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Last Update 06/03/08

Real Gardeners' True Confessions

The Biggest Mistake with selecting trees and shrubs

The following is excerpted from a book that was selected winner of the 1997 Herald Award for creativity in garden communications, sponsored by the American Nursery & Landscape Association (ANLA).

Thinking Ahead

What is the Biggest Mistake with selecting trees and shrubs? It is, of course, the bigness mistake - not taking into account how big trees and shrubs will get. Those puny little sticks you can pick up, pot and all, at the nursery can end up being over 100 feet tall and 60 feet across. Yes, they'll take years to get there (and the waiting part can get frustrating), but unless you constantly fight to keep them from reaching their natural size, in time they will. It's a pain in the pruners to have to cut back a foundation bush or driveway tree every single year to keep it from taking over - why add an extra chore to your life when you can, with just a little forethought, avoid it?

So, please, be sure to give them the elbow room they'll need to grow. One gardener recommends deciding what trees and shrubs you want at an arboretum or botanical garden - where you'll (Army recruitment music, please) see all that they can be.

Giving a Plant What It Needs

Well, if too big a plant is Potential Problem #1, the opposite - too little a plant - is #2. What I mean by this is that if you put a tree or shrub in an inappropriate location, it may never reach its healthy, natural size. (It may even die.)

'Location, location, location!' is the cry of the forlorn tree or shrub, not just the storefront business owner. So if your new landscape plant doesn't like wet, don't give it wet. If it's unhappy with dry, just say no to dry.

Most importantly, speaking of location, don't plant something that's inappropriate for your climate. Your area's too-hot winters or too-wet summers will do a plant in - if not in the first year then the second year or third year - some year. I hope it doesn't sound as if I'm making too much of a stink about all this. Actually, growing trees and shrubs is easy. They're non-fussy plants that basically take care of themselves - when you take the sensible precaution of putting the right one in the right spot. So do plan for these plants. It's worth it.

Pat Stone is editor and publisher of the quarterly magazine, GreenPrints, 'The Weeders Di-gest.' Stone was Garden Editor at Mother Earth News for 12 years. He lives in Fairview, North Carolina. This article is excerpted from his book, REAL GARDENERS' TRUE CONFESSIONS , published in 1996 by Storey Publishing.


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