Archive for Sunday, February 16, 2003

Do homework before picking your plants

February 16, 2003


Spring is traditionally the ideal time to plant ornamental trees and shrubs. Warm days, regular rains and cool nights help plants prepare for the heat of summer.

However, choosing the right plant is not always easy. With so many varieties and differences in size, price and form, deciding which plant to purchase can make even the most accomplished gardener scratch their head. The key to long-term success is proper plant selection and installation. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you head to the nursery in search of a new tree or shrub.

Begin doing your homework. The No. 1 mistake gardeners make is impulse shopping with an open checkbook. I can not count the number of times I have heard someone say, "I don't know where I'll put this plant but I'm sure I can find a spot in the yard." Plant selection should be based on the function of the plant, the amount of space it will have to grow in, the level of care it will require and the overall look or impact of the landscape that it is being placed in.

So, with that in mind, start the selection process by asking yourself these questions:

  • What is this plant going to be used for? Maybe to form a hedge and screen your view of the neighbors. It could be a specimen tree you want to grow tall and strong.
  • How much space will the plant have? Make sure you know the final size of the plant and not just the size at the time of purchase. Identify where all the utilities are in relation to the planting site. If you are dealing with a special problem such as an overhead power line, or a nearby septic system, be careful to choose trees or shrubs that will not hinder their performance. Take care to not plant trees close to sidewalks or driveways. As the roots grow, they may lift and buckle these resulting in costly repairs.
  • How much care can I give this plant? One constant is that all trees and shrubs need watering the first year. Past that, certain plants, or plants that are not well adapted to our climate, may require additional attention. There are new varieties of landscape plants that are resistant to many diseases, or are drought tolerant, or are just low maintenance plants. Choosing these varieties could mean less spraying, watering and pruning in the future.
  • What is the overall look or impact of my landscape? There are some basic landscape principles that must be applied.

First, never buy just one plant. If there is not room for three or more, choose something else. Never buy and plant in even numbers. Finally, larger plantings with fewer colors is better than smaller groupings of many different colors. The visual impact is more pleasing when the landscape is less busy and more full.

-- Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more information, call him at 843-7058 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

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