Sometimes I watch a television show featuring an earnest young man prowling a home improvement store, looking for telegenic shoppers in need of a landscape renovation.
More often than not, the subject is a couple who agree to let the host follow them home to see their yard.
(I’m not going to speculate on behind-the-scenes maneuvering occurs, it has no bearing on my point).
As one would expect, we’re treated to the sight of some ugly and poorly planned landscape display; tattered and weedy turf, a weather beaten deck or cracked patio, and unhealthy trees and shrubs.
Perhaps the hapless homeowner has taken a stab at a renovation in the past, only to give up when one chore reveals the need for another. I’m sure some of my readers can relate.
Brandishing a clipboard the host joins the couple in their backyard, eliciting a wish list from them as they amble around tripping over slag and stumps, finally shaking hands all around as he advises them to gather friends and family to provide labor.
The next day a gaggle of folks in work clothes are waiting as the host pulls up, accompanied by a gang of contractors in enormous pickup trucks.
He shows the couple some elaborate plans and sketches and organizes the volunteers, and before long concrete is demolished and removed, scrubby plants are yanked out by the roots and, and at last there is a blank canvas.
Over the years I have seen some incredible work; ornate patios, elaborate outdoor kitchens and structures that would be the envy of Hugh Hefner.
After water features and fire pits are installed and plumbed a panel truck pulls up in front, and all hands are assigned unloading a plethora of plant material, which is frantically placed in the ground at the direction of a dungaree clad contractor.
At last they present us with the before and after shots, which of course are amazing. However, what I am struck by is the tableau of grasses, shrubs, trees and vines taking up every inch of available space.
This illustrates an issue I have encountered more than once in my career – overplanting.
Humans tend to seek out gratification as quickly as possible – they don’t want to wait years for their landscape to fill in to lush maturity, and I commiserate.
The problem arises when the landscape is neglected or mismanaged. Plants have as much mass below the surface as above – observe your crowded plantings and imagine the root system, essential to the health of every conceivable plant.
Roots that grow into a poor soil profile do a poor job of supplying necessary nutrients and water, and eventually decline and death.
Plants need space to grow – air circulation curbs a variety of pests and fungal issues, and overgrown shrubbery can be a security concern.
What is the solution? Must one sit gazing forlornly at his spare and meager landscape, comforted only by the fact that future generations will appreciate it?
Be assured, there is no need for that scenario. At the very least, go ahead and jam your spaces chock full of big healthy shrubs, grasses, vines to your heart’s content.
You can remove plants as necessary – if you don’t need to dispose of a beautiful specimen or three, consider transplanting them to another space, or offer them to someone else.
(I recommend observing proper techniques for this, but that will be a future subject).
Another solution is the use of containers – they can be moved about as growth occurs, but be aware that these can easily become root-bound, and may eventually need to be planted in a permanent location.
Containers are also ideal for seasonal plantings, and can be moved around for special occasions.
If the installation is suitable, careful pruning and thinning can help keep plants within their boundaries, and if there is a nearby fence or room for another support and its habit is conducive, consider espaliering the plant.
Although it is feasible to maintain your own space if so inclined, I would advise the reader to seek out the advice of a professional if you are unsure about some course of action.
Ideally this would take place with an on-site visit, because there are factors that can’t be observed by a photo, description, or even a video.
Prevailing winds, possible pest infestations, and many other conditions should be discerned to make proper recommendations.
A final thought about the show that inspired this post – I find myself wondering what it would be like to revisit some of these efforts a few years hence, after situations had time to develop.
I suspect that some of these folks are confronted by the effect of over-planting, and repairing the consequences would be a great show idea.
I want at least producer credit if one is created.