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Garden design: What to Plant Where? Trees and then shrubs!!

Updated: Jun 30, 2021

Start with trees as they can define spaces and fill spaces. They will have the most impact on your landscape and are the most permanent of any of your plantings. Think large trees for large spaces, small trees for small spaces. Read the label, it will tell

you how tall and wide you may expect it to grow. Measure your space, do you have enough space for it to grow?

Large trees (Red Maples) planted at the edge of large field.

Small trees for small yard, in this case, Dwarf fruit trees for small yard. Small trees for small yard, in this case, Dwarf fruit trees for small yard.

Planting for shade? When planting in the front of your property, check your local zoning codes, or town tree commission for where you can plant and what kind of tree you can plant. Locate your property line and know where the street right of way is located. When planting in the right of way there will be restrictions you need to heed. When planting within your property line, zoning codes may say how close to the sidewalk or curb you may plant.

Do not plant too close to buildings. Keep large trees at least 20 feet from the house. Keep small trees at least 12 feet from the house. This will allow the roots room to grow throughout the years without disturbing structures. Most tree roots have a spread much wider than the canopy. Leaving space for a newly planted tree seems awkward at first, but time passes quickly and it will grow.

Small trees are usually planted for flowers or fruit. Birds are attracted to many small trees for nesting and for food. Birds may eat some of the insects attracted to the tree and some birds are attracted to the fruit. Spring flowering trees are a favorite of most landscapers. Bark and foliage color also appeal to many. Do not plant small trees too close to the house. Leave 12 feet for the branches and roots to grow. The ‘empty’ space between the house and tree at planting time can be visually filled with a mulched bed, a few shrubs or a groundcover.

Evergreen trees will fill the space unlike deciduous trees which may form a canopy. Evergreen trees will not leave ground space for an underplanting of shrubs. You may want to complement the evergreen tree with a ground cover to fill the space around it while the tree grows.

SHRUBS seem to be the go-to plants for landscaping. It is important to pick your trees first because they grow the largest and are the most permanent. Second to consider is shrubs. While it is tempting to purchase those plants that you are attracted to at the nursery, you must read the label to determine these things: Large? Small? or dwarf? Deciduous or evergreen? For shade or sun? Seasonal interest? Remember the plant you buy today is not going to look the same in 3 years, 5 years, 15 years. It is good to decide some of these attributes before going to the nursery, then you have some guidelines to help you shop. Better yet, do some research on plants before you go, making a list of shrubs (and alternatives) that you will consider purchasing.

Prepare the soil before planting. Add some organic material, such as compost, leaves, or sphagnum moss. It is especially important to amend the soil when planting a foundation of a new home as the soil is most likely backfill and not conducive to plant growth. Remember not to plant under the eaves, as it will inevitably be too dry. Plant at least 3 ft away from the house. Mulch around the shrubs keeping the mulch away from the stem. Water during dry spells for the first year.

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