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Right Plant Right Place

LANDSCAPING TIPS brought to you by the Arizona Landscape Contractors’ Association, www.ALCA.org, The Arizona Certified Landscape Professional program and the Sustainable Landscape Management program.

Right Plant, Right Place… We can’t say it enough. Yet it is common to see plants too wide for narrow strips of landscape planted in our landscape.  Who is making the decision to plant the wrong plant for the site, or shall we say the ‘right plant,’ just in the wrong place?  Here are a few considerations to discuss with your landscape professional before planting:

  • Mature size: is there enough space for the plant to grow, both in width and height without having to excessively prune to keep it small and compact? Check plant resources like the Western Garden book or local resources like the AMWUA website (http://www.amwua.org/plants/index.php) which lists mature sizes for many of our low-water use plants. Always research your plant before planting.
  • Growth habit: does it grow tall and upright or have a sprawling growth characteristic?  Will you be forced to shear one side of the to get it to ‘fit’ into the space? Just because it appears upright when you buy it doesn’t mean it will continue to grow in this manner.
  • Environmental factors: can influence the ultimate size of a plant.  Applying ample water to desert plants can promote excess growth of a shrub, causing it to ‘outgrow’ the size it would likely reach if it was watered more conservatively.  Exposure may also cause a plant to grow abnormally: a sun-loving plant growing in the shade may reach towards the sun, affecting its size and shape.  This often creates a lopsided shrub if planted too close to a structure or wall.
  • Varieties & cultivars: there are now a number of plant varieties (naturally occurring plant variations) and cultivars (nursery-bred or hybridized) with unique characteristics. Make sure when buying plants you know the cultivar’s growth habit and ultimate size. For example, if you were to buy Tecoma x ‘Sierra Apricot,’ a shrub which grows 3-4 feet tall and 4-5 feet wide but mistakenly purchase yellow bells (Tecoma stans) you will be surprised that the ultimate size of the latter can reach up to twenty feet tall and about fifteen feet wide if it is not cut back annually. This is a significant size difference in two plants with similar names.

The right plant in the wrong place can become a maintenance nightmare. It requires the landscape maintenance company to prune plants to fit into the allotted space. This becomes problematic for shrubs, reducing bloom and even plant vigor.  Plus, the plant will demand more water when in a constant state of stress due to excessive pruning, which doesn’t help the water conservation efforts in our state. It is best to consult with a knowledgeable landscape professional to determine the best plants for the space, exposure and microclimate. Reach out to your licensed contractor before planting to make sure you are making the best plant selection for your property.

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