In last month’s issue, this column concentrated on converting storm water from runoff to property usage. This saves water, money and pollution impact. In assessing how to use the natural provision of water, I brought up the need for a landscape design of your property by planning with graph paper and drawing your “landmarks” to scale as much as possible. On this property map, draw in the location of your home, any outbuildings, gardens, pool, driveways, etc.
Now we will use your property map to help determine the right plant in the right place. This is one of the planks in the Tennessee Smart Yards program. Two parts of the Smart Yard program will be discussed and presented at the Boro Garden Show and Party on March 31 and April 1 at the Lane Agri-Park.
The idea of right plant, right place is one of the primary points on landscape design. Another consideration in landscape design is to use your yard as you want: Do you want a field for playing? Do you want to convert all available ground to a productive garden? Do you need a large patio area for entertaining? Do you wish to support the local wildlife? Do you have a water feature? Plant selection is determined by your yard characteristics and your interests.
Begin with a site evaluation of your property as the first step. The site evaluation will assist in considering and deciding what plant can thrive in what location. As Tennessee has different geographic regions and different soil types, temperature, humidity, altitude and rainfall patterns, a plant that thrives along the Mississippi cannot expect to thrive on the plateau. Even within a region there are microclimates. One of those is located on the Rutherford/Wilson County line, near the Cedars of Lebanon Park.
Be aware of differences within your property as you are assessing your land. Is one area shady all day and another in full sun? Is there a slope or a collection point? What type of soil? Are plants and trees already in place there? What are they and what are their characteristics? How is the drainage? Do you know the drainage pattern?
After the property map has the initial “landmarks,” add in existing plants, wet areas, rain collection areas, underground utilities, leaching fields and sewage systems. I would make copies of this map for several purposes. Right now, it will be useful to help you plan which plants to put where. Later, use it to record what has been done or changed.
Once you have decided what to do with your land and have done the map of the existing yard, your design process begins. How exciting! This is the start of the fun. Of course, you can do this yourself, or you can hire a qualified landscape designer. As you assess the changes to your property, the next round of choices will determine the effort needed to maintain your plan. Ask yourself how much time and maintenance you want to put into your yard. There are methods to minimize the time needed for mowing, pruning, weeding, seeding, watering, fertilizing harvesting, etc., but time is still needed.
Some of the most carefree plants are the native plants. They can survive our summers and our winters, and they provide food and shelter for our wildlife. You do want to remove any invasive or exotic plants, as many will take over while they are disrupting the ecological balance of your natural community.
Choose plants with characteristics that fit into your yard: direct or indirect sun, shade tolerance, moisture tolerance, hardiness of plant and their mature height and width. Then choose the “fun” characteristics: bloom time and flower color, growth rate, edible fruit, leaf color and bark color as well as evergreen or deciduous, fragrance, maintenance and as a source of food for wildlife.
When we think about our landscaping, our focus is often on the pretty flowers and the fresh vegetables. Remember the bushes and trees. If they are already in a location that respects their characteristics of growth and size, preserve them during your design process, as they take years to grow to mature size. When planting new trees, consider the mature height and width of the tree and avoid planting them close to structures. Shrubs and trees are often planted too close together and too close to buildings, overshadowing the buildings, cramping their growth and stressing the plants. How tall does the bush grow? Will you be able to keep it trimmed? Does the ground cover spread rapidly? Can you keep it in a determined place?
I’m sure you have seen blue spruce or holly around foundations that grow too close to the home and have to be removed. It is a common mistake to plant trees, bushes and ground cover that grow over windows and walkways. The area becomes an overcrowded landscape that needs to be trimmed or removed or inhibited from natural growth. Just avoid the plant’s stress and your own by planting the right plant in the right place.
In addition to the obvious shade and natural air coolant that trees provide, they also support our habitat. Trees are an important nectar and pollen source for honeybees. Many trees produce their flowers (and therefore pollen and nectar) before the flowers bloom, becoming the primary food source for bees in early spring. (UT publication SP 515 lists the native trees.)
As you decide which plant goes where in your yard, be sure to group moisture-loving plants together in an area that does maintain moisture. What type of soil do you have? How often can you water? Grouping plants together should respect the expected width and height of the mature plant as well as its characteristics. If you over-water or under-water the plant according to its needs, it will wilt and die. Over-watering can lead to root rot, which is hard for a plant to overcome. Finally, you will probably need to amend the soil. Not many plants grow in a soil with high clay content, and we do have clay soils here. Add organic matter. Composting and improving soil is another topic.