June 4, 2008

Garden Disasters to Avoid

There are plenty of mistakes to make in your landscape. Thankfully, most of them are easy to repair. The repairing process often requires some shovel pruning (that is, to dig up the plant and throw it away). The worse mistakes involve trees, because problems in big plants are big problems. Here are a few disasters to avoid.

1. Planting trees with weak wood. Poplar (also known as cottonwood), willow and tree of heaven are examples of fast growing trees with weak wood. Beware of any tree that grows 5 feet in a year - they're usually weak! This leads to messy twigs all over your lawn after a breezy day, and huge branches all over your lawn after a heavy snow or ice storm. Other trees with breakage problems are Norway maple and Bradford pear.
2. Planting trees too close to your home. All big trees start as little trees! Cute little Christmas trees of blue spruce will eventually get 25 to 30 feet wide at the base, so don't plant them 5feet from your home. Maples and other large shade trees will eventually develop big roots that buckle sidewalks and driveways, so don't plant them right next to concrete.
3. 'Lawnmower Blight' on trees. Lawn mowers and trimmers damage tree bark, which can kill a tree. The live tissues in a tree trunk that suck water up and transport sugars down are just inside the bark. Damaging those tissues hurts a tree just like hardening arteries hurts people - and can eventually be fatal. Prevent this problem by planting trees in beds or leaving a ring of bark around the trunk.
4. Buying a plant without checking hardiness. Of course this doesn't matter for annuals, but you should check the tag on everything else. We're a zone 5 here in Spokane, as is Des Moines, IA and most of the Wasatch Front in Utah. That means I can grow anything hardy to a zone 5 or lower (lower equals colder). Home Depot is full of plants that are hardy to just zone 6 or 7, so beware.
5. Planting a large vine on a small trellis. Wisteria, Boston ivy, climbing hydrangea and many types of honeysuckle are huge, vigorous plants. Wisteria grows 25 to 30 feet or more. Climbing hydrangea can get 80 feet long. Vigorous means that these plants will work really hard to reach their full potential, so you're in for a lot of pruning if you try to keep them to 10 feet. Choose a small vine (like clematis) for a small area instead.
6. Allowing vines to climb up the sides of your home. Yes, it's beautiful. I love it, too. But having a vine on the side of your home is like laying out a welcome mat for insects. It also increases the humidity right next to the wall, which can lead to mildew. The tendrils or suckers that vines use to hold themselves up can pull apart your brick or siding. English ivy and others will leave brown marks behind if you ever pull them off. So put your vines on a trellis or the fence.
7. Planting aggressive groundcovers in your flower bed. A plant makes a good groundcover if it spreads quickly. That's bad news for its neighbors if they're less vigorous and you're not willing to referee frequently with a shovel. Use groundcovers with care.
8. Planting old-fashioned shrubs that require lots of pruning. Grandma didn't have a lot of choices, so she had to plant shrubs with gangly shapes and huge sizes. But there are many shrubs available today with smaller, more compact shapes that are appropriate for small or medium-sized yards. Check the tag. Shrubs in the 3 to 5 foot range are very useful in today's yards.

Plan now to avoid headaches later. Happy planting!

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