A Design Element Typically Forgotten (Plant Utility)

loctanJune 2, 2013

First, I appreciate everything all of you designers and landscape aficionados do for this forum - all free of charge, on your own time. However, something I think we all forget sometimes when landscaping is we want to look at the "final" 25, 40, or 60 year size of plants is that realistically, most of us will either be long dead when they reach that size or certainly moved away. While the future homeowners may appreciate it, more realistically they will neglect and kill/let run wild all the landscaping anyway.

So my point that I believe is forgotten and needs to be considered is to think about what plants will serve your needs for 5, 10 or 15 years without necessarily regarding the the 25 or 30 year plant size. "Utilize" the plant for 10 years, then cut it down and replace it if it's too big. In my opinion, that's better than selecting (and waiting...) for the "right size" 25 year old plant to mature especially when I will likely move or kick-the-bucket after maybe 10. So I planted something that never served it's purpose for me and future owners may or may not fully appreciate.

Now I am not saying to not think long-term and have a 25 year plan. But don't let the 25 or 30 year plan get in the way of your needs in 5 or 10 years because likely you won't be around to enjoy it.

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I can tell you from talking to them that there are many homeowners who went on that theory and regretted it. "Like I care what it'll look like in ten years, we're selling and trading up in 3 years," they said... in 2006. Oops. How's that screen of white trash Leyland Cypress you planted five feet on center working for ya?

    Bookmark   June 2, 2013 at 10:30PM
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I know there are many people who like fast results with less concern about long term consequences, but overall, I think it's a mistake to plant based on this kind of thinking. As Marcinde points out--and I think it's so true--there are many plants that tend to "bite one in the butt" not too long after they arrive at someone's notion of their ideal stage of growth. To the contrary, I think immediate gratification is already overvalued relative to long term quality, and if anything, would counsel people to care less about how quickly plant goals can be achieved. I'm all for fast results, but not at a sacrifice in quality. The good news is that high quality CAN be achieved with many plants in relatively relatively short order. Even if one must wait years to achieve a long term goal, it's usually a pleasurable experience along the way.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2013 at 11:12PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

There are ways to find a balance between overplanting fast-growing, short-lived plants and choosing slow-growing giants, then waiting 25 years for results. However most people don't discover this balance until they have already devoted 20+ years to garden self-education. If I could sign up for just one garden class, it would be "Garden diversity and the master plan." It would be about all the things I wish I had known 15 years ago, such as, "Chapter 1: Annuals are an Appetizer".

    Bookmark   June 3, 2013 at 12:08AM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

I have found that most homeowners are resistant to taking oversized plants out, even if they are pushing on the eaves of the house or lifting hardscape. Then there are the costs of removal, hauling fees, and expenses for repairs.

If the plan is to pass the buck to the buyer of your house, it is common for them to request money back for removal of problem landscape plants. Or if you take them out before putting the house on the market, not only could it be considerable work, but you miss out on the value and desirability the landscape would have brought to your house. It may happen that when the plants need to be removed, you may not be physically able to do the work as planned, and will have to pay someone to remove them.

A better plan is to just spend the money up front and purchase larger nursery stock and use a good design from the beginning. You get to enjoy the plants during your stay, and then the mature plants will add to the value of your home when it is sold. It is rarely necessary to splurge on larger plants for all of the landscape; often just the major trees, specimen plants and perhaps shrubs used for screening..

On the other hand, it is not always wrong to plant things with the intention of removing some or all of them later. But the design, selection and location of those plants needs to be well thought out. As well as the plan for removal and disposal (including access to the location). They should never be used where the temporary plants could cause damage to the home or hardscape if they are left in place too long. After the removal of the temporary plants, ideally, the value of the landscape should not diminish.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2013 at 1:04AM
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Excellent answer, Gyr_Falcon! I agree with all of it.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2013 at 1:16AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

There are also many beautiful shrubs and trees that have a short brief lifespan that may rule their use out for someone who doesn't want to have to remove/replace anything of shrubby or tree size later on. Many Acacia and Ceanothus species are short lived, but I still like to design with them. Other very showy plants in bloom such as the Australian Mint Bush/ Prostanthera rotundifolia and the South African Psoralea pinnata are also extremely fast growing but short lived. As these are mostly small enough to be easily removed at death, I don't worry about the costs or loss to the landscape, as they've been designed in to be ephemeral, useful until slower growing plants attain more mature size. I often use quick growing annuals or perennials in the same way.

Where I'd think twice about using fast but shorter lived species is with regard to larger trees. I especially see this with aging/dying large Monterey Pines locally. They are gorgeous for about 70 to a 110 years age, but are a major expense to remove when 60 to 90 feet tall.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 12:14PM
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The original owners of our house only looked at their immediate needs when they planted yaupon hollies. Our house has a 3' overhang on the front porch and they planted the hollies directly underneath. By the time we bought the house, the hollies had grown up as far as they could and had begun growing out and around the roof.

Not only were they an eyesore, but we couldn't see anything in the front yard because of them. We cussed those people for months when we were digging out those trees.

If the placement of little trees or shrubs looks too spaced out, I suggest planting annuals until they fill in.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 1:34PM
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