Bob Beyfuss: What to consider when deciding where to plant – The Daily Freeman

bob-beyfuss:-what-to-consider-when-deciding-where-to-plant-–-the-daily-freeman

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In a few short weeks, we will all be possessed with the overwhelming urge to plant something! In fact, some of us are already starting seeds and planning for this season’s gardens, despite it being a bit too early to do so. This is a good thing and sometimes we even get to harvest some of our earliest efforts later on this summer. If not, well, we are only out the price of the seeds, our labor does not count because God does not detract from a human’s life span those hours spent gardening.
Growing annuals does not require all that much planning to begin with because they are here and gone in a season, but planting a tree or shrub, does require some foresight. Seeing beautiful perennials, trees, and shrubs at your local garden center makes us all want to buy and plant them as soon as possible, so we can enjoy them right away. I suggest that before you buy something expensive that you hope to enjoy for years to come, you spend a little time figuring out where it will thrive.
Most perennials, trees, and shrubs will grow best in full sun, partial shade, or heavy shade. A tree or shrub that blooms spectacularly in full sun may fail to bloom at all in shade, whereas a shade-loving perennial, like ginseng, will croak in full sun in short order. Shade conditions vary in season and over time. The lilac shrub in your yard, which bloomed very well for 10 years in one spot, may now be shaded by a nearby tree and fail to bloom. Or the evergreen hedge has now grown to such a level as to shade out the plants that grew so well years ago alongside it. A Kentucky bluegrass lawn that thrived for years beneath that tiny maple tree is now getting thinner and thinner every year because the tree has grown.
Here in Florida, plants grow ridiculously fast I have come to learn. There is a live oak tree in my backyard here that has extended its dripline more than 20 feet in only the past 10 years and the lawn beneath it has been disappearing as a result. That’s OK with me!
Drainage is another crucial site consideration and this too may change over time. Plants that can tolerate “wet feet” are relatively rare, but if your drainage is suspect, I suggest you test it first. Dig a hole 12 inches deep and 12 inches square, fill it with water, and let it drain. Fill it with water again and if it drains completely in less than a day, the drainage is good.
Soil texture is also an important factor to consider. Our soils range from heavy, stony, clay in the Catskill Mountains, to well-drained sandy loams in the Hudson Valley. Clay soils often can be amended by adding copious quantities of organic matter, such as compost or peat moss and even the sandiest soils can likewise be amended by the exact same technique. Sadly, there is not much one can do about rock outcroppings, boulders and stones. Soil pH and nutrients also affect what can or cannot grow in any given location, as many plants do have exacting pH preferences, but these are factors that we can address over time. “Over time” is usually more than one season for drastic changes, however.
Susceptibility to pests is a topic I have already discussed, as it pertains to deer predation, but it is also relevant to other plant pests that are predictable. Roses are among our most popular shrubs, but most roses are subject to all sorts of issues from critters, insects, and diseases. I tend to discourage backyard apple tree orchards since they are subject to so many pests, as are plums and cherries. Peaches seem to be the least affected, but they too often will fail to produce any fruit if certain pests appear. You can still grow these, but be prepared to spray!
The bottom line is to do a little research before you buy, not only to the site conditions you have to work with but also to the specific needs of the plants you plan to plant. It is sad to see some beautiful street trees butchered by the local utility because they were planted directly beneath power lines. It is not the utility company’s fault when a homeowner or a municipality makes a bad decision in tree selection.
Bob Beyfuss lives and gardens in Schoharie County. Send him an e-mail to [email protected]

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