Plan your trees in low-maintenance garden

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  • Choose with care: an example of a Parinsonia aculeate (Jerusalem thorn), which can be an attractive garden feature in the right property

    Choose with care: an example of a Parinsonia aculeate (Jerusalem thorn), which can be an attractive garden feature in the right property


Over the past several months we have discussed several types of gardens, some of which can be very labour intensive and costly to maintain.

Gardens by their very nature are “active” and require attention which, to a degree, can be controlled by the design process.

Weeds are a constant and, if allowed to proliferate, can become a major problem, not only to your garden but also neighbouring properties.

Minimalism or simplicity is not usually seen in gardens but if it works inside the house, why not consider it for outside?

It can be a creative exercise using the correct components — trees, palms, cycads and lawn — as the foundation planting, with hard landscaping, in the form of decks and seating areas, used as a feature.

Trees with the potential to achieve a large size should only be considered for areas that will accommodate their growth until maturity; root growth/spread approximates the top growth, therefore damage to structures and underground utilities must be considered.

Most trees in this category are deciduous with a few exceptions, but strong winds could well be an enemy in the case of the latter.

In this group, one would list Delonix regia (poinciana); Albizia lebbeck (black ebony); Lonchocarpus violaceous; cassia species; Tamarindus indicia (Tamarind); Tabebuia pallida (white cedar); Ceratonia siliqua (carob wood) and Ficus species.

There are numerous interesting and attractive small-to-medium trees which will grow well on most properties except those on the coastline. These would include Parkinsonia aculeate (Jerusalem thorn); Lagunaria patersonii; Sabines carinalis (Carib wood); Erythrina species; Eriobotrya japonica (loquat); Thespesia populnea (seaside mahoe); Punica granatum (pomegranate); Callistemon species (Bottlebrush) and, in protected areas, citrus.

The design layout will be dictated by size and shape of property. In the case with large trees, consider locating a patio aside the trunk and beneath the potential canopy to give shade during the day.

Select the preferred trees after seeking information as to their potential height and spread, which will assist in the location and quantity of trees the area can accommodate and enable you to determine whether they are adequate to make a statement. Take into consideration the type of grass you will use. Heavy shade can reduce growth in Bermuda grass, for example, and thus create weed patches in severely hit areas.

On smaller properties, and for much reduced maintenance, the use of palms or cycads within the lawn area can also be creative whilst creating interest with leaf shape and character.

Palm species are variable in their potential height, from the slow-growing Phoenix lourei (pygmy date palm) to the very tall-growing Roystonea regia (royal palm), which should be used for long driveways or large gardens.

Several species have a natural branching from the base and increase their “beauty” as they mature. These would include Chrysalidocarpus lutescens (bamboo palm), Rhapis excelsa (lady palm), Chamaerops humilis (European fan palm) and Trachycarpus fortuned.

The cycads, which are relatively slow growing and mostly of a “spreading” habit as they sucker from the base, are quite hardy and evergreen and, in a small garden, would make a bold statement.

They can be planted as a stand-alone or in groups within a bed. The two most common cycas are C revolute (sago) and C circinalis (queen sago). Another member of this family which also grows extremely well in most locations is Zamia furfuracea, commonly known as cardboard palm.

The planting hole size is always important but more especially so with trees and palms as the root system has to be the anchor for the weight above ground. If planting a tree, I would suggest sourcing a large specimen in a large container (always check root system to ensure it is not pot-bound), and make a hole at least twice the width and half the depth of the container.

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Published Nov 14, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated Nov 13, 2017 at 10:18 pm)

Plan your trees in low-maintenance garden

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