Deciding Which Plants To Keep

Jr. Fletcher  |  10/30/2007 1:48:08 AM

Deciding Which Plants To Keep

If you decide that you want to change your landscape, it is important not to simply remove everything that is there. In established landscapes, retaining trees, shrubs, perennials and other plants will save money – and it also preserves established wildlife habitats. Larger, older plants also create a feeling of maturity that newly planted landscapes lack. The trick is knowing which plants to keep. Following these simple guidelines will help you make decisions in determining which plants to retain and which ones to remove.

  • Keep healthy plants that show good form and are growing in appropriate locations. Consider pruning healthy, overgrown shrubs or trees if the only reason they are on your remove list is because of appearance. Pruning is less costly than replacement, especially when dealing with mature plants.

  • Retain trees with long life spans. Some examples are live oaks (Quercus virginiana), Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) and baldcypress (Taxodium distichum). Mature short-lived trees are less desirable, including water oak (Quercus nigra), silver maple (Acer saccharinum) and flowering pear (Prunus calleryana).

  • When developing wooded lots, save clusters of trees and the plants growing beneath them rather than individual trees. Trees growing close together in forests often grow tall and narrow. When the site is cleared, an isolated tree becomes vulnerable to wind damage and could snap during high winds. For this reason, it is best to leave trees in clusters. The cluster should include the trees along with any ground covers or native shrubs growing beneath them. Such a grouping is more resistant to high winds (and generally looks more attractive).

To determine which plants to remove, consider this checklist:

? Unhealthy and invasive plants are not worth saving.

? Foundation plants located too close to walls block air currents and prevent access for home maintenance.

? Discard tightly spaced plants. Over time, tight spacing fosters moisture problems, which can lead to disease problems and stress the plants.

? Plants under eaves often prove problematic; they may not receive adequate rainfall or may be damaged by the force of rainwater dripping from a gutter. Consider carefully before keeping these plants.


Once you know which plants you intend to save, ensure that roots are not damaged through construction activities or soil compaction, which slows growth. Avoid disturbing the root zone of these plants in any way. This includes driving over them with heavy vehicles, digging into the root zone area or mounding soil against the base of plants. To protect trees, construct barricades at the edge of the canopy drip line to prevent construction equipment from driving over roots. Even though this does not protect the entire root system, it will improve your trees’ odds for survival.

Trees particularly sensitive to soil compaction include beech (Fagus spp.), dogwood (Cornus spp.),sassafras (Sassafras spp.), tupelo (Nyssa spp.), pine (Pinus spp.), white oak (Quercus alba), black oak (Quercus velutina) and most nut trees, such as black walnut (Juglans nigra), hickory (Carya spp.) and pecan (Carya illinoinensis).

Disease: an interaction between an organism and its environment that results in an abnormal condition; can be caused by living organisms (fungus, bacteria, nematode, virus) or nonliving factors (cold, chemical injury, nutrient deficiencies, soil pH).
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