Match the Plant to the Site

(News article for November 2019)

I’m wrapping up the series on “right plant, right place” this week. In the last couple of articles, we’ve looked at choosing plants that are suited to our climate and resistant to common disease problems. This week, I’ll address matching the plant to the site on your property.

Site conditions to consider include the amount of sun or shade an area gets, how well drained it is, and whether the site gets more or less effective rainfall than the open yard. I’ll also include the idea of spacing plants according to their size at maturity.

Most fruit, nut, and vegetable plants produce best in full sun. For these types of plants, more hours of direct sunlight is generally better than fewer. You’ll often see wild blueberry plants, for example, growing in the woods, but for maximum fruit production, full sun is best. An exception is that one less-commonly grown fruit tree, the pawpaw, needs some shade during its early years.

Ornamental plants vary widely with respect to amount of sun or shade to which they’re best suited.Azaleas typically perform better in sites where they get morning sun or partial shade rather than full sun. On the other hand, many flowering plants will not flower well if they are planted in a site that is too shady.

There are several things that affect how wet a site is, including the slope of the land, the soil texture (how sandy, silty, or clayey it is), and the depth of the water table. As with light needs, plants vary with regard to how wet or dry they “like” it.

If you know that water tends to stand in an area after rain, this probably isn’t a good location for fruit or vegetable plants, but there are a number plants that thrive in wet sites. At the Hammond Research Station, we have a demonstration rain garden that includes plants like river birch, Virginia sweetspire, American beautyberry, blue flag iris, and American crinum lily that tolerate wet conditions.

Be aware that plants placed near eaves of houses can get much more water than plants in the open yard. If you don’t have gutters, be careful about placing plants that are sensitive to wet feet near the edge of the house.

The final thing I’ll mention is something that’s often neglected. That is the consideration of how large plants are expected to be when they mature. Plants are often planted so that they look good when installed but eventually grow into each other or up against a building unless they’re pruned regularly.

Some work can be avoided by choosing plants that, when mature, will fit the space in which they’re planted. If a shrub is expected to reach 8 feet wide, for example, it’s a good idea to plant it at least 5 feet from a house (half the mature width, plus 1 foot for air movement and access around the house).

Likewise, if there are windows that you don’t want blocked or overhead power lines around, consider how tall the plant will get.

Matching the plant to the site can improve plant performance and reduce time and money spent on maintaining and replacing plants.

Let me know if you have questions.

Contact Mary Helen Ferguson.

2/19/2020 2:45:19 PM
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