Don’t Fence Me In!

Oh give me land, lots of land under starry skies above – don’t fence me in! These lyrics by Cole Porter should be in the mind of every gardener when they start to put plants into the garden or landscape. Some plants need “lots of land” to grow and for most plants, spacing matters.

I understand why plant spacing can be difficult. Annuals in 6 cell pack are so small – shouldn’t they be planted just a few inches apart? That little hydrangea bush in a 6″ pot gives no hint of how large it will become. And the tiny tree from Lowes that you can fit into the trunk of your car looks so nice in that little corner of the yard until it starts to grow into it’s genetically determined 75′ height and 30′ width.

When it comes to spacing plants, you need to think about what the plant will become and not what it is right now. If you don’t, you’re nice garden layout will turn into a jungle. And a crowded garden isn’t just an aesthetic issue – plants that are stressed by overcrowding are much more susceptible to insects and diseases.

Some plants can deal with crowding better than others. Annual flowers will usually adjust to be planted too closely. Leafy greens in the vegetable garden can adapt to crowding as well. But if you crowd zucchini or tomatoes, your harvest will decrease. Perennial flowers that are crammed together might look great for one year but in future years you’ll have fewer and fewer flowers. Shrubs can turn into a tangled mess without enough “elbow room.” And when it comes to trees, spacing is vital.

I saw a yard where the homeowner planted a row of white pine trees to block the noise of the road and to give them some privacy. This fast growing tree was a good choice for this purpose. But white pines can grow to 80′ tall and 25′ wide; the trees I saw were planted about 2′ from a fence and no more than 3′ apart! Those white pines needed “land, lots of land” but instead they were literally “fenced in!” I’m sure a tree removal service will be coming to that yard within a few years.

The simple way to prevent overcrowding is to read and follow the information about spacing on seed packets and plant labels. Think about what the plant will become. Wave petunias will spread to over 2′. A little zucchini seed will grow into a plant over 3′ wide. Forsythias become big bushes very quickly. And as they say, mighty oaks from small acorns grow, that is, as long as they’re not fenced in!


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