Think ahead when choosing landscape plants

John Young, Gill, Daniel J., Owings, Allen D.  |  2/6/2009 8:51:18 PM

Sustainable Landscape News Distributed 02/06/09

By LSU AgCenter Horticulturists

The spring gardening season is upon us, or will be shortly, and it is time to begin purchasing new trees, shrubs and related plant materials for our landscapes. When selecting ornamentals, think how they will look when they mature as well as how they look now. Consider size, form, texture and color.

Plant size is often overlooked in landscape design and installation. Know the mature size of a plant, including its height and spread. A common mistake is to select plants that become too large for their location. The drastic pruning that becomes necessary adds to the cost of maintenance and may reduce the grace and beauty of the specimen. Overgrown plants if left unpruned will alter the balance as well as the accent of the design and may partially hide the house they should complement.

The landscape picture constantly changes because the plants that give it form and substance continually grow. Choose plants that will immediately create the desired composition and yet retain an appropriate size over many years.

Trees and shrubs can develop many distinct forms in the landscape. The more common forms are prostrate or spreading, round or oval, vase, pyramidal and columnar. Mature shrubs and trees are usually more open and spreading than young plants. For example, the head of a young oak tree may be pyramidal. During middle age, the head is an irregular oval, but during old age, a large, massive oak may have a spreading vase form.

Ground covers, such as turf, low-spreading shrubs, creeping plants and prostrate vines, are essential materials in landscaping. The principal use of turf is for the lawn area. Other ground covers are commonly used on banks that are too rough or steep to mow or under trees where grass will not grow well.

Shrubs are woody plants that reach heights of 12 to 15 feet. They may have one or several stems with foliage extending nearly to the ground. The more common shrub forms include low-spreading, round or upright (most shrubs fall into this general form), vase, pyramidal and columnar.

Trees are woody plants that typically grow more than 15 feet tall and commonly have one main stem or trunk. The head or leafy portion of the tree develops a typical form. Examples include round or oval (most common trees such as maple, oak and pine), vase (elm), pendulous or weeping (willows), pyramidal (spruce, fir and hemlock) and columnar (Lombardy poplar). Pyramidal and columnar trees are not as common in Louisiana as the other forms.

The texture of plant materials depends on the size and disposition of the foliage. Plants with large leaves that are widely spaced have coarse texture. A plant with small, closely spaced leaves has fine texture. Extremes in texture that prevent harmony in the composition should be avoided. On the other hand, some variation in texture is needed to give variety. Texture can be influenced on a seasonal basis, depending on whether the plant is deciduous or evergreen.

Green is the basic color of most plant materials in the landscape picture. The color comes in many shades, however. For variety, select plants with lighter or darker foliage. Add some accent with flowering shrubs or those that produce colorful, persistent fruit. Be careful, however, not to plant too many showy shrubs because they could end up dominating the landscape and destroying the balance and unity of the composition.

Come to LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is located near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (La. Highway 30) in Baton Rouge across the street from the new LSU baseball stadium. Go online to and for more information.


Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or
Allen D. Owings at (985) 543-4125 or
John Young at (225) 578-7913 or
Editor: Mark Claesgens at (225) 578-2939 or

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