By Angelo Randaci, Earth’s Ally Master Gardener and Horticulture Expert
Creating the Right Planting Environment
“We lost too many plants in our impatience to possess them, because we had not achieved the proper growing conditions.”
-Beth Chatto, The Beth Chatto Handbook
Growing a plant labeled ‘easy care’ is not always easy. Unless given the right conditions, any plant can fail. When planted in locations favorable for their growth, the ‘easy care’ part becomes easier.
One of the major solutions to gardening failures can be summed up with four words: right plant, right place.
The concept of “right plant, right place” simply implies plants will thrive best when planted in an environment most conducive to their growth. Healthy plants grown in ideal conditions will be less labor intensive and less likely to succumb to disease, insect or environmental problems. Here are some tips to help you place plants in their right place for optimal growth.
What to Plant and Plant Habitat
Find out how tall and wide a plant will be at maturity, so it won’t have to be moved if it outgrows its space. A little research or advice from your garden center will help you choose a variety that will stay within your bounds. If there are aerial wires around your property you may want to choose dwarf or semi-dwarf trees and shrubs. When planting trees, don’t plant too close to a building because the roots and trunk can harm the foundation and will have to be removed at some point. Areas under windows require plants that will not block views. The wrong selection of a ground cover can become an invasive nightmare, for instance a running-type of bamboo will send up shoots everywhere, whereas a clumping bamboo will stay in one place. If tree space is limited choose a columnar variety that will grow tall and narrow or choose a dwarf growing variety. There are plant selections to fit most any sized space in your yard.
Planting Soil Conditions: Wet Soil, Dry Soil
An area that stays dry requires plants that thrive in various degrees of dry soil. In this case, you are limited to succulents and other drought tolerant plants. Likewise, if you have a wet area, you will need to select plants that thrive in wetter conditions. If you don’t want to limit yourself to these conditions you can repair old, dry soils by adding organic matter, potting or construct raised beds to add healthy soil. A wet area may require adding drainage of some sort; a French drain, drainage pipes, or raising a plant bed to accommodate a well-drained soil.
Turf: Growing Grass
An emerald-green lawn in sun is beautiful but very high maintenance requiring regular watering and is often challenged by disease and pests. Limit your turf area by removing it and putting in plant beds consisting of annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs.
An area in shade will require a shade tolerant turf. Even a shade tolerant turf will show signs of stress against competition from tree roots or heavy foot traffic in low light. The solution to this issue could also become a new design feature on your property. Where there is foot traffic you can add attractive paving stones, bricks or other material. Areas under trees could become beautiful shade gardens. Plants in an area under tree roots will compete for nutrients and water. If this is the case hang containers from the tree branches and put containerized plants around the base of the tree.
Know your USDA hardiness zone. Knowing your zone will dictate what plants will tolerate your climate conditions. Plants you purchase will have a zone or zone range listed on either their plant tag or website. If your zone is equal to the zone listed for the plant, it will grow in your area if you follow its cultural requirements.
- Choose plants that are tolerant of low water conditions once established.
- Whenever possible, choose varieties of your favorite plants that are disease and pest resistant.
- Avoid monoculture. Choose a diversity of plants that will bring color and interest all season.
- Do not mix plants with different water requirements.
- If irrigating, purchase drip irrigation and soaker hoses. This puts the water where you need it.
- Mulch your plants to conserve moisture, keep roots cool in the summer and hold heat during winter months.
- A yard with a slope will gather water at the base. Plant moisture-loving plants there and more drought tolerant plants near the middle and top of the slope.
- Place plants prone to diseases such as powdery mildew in areas that receive plenty of air circulation.
- Amend the soil for best results. Recycle kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, lawn clippings and leaves to your compost pile. If space is limited, purchase compost either in bags or in bulk and spread it on your garden.
The right plant situation can change as your plants grow. Plants that were once in full sun will be subject to increasing shade as your landscape matures. If your plants begin stretching for more sunlight or have weak growth and poor flowering, then it is time to change to shade-loving plants in that area.
Planting the right plant in the right place or creating an environment for the right plant will reward you with beautiful, lasting garden spaces. Experiment with your spaces, a little experimentation will open the door to greater possibilities in plant selection. You may even discover a niche where a fussy plant will be perfectly happy. Remember even the most limited landscape situations have solutions to help broaden your plant palette.
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