Size does matter Giving plants room to grow

Plants aren't just pretty things to put around the yard; they're living organisms with their own way of getting along in the world. They have a very specific destiny — a set of genetic instructions that determine their height, width, growth rate, and many other characteristics. Plants are indifferent to your needs. This concept is difficult for a plant lover to accept, but it's true. Plants don't give a hoot about you and your landscaping. Sorry.

This means that your job as a landscaper is to figure out what plants need and then make sure they get it. Suppose you put a 20-foot wide shrub where you want a 4-foot one. The shrub, in its blissful ignorance, will keep trying to grow to 20 feet wide, and you'll have to keep cutting it back. A plant can't be trained as if it were a dog, and your relationship with that plant will go on unchanged, with much labor on your part, until you finally take it out and put in something that grows to the proper size.

The implications of not giving plants room to grow are many:

✓ You work harder, finding yourself in a constant battle with your yard.

The battle gets bloodier the more oversized plants you have.

✓ The plants suffer from the abuse necessary to keep them in bounds.

They look cut-back rather than natural, and some may never flower.

  • Your green waste container is always full of clippings. Green waste is the plant parts you remove in the course of pruning work.
  • Pruning is bothersome and wastes energy. The energy use and noise from using power tools and hauling clippings away is bad news.

I call this strategy adversarial horticulture, and believe me, it's an epidemic. In some gardens, 80 percent of the work consists of cutting plants back all the time. It's unnecessary and is a sign of terrible, unsustainable planning.

The remedy, of course, is simple. Believe the gardening books when they list sizes. Choose plants that grow to the size you want for any given application. Then enjoy watching the garden develop into a graceful state of equilibrium, getting easier to live with rather than harder.

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