Why plant selection is important
The adage “measure twice and cut once” is an important piece of advice that should be considered when making plant selection for any area of the garden.
First impressions do not accommodate the need when selecting for specific areas; flowering plants are attractive, but would an exposed location suit the need of the plants’ tolerance level to wind and salt spray?
November is a good month to assess how the garden fared through the summer and make mental notes of what needs to be revisited to make changes for the better. This is especially the case with new plantings, whether as a replacement or a new installation; poor selection now will be a problem.
A basic fact with plants: they grow, many at a fast rate, and, in the case of the top growth, coverage of the surrounding area can be faster than thought! In such cases, trespass on to neighbouring plants or overspill into a neighbour’s garden or footpath or road will mean regular pruning. Taking this to the next level, when one considers the footage of a boundary, the waste in time, money and labour can add up. Knowledge of a plant’s characteristics will assist in the selection process when assessed in tandem with the primary need of the plant.
Over-planting in a flower border is a common error. Consider first the selection of plant types, eg, trees, shrubs, ground covers, vines, etc – this knowledge should assist in the selection process.
In the case of an individual need, ie, hiding a lamppost, base wall or building, etc, the approach is different and additional information becomes an essential. In the case of hiding a building, height becomes an issue with the obvious choice being the use of trees. Selection, if there is need, should be based on the character of deciduous or evergreen. As it grows, the top growth or canopy will cover the upper areas of the eyesore but the question in the long term is, what will screen the lower growth — from lowest foliage to ground level?
With on-centre planting, distance becomes an important factor as too close can reduce the sideways growth, creating upright, thin growth. The question of the interplanting should be such that it accommodates the need.
Knowledge of a plant’s growth habit will assist in the process of what planting distance should be from neighbouring plants of a similar nature. The plant type is an indicator to determine on-centre planting when using shrubs and ground covers. Allowing plants to grow in their own space will produce a more floriferous nature, especially during the growing season, which is often not the case when too regular maintenance removes potential flowering.
In the case of hedges, a long-term view should be taken with regard to choice. Of late, specific trees have been used as a hedge. These include kamani (casuarina calophyllum), umbrella tree (schefflera) and olivewood (cassine).
The point to remember with tree planting is the extensive run of the root system as it matures. Pruning might well control the top growth but certainly not the root run, which, in a limited growing area, could literally take over the soil mass with its roots. Popular shrubs for use as a hedge include hibiscus (nerium oleander), Surinam cherry (Eugenia), sleepy hibiscus (malvaviscus), grey buttonwood (conocarpus) and pittosporum. In very exposed areas, casuarina as a hedge is excellent. I would not recommend privet as it tends to be attacked by leaf-chewing insects. Before purchasing plants for a hedge, consider the height required for the location; the selection of species can be dictated by this decision.
Considering the need before taking action will reduce the incidence of future problems, while creating a more floriferous garden with reduced maintenance — money well saved.
Malcolm Griffiths is a trained horticulturalist and fellow of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture in the United Kingdom. He is also past president of the Bermuda Horticultural Society, Bermuda Orchid Society and the Bermuda Botanical Society