Gardeners Sometimes Have To Referee

Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A.  |  7/28/2005 2:02:17 AM

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Get It Growing News For 08/12/05

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Right about now is a good time to look over your landscape and evaluate how things are growing. Some of your plants may need your guiding hand.

Our long growing season, combined with adequate soil fertility and water, can produce abundant and even rampant growth in landscape plantings. As we approach late summer, it is likely that beds of annuals, perennials and tropicals may benefit from the controlling hand of the gardener.

A gardener often has to play the role of the referee. Plants grow larger than expected and start crowding other plants. Tall plants shade out or fall over onto smaller plants. Plants spread into areas where they were not intended to grow. Vines develop a mind of their own and take off in totally unexpected directions. Without the guiding hand of the gardener, the resulting chaos can lead to disaster.

Some of these problems can be avoided by becoming familiar with a plant before you put it in your landscape. In particular, you should always know what the mature size of a plant will be. I find it amazing that people always ask how big the puppy they are thinking about taking home will grow, but they often fail to ask about the mature size of the plants they buy for their gardens. This results in planting trees, shrubs, vines and perennials that eventually become too large for their locations.

Another problem is planting beds with shrubs or bedding plants spaced too close together. Gardeners often want newly planted beds to look full and lush as soon as they are planted – without taking into consideration the growth the plants will make. Most of us tend to be guilty of this at one time or another. The bed looks good for a while, but eventually it becomes overcrowded to the detriment of the plants’ health. A newly planted bed with plants properly spaced should not look full.

Even in a well-planned landscape though, the controlling influence of the gardener is critical. The most useful methods for dealing with especially enthusiastic plants are pruning, supporting and barriers or digging out to prevent unwanted spreading.

When it comes to pruning, it’s good to remember that it is better to prune lightly on occasion, as needed, rather than to allow a plant to get way overgrown and then have to cut it back severely. I almost always carry a pair of pruners with me when I walk through my garden. A few judicious snips here and there helps keep more enthusiastic plants from overwhelming their less vigorous neighbors. Done properly and regularly, this type of pruning is not even noticeable.

Pruning can be used to control the size or shape of a plant or to influence how it grows. Lightly trimming back a plant such as a coleus, hibiscus or impatiens every now and then will keep it more compact and bushy. Cutting wild shoots that occasionally occur on shrubs will keep them more shapely and attractive. And, of course, removing or shortening growth that is covering nearby plants will help those plants to stay healthy.

Staking or otherwise supporting plants is done to keep plants from leaning or falling over onto nearby plants. It helps the tall plant look better, and obviously benefits the plants that would otherwise be covered. The stake should be tall enough to do the job, but not be too obvious. If young children will be playing around the garden, however, the stakes should be taller than the children are – to reduce the possibility of injury. You also should be careful when bending over beds where plants have been staked.

Stakes may simply be placed in such a way that the plant is supported leaning up against it, or it may be necessary to tie the plant to the stake. Green, brown or black twine or plastic ties will be less obvious than other colors.

Another less noticeable way to support plants involves the use of a brick or stone and works remarkably well. Straighten the plant up into the desired position, and then wedge a brick or stone at the base. You will find that the support at the base usually will hold the plant more upright without being visible. If this doesn’t work, however, a stake might be necessary.

Other techniques for support include tying twine in a loop all the way around a plant, using a wire cage (best done early in the growing season so it will allow the plant to grow into it), tying a plant to a sturdier, nearby plant or using one of the commercially available support systems, of which there are many.

Many perennials and tropicals spread by rhizomes underground – some fast and some slow. If growth shows up outside the area you have allotted for that plant, promptly dig out the unwanted growth and replant it somewhere else. Or you can pot it and give it to a friend or throw it away.

Barriers extending at least 1 foot down in the ground around aggressively spreading plants can help keep them under control. Sometimes a plant also can be planted into the ground in a container to limit or slow spreading. Digging, dividing and replanting clumps of aggressive spreaders annually during their dormant season is another good way to make sure they stay put.

Use your imagination and deal with each case creatively. The important thing is to deal with these situations where control is necessary promptly and regularly. We gardeners most often think of ourselves as designers and cultivators, but don’t forget we also must play the role of mediators and referees.

Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.


Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or
Editor: Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or

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