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Matching Trees and Shrubs to Your Site

To match the right plants to the right place, consider your expectations: What purpose will your trees and shrubs serve in your landscape (privacy? beauty?) and how much maintenance you’re willing to do. Decide what you don’t want from your plants — frequent pruning, watering, raking, or spraying, blocked views, or sparse lawn, for instance.

Consider all the following aspects before making your choices:

  • Vigor: How fast does the plant grow? Very vigorous trees and shrubs quickly fill their allotted space and provide shade and privacy in just a few years. These plants tend to require frequent pruning, however, and have brittle limbs and short life spans. Plants that grow slowly usually live longer and require little pruning.

  • Size: How tall and wide will the tree or shrub get? Consider this aspect carefully if you have limited space or dislike pruning. All too often, shrubs that naturally grow to 8 feet high get planted under low windows, which the shrubs eventually cover. Final width matters, too, especially when choosing shrubs for hedges and groundcovers for which you need to calculate the planting distance between plants. To determine how much space a particular shrub will fill at maturity, take your tape measure with you to the garden center. Use it to do a “reality check” before you bring home a plant that will outgrow your space.

  • Culture: Is the tree or shrub adapted to your climate as well as the sun, soil, and water conditions at the proposed planting site? Try to match as many of your site’s conditions to your chosen plant’s cultural needs as possible.

  • Bad habits: Does the plant have any habits that may cause problems in your landscape? Find out whether the plant will have invasive roots that ruin your lawn or driveway; weak limbs that snap in the wind; messy fruit, leaves, or flowers; and particular pests or diseases that frequently shorten its life.

  • Ornamental interest: Does the plant offer ornamental value for more than one season of the year? Look beyond the obvious flower and foliage colors and consider the texture and color of all the plant parts.

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