Small Talk

Earlier this year in this column, I stressed the importance of diversifying your garden. (Remember? If you don’t have variety, you’re increasing the risk of pest infestation or disease.) But that doesn’t give free range to pick whatever you wish. Plants don’t always play nicely, and the diversity I so highly recommend becomes a bigger problem than creepy crawlies if you pick plants willy-nilly.  

Last year, I set out to overhaul my backyard. Having a small garden, I looked for plants that wouldn’t overtake the space. Through the years, I’ve noticed garden centers offer more dwarf varieties — perfect for a gardener with a small space or someone who wants less pruning to do every year. 

“Small” is a temporary condition. Too often, I’ve seen a homeowner buy a small plant because it looks great now, but within a few years, that plant quickly outgrows the space. A homeowner in my neighborhood recently planted small spruce trees as shrubs up close to the foundation of their house. Those trees, planted four feet from their foundation, will each grow to be 20 feet wide. 

Size isn’t the only consideration when choosing a plant. Ask yourself: How much sunlight will the plant receive in this space? How much moisture? Many plants are fickle when it comes to the sun, soil, or moisture. If a shade-loving plant gets too much sun, it easily can burn up. In our area, we run into another problem: Our heavy clay soils hold a lot of water, and that can drown a plant’s roots from too much moisture saturating the soil. Do your research before plant shopping. Check plant tags or ask a garden center employee to learn the needs of a plant. Knowledge is plant power.

— Brian Wildeman is a designer with Landscapes by Dallas Foster and Keep Evansville Beautiful’s 2010 community volunteer of the year.

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