (Fatsia japonica): 4-6', spread 4-6', fast growth
Border Forsythia (Forsythia intermedia): 6-8', spread 6-8', rapid growth
Althea Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus): 6-8', spread 4-6', medium growth
Spiraea (Spirea thunbergii): 3-5', spread 3-4', rapid growth
Burkwood Viburnum (Viburnum x burkwoodii): 6-8', spread 5-6', slow growth
Weigila (Weigela florida): 6-8', spread 6-8', slow growth

Avoid These Errors
Another frequent error is planting too close to the building; siding damage and moisture problems are common with this mistake. Shrubs that grow to 6 feet or more should be planted in such a way that the mature foliage will be at least five feet from the walls of the house. Allow a minimum of 3 feet between the house and smaller shrubs. Small, slow-growing ornamental trees can be planted as accents near a corner, but keep mature size in mind, especially for those with spreading root systems.

Watering foundation shrubs and plants can cause moisture and mildew problems inside the house if the plants are within 5 to 10 feet of the foundation. If possible, grade the ground next to the house so that water channels away. An alternate solution would be to plant
drought resistant varieties that don't require frequent watering.

A garden or home landscape is always a work in progress, one that brings hours of enjoyment to those who live in it and those who view it. With a little forethought, you can keep your space under control and always beautiful.

  About Toni Leland  
Toni LelandToni Leland has been writing for over 20 years. As a spokesman for the Ohio State University Master Gardener program, she has written a biweekly newspaper column and is the editor of the Muskingum County MG newsletter, Connections; she currently writes for GRIT, Over the Back Fence, and Country Living magazines. She has been a gardener all her life, working soil all over the world. In her day job, she scripts and produces educational DVDs about caring for Miniature Horses, writes and edits books about them, and has published five novels.

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