November: Proper Spacing

Welcome to our November issue. I trust you enjoyed October’s article with the explanation of the fall colors. It was a fun piece for me to write and share. The more I learn about the specifics of nature and of new plant varieties, the more intrigued I become.

One way that nature is specific is in the way it divides the plant kingdom into regions, or themes. You can read more about themes on my website or on Home Improvement & Remodeling Magazine’s website in the February and March 2009 articles, but here I will simply say that plants naturally found in Northern California are different from those found in the deserts of Arizona. Amazingly, nature gets even more specific within each theme. Every variety of plant has unique characteristics, including growing habits, flowering season, watering and maintenance requirements, as well as spacing needs.

Knowing and understanding plant characteristics is critical to a successful landscape. For example, you should not plant a fast growing plant next to a slower growing plant without proper spacing. Otherwise the fast grower will overtake the slow grower, stunting the slower plant’s growth. Similarly, you should not plant a plant that needs a lot of water next to plants that are semi- drought tolerate without making allowances in the irrigation system. Unfortunately, in many of the landscapes that we re-do, plant characteristics were not taken into consideration. While the newly installed landscape probably looked nice, it did not remain pleasing as it matured. The most common problems I see are overcrowding and the high maintenance that is associated with an over planted landscape. So today I will address proper spacing.

As I’ve already indicated, overplanting is not immediately apparent. The landscape will look “right” throughout the first year. However, within the second year the crowding begins, and by the third year we have an overgrown collection of who knows what. The problem becomes more frustrating when the homeowners try to maintain the landscape on their own. There is more work than they can keep up with, so the plants get out of control. Many homeowners have told me that they have gotten so frustrated with their landscape that they started tearing out plants. This is not only a dollar loss, but it also works against the whole concept of having a relaxing and pleasurable landscape. This makes me sad because I know that the homeowner has trusted a landscaper to know his plant material, including how it grows and where it should be planted. When one of us fails, we let the client and our profession down. This is why I started writing almost two years ago. I wanted to teach and give you an understanding of the different phases that are part of a great landscape. This way you will be more confident and know what to ask and what to look for. I also wanted to assure you that a well-designed, properly installed landscape will be enjoyable and rewarding for many, many years.

So how do you, the homeowner, know that plants are being properly spaced? You can begin by learning how to read plant labels, especially in relation to plant height. Let’s imagine that the label says the plant will grow to be 4′-6′ tall. It seems pretty straightforward, but the label doesn’t explain that plants grow differently in different environments. The same variety will grow taller in, say, L.A., with higher humidity and milder summers than it will here with our hotter and dryer summers. You can also gauge how a plant will behave by considering the plant’s native climate. That information can be found by Googling the plant name, and/or checking the Sunset Western Garden Book and then comparing that climate to ours. These are some factors I consider in determining a plant’s growth potential, they will help you avoid overplanting.

Another way to learn about spacing is to look at the photos of jobs I show in each publication. In every project you will see space between each plant. The exact spacing we use depends upon the function of the plant and what I want it to do. For example, I use 1 1/2′ spacing for groupings of perennials that are planted to provide color spots or accent spots. I have these in all my designs because they make the yard more warm and inviting. Also, if the homeowner enjoys working in the yard, you can create areas where annuals can be mixed with smaller growing perennials for a variety of constant color. For most other areas I will use a spacing of 2 1/2′- 3 1/2′. This may look to you as though there is too much space, especially in projects with a Tuscan or English Garden theme. The sculptured plants typical of these themes do not contribute to horizontal fullness, so until the other plants grow, the landscape appears less full than you might After 10/08 expect. The pictures shown here are examples of an English Garden theme, a landscape we did in fall of 2008. Though this theme is not often selected, it was chosen because it best matched the house’s architecture. In the pictures you can see the progression of the landscape and the importance of the spacing.

Still looking at the pictures, I want to make a few comments. The first is that the English Garden theme, like Tuscan, is good for homeowners who like space and definition in the garden. It is not a theme I would suggest for homeowners who prefer fullness. I mention this to remind you that proper spacing begins with the end in mind. Second, spacing is just one of the components that make a beautiful landscape. Other considerations include proper plant selection and their loca- tion in the yard; correct water management, which is a function of design and maintenance; and proper light, be it full sun, filtered or shade. With all these varied components, there is no substitute for experience. I am grateful for my many years in the wholesale nursery field where I learned the plants, observing firsthand how they grew. Combining that knowledge with 20 years of experience in maintaining landscapes and creating landscape themes has given me a wide working knowledge of plants. It has become a huge asset to me. Finally, it costs as much to install a beautiful landscape as it does a poorly executed one. Getting it right from the start will produce a landscape that will give you pleasure for years to come.

This now concludes our landscape series for the year of 2010. It has been a joy for me, and I trust that it has been helpful to you. Next month we will have a Christmas edition, titled “Landscaping the Soul” as our yearly inspirational faith edition. I look forward to sharing this with you. Until then, remember to adjust your irrigation timers; with cooler weather we can start skipping days. Also, it is time to think about fall clean-up. Executive Care does do maintenance, so we can help get your yard in order before the holidays if you need help. If you have been consider- ing a landscape project, it doesn’t have to wait until spring. Installing it now gives you the pleasure of watching it come “alive” in spring. Finally, enjoy your Thanksgiving, a small list of things to be thankful for goes a long way in tough times. Take care, and thank you so much for your patronage. Blessings and Good Gardening!

If you are a do-it-yourselfer, please use this article as a guide. If you need help, please do not hesitate to call at (916) 765-9040 or visit our website Executive Care Landscape Management, Inc. is a local full service residential and commercial landscape company. We specialize both in commercial (H.O.A.s, etc.) landscape maintenance and residential custom installs and re-dos. If you have missed previous articles, they can all be found on our website under publications. To schedule an at-home consultation click on “contact” then fill out the form. Lastly we appreciate the support of the community, and ask that if we do not return your call in a couple of days, that you would recall. I am not always able to understand the message.

Plant Talk

Last month I briefly mentioned some ornamentals that provide us with winter color. I did not go into detail because the focus was on brightening up the yard with winter annuals and pots. In this month’s issue, I want to talk about one of the ornamental plants I mentioned, Camellia sasanqua Yuletide— one of my favorite plants for this time of year.

First I should explain a little about Camellias in general. Most people are familiar with Camellia japonica, which has a wide dark green leaf, can grow up to ten feet and needs protection from the afternoon sun. They tend to bloom later in the season (Jan/Feb) than their “little brothers,” the sasanqua varieties. The sasanqua variety has a narrower leaf—so much so that many are surprised to discover that sasanquas are also considered Camellias. The sasanquas bloom earlier than the japonicas, some varieties starting by mid October and with later varieties ending by mid-January. The Yuletide blooms by mid-to- late November ending by mid-January.

Sasanquas are able to stand some afternoon sun, but grow best when sheltered from 3 pm on. The Yuletide matures to around five feet, but can be kept to 4′ if necessary. If pruning is needed, use only hand shears on the longer branches after September 15th so as not to cut off the buds. What I like most about Yuletide is its Christmassy bloom, and that it blooms during the holidays. It has a beautiful dark red flower, about 3 1/2″ across, with a large yellow center; and unlike most Camellias, it has a pronounced scent. It does great in medium sized pots and you could even plant some pansies in the pot as well. In the yard, plant it toward the back because of its size, but make sure it can be viewed from the main windows of your home.

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