Designing Landscapes That Last

Recently, I read a blog posted by another arborist titled ‘Deforestation by Design’. His premise was that by planting the wrong plants, in the wrong way, and in the wrong place, we are essentially deforesting our landscapes. Or ensuring that we will have to plant again much sooner than if we did it right the first time.

Maybe as a gardening community our job is to help others understand that plant material is not just about decorating a yard. It is about creating an outdoor habitat for us, our children, and for the birds and the bees. How do we design a landscape that lasts?

The costs of replanting are more than just ripping something out and redoing it. Here at Art of Stone Gardening, we undertake a lot of those types of projects. Usually because the home was resold to a new owner that wants it refurbished, or the original owner has outgrown their current landscaping design. Redoing a landscape is not inexpensive. It entails removing the old, removing the roots and rocky debris around it, regrading, adding in soil if needed, tilling, and then replanting. We often start by trying to keep as much of the original plant material as possible. If the plants/shrubs and trees are still viable and they are not too close to the foundation, sometimes a hard prune will help them flush out properly.

4 common things that will result in deforestation, or landscapes that don’t last:

  • 1. Planting too close to the foundation.

Most plant tags will indicate how wide a plant gets. If the tag states that it can get 3’ wide, then plant it at least 2’ away from the foundation. (The center of the shrub should be at least 1.5’ or 2’ away from the foundation). If this is a particularly large shrub that will eventually reach five feet wide, then plant it at least three feet away. This Cleyera is very close to the foundation and will require continuous pruning to keep it away from the stone. Plants very close to the foundation can also trap moisture and insects.

Designing landscapes in North Georgia Dahlonega Cleveland Helen Gainesville GA
This Cleyera shrub was planted too close to the foundation of the house.
  • 2. Plants too large for the site (especially in front of a home).

Read the tags (although these do not always apply here in North Georgia). Research or ask a knowledgeable nursery, how tall does this shrub get? If it gets 10’ tall, it is not the right plant to place in front of a picture window.  This sad Camellia has never bloomed because it does not have enough space and is constantly being pruned.

Designing landscapes mindful landscapes North Georgia Helen Cleveland Gainesville Helen Dahlonega
This Camelia shrub is too large for this space.

Trees such as Crape Myrtles are often placed a few feet away from the home. Due to this, the homeowner or landscaper keeps pruning it. Every cut into a tree or shrub is an invitation to disease as shown by this photo below.

Mindful landscape designing North GA Dahlonega Cleveland Helen Gainesville
Crape Myrtles are often cut back many times due to their quick growth. This causes disease.
  • 3. Too many plants.

In designing landscapes, some homeowners want their landscapes to look full in the beginning. I understand, it looks finished. But, if there are too many plants, some will eventually have to come out. If some of the shrubs are evergreen shrubs, taking out one shrub can leave a huge hole in another. In time, the landscape can look like this photo below.

Would you dare venture up the stairs to the entrance to this home? This homeowner over-planted the entrance. An abundance of shrubs and improper pruning can make an entrance feel claustrophobic and scary.

Mindful landscape designs Dahlonega Cleveland Helen Gainesville GA
Over-planting the entrance of a home eventually causes a narrow, uncomfortable walk up to the front door.
  • 4. Not considering cultural conditions.

Cultural conditions mean the sun, shade, moisture, or lack of moisture of the site. We all love Azaleas but planted in the full sun without irrigation is a recipe for a shrub that can struggle. Even Encore Azaleas (sun-loving) will need some protection from our sweltering Georgia summers and will struggle without irrigation.

The definition of deforestation is the purposeful clearing of forested land. But the examples in my blog prove how homeowners and landscapers are “deforesting by design.” Something to think about….

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