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The signs that fall is approaching are sometimes so subtle that it is easy to miss them.  But, they are there just the same.


You may notice the lengthening shadows on your way home from work, signaling shorter days.  Or maybe you’ve noticed that you aren’t rushing indoors as quickly as you did earlier this summer.

 
Fall is a time to celebrate the end of hot summer temperatures and what better way to do that than to venture out into the garden again?
 
Before you head out to shop for plants, it’s important to pick the right ones or you may be left with a dead or struggling plant and a thinner wallet. 
Here is my most important piece of advice before you head to the nursery:
 

Research plants before buying.

 
It sounds simple, doesn’t it?  But you would be surprised to learn that most people don’t research plants before they add them to their landscape.  
 
There are three questions you should have the answers to before planting.
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1. Know how large your plant will grow at maturity.

 
Neglecting to get the answer to this question can have unfortunate results.
 
This homeowner had ficus trees planted in the raised bed around their swimming pool.
 
Now, when you look at this picture, you may be wondering why would anyone plant ficus trees in this area.
 
Newly planted ficus tree
 Well, it goes without saying that new plants are much smaller than they will be once they are planted and have a chance to grow.
 
Mature ficus tree.
 
But, once plants are in the ground and begin growing, that small little plant can increase in size exponentially.  In this case, the ficus looks like it is ready to swallow up this house.
 
Over-planted shrubs
Another example of not researching the mature size of plants can be seen in many landscapes throughout the Southwest.  
 
In a nutshell, the small 1 foot tall and wide shrub in the nursery can grow more than 10X its original size.
 

2. Know what exposure the plant does best in.

 
Putting a plant that needs full sun in a shady spot will result in a leggy plant with few leaves and almost no flowers.
 
What a plant that does best in filtered shade looks like when planted in full sun.
 
Conversely, if you place a plant that does best in the filtered shade in an area that gets full, afternoon sun – it will suffer.
 
You will save yourself a lot of time, money and frustration by simply placing plants in the exposure they like.
 

3. What type of maintenance will your plant require?

 
Fuss-free Eremophila ‘Summertime Blue’
 
Some plants need frequent pruning, fertilizing and protection from pests.
 
Others are what I like to call ‘fuss-free’ and need little else besides water.
 
The amount of maintenance a plant needs is largely dependent on whether or not it is native or adapted to your client.
 
 
For example in the Phoenix area where I live, queen palms are very popular.  The problem is, is that they are not particularly well-adapted to our desert climate.
 
In fact, it is rare to see a healthy queen palm growing in the greater Phoenix area.  Frequent applications of palm fertilizer are required to get them to look okay and even then, they will never look as good as those growing in Florida or California.
 
I don’t like to fuss over plants except for a couple of rose bushes in my garden, so I am a strong proponent of using native or adapted plants that need little pruning, no fertilizer and aren’t bothered by insect pests.
 
Now we know three important questions to get answered before selecting plants for your garden.
 
So, where can you go for the answers to these questions?
 
There are a few different places you can go to find out these as well as other questions.
 
Master gardeners are an invaluable resource and their job is to help people learn how to grow plants successfully. You can call them, email your questions or stop by and talk to them in person.
 
Take some time to visit your local botanical garden. Write down which plants you like, or snap a photo of them with your phone. Note how large they are and what type of exposure they are growing in.
 

Have you ever wondered how sustainable your landscape is?


Earlier this week, we began our series of posts on sustainable landscaping and talked about what a sustainable landscape is.  You can find the first post here.

Most of us like the idea of having an attractive landscape without wasting resources such as fertilizer, excessive pruning and water, time and gasoline unnecessarily.  But, oftentimes we do things in our gardens that create the need for additional resources.

Today, we will look at one of the major problems that I see which often goes wrong and prevents people from having sustainable landscapes.

MISTAKE #1:

Most people fail to take into consideration how large their new plants will grow.

For example:


This young ‘Green Cloud’ Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’) measures roughly 1 foot high and wide.

But, just a few years after planting, it does grow quite a bit…


This ‘Rio Bravo’ sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’), which is similar in size to ‘Green Cloud’ Texas sage reaches sizes up to 8 feet tall and wide.

It’s hard to believe that such a small shrub can grow so much in just a few years time.


This trailing rosemary was initially quite small when planted next to this boulder.  However, the homeowner did not allow for the fact that the rosemary would grow and eventually ‘swallow’ the boulder.


This small ficus tree looks rather innocent, doesn’t it?  But, it is harboring a secret…


It will grow absolutely huge!
This ficus tree absolutely dwarfs this house.  

The mistake of not allowing for the mature size of plants when planting, leads to…

MISTAKE #2:

Over-planting.


At first glance, there appears to be nothing wrong with this landscape area.  There are some larger dwarf oleanders in the background and nine young Texas sage shrubs.

But, do you think that the Texas sage shrubs will fit in this area once they start to grow toward their mature size of 6 – 8 feet?

I don’t think so.

Over-planting occurs when people don’t allow for the mature size of the plants.  Of course, new plants look rather small and somewhat straggly once first planted, which often leads to over-planting to make the new area look more attractive.

That is what happened to this area below…


Would you believe that the shrubs planted above are actually the same as those shown below?


It’s true.  The only difference is that in this space, the mature size of the shrubs was taken into account, so there was no over-planting taking place.

Think about how much less money and maintenance this area uses compared to the previous area?  There are fewer plants, less maintenance and it looks much nicer!

Mistakes #1 and 2 lead us to…

MISTAKE #3:

Excessive pruning.


So, what do you think people do if their plants are planted to closely together – they prune them…a lot!

Drive-thru’s are places that you can usually find over-planted landscapes.  The one above is filled with 2/3’s more plant material then is needed.

The over-pruned shrubs in the forefront are actually Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) shrubs, which look much more attractive when not over-pruned.


There are 3 Valentine shrubs in the photo above that are allowed to grow to their natural shape after their annual pruning in May.


These silver sage shrubs at our local Costco store have also been over-pruned due to the fact that they were planted too closely together.

Over-pruning often leads to artistic expressions…

‘Abstract Art’


‘Mushrooms’


‘Cupcakes’

Words fail me attempting to describe the pruning 
of these sage shrubs.

Here are some interesting facts about over-pruning that you may be surprised to hear.

Over-pruning…

– makes plants grow faster (as they attempt to re-grow the leaves lost)

-creates more maintenance (faster growing plants tend to be pruned more often)

– uses more water (in their attempt to re-grow lost leaves pruned away).

– creates green waste (branches/leaves head to the landfill)

– leads to unhealthy plants (from the stresses of too much pruning).

– wastes time used for un-needed pruning.

Have you ever seen the inside of shrubs that have been excessively pruned for years?

I warn you, it isn’t pretty…




Not too pretty, is it?

Over time, flowering shrubs that have been excessively sheared, can develop large dead areas and eventually decline.  This leads to old shrubs being removed and a new ones put in.

MISTAKE #4

Growing plants that aren’t adapted to your climate.


Plants that are not well-adapted to your local climate require excessive resources such as extra water, fertilizer and other maintenance.  

Queen palms (Syagrus romanzoffianum) are just one example of a plant that often struggles in our southwestern, desert climate.  No matter what we do, they will never look as nice as the queen palms growing in more tropical climates.
The lesson to be learned from this is that not planning for the mature plant size, over-planting, over-pruning and wrong plant selection uses up a lot of resources.

1. Excessive amounts of water are used due to over-planting, over-pruning and for plants not well-adapted to our arid climate.

2. Money is wasted on buying more plants then are needed.

3. The costs of maintenance used for excessive planting and pruning include another resource – gasoline.

4. Declining health of plants that have not been pruned properly or those ill-suited for our dry, hot climate.

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So how does your landscape compare with examples, above?

If you see some similarities – don’t worry.  There are things that you can do to decrease the amount of resources that go into maintaining your landscape.  

My goal is to help you toward not only a more sustainable landscape, but one that is also beautiful and attractive.

In my next post, we will start to talk about 

“Small Steps Toward a Sustainable Landscape”.