Tips For Gardening With Trees and Shrubs

When some think of gardening, they picture billowing flowerbeds or tidy rows of vegetables. Experienced gardeners know that trees and shrubs are also part of gardening, and for some they may be the only plants in the landscape, other than a bit of lawn.

Trees and shrubs are generally easy to care for, and they lend architectural strength to garden design. In temperate climates, they remain in the garden for winter interest when frost has killed the herbaceous plants. Even trees that shed their leaves have a skeleton that remains, defining the garden.

Value and Uses of Trees and Shrubs

Trees and shrubs can provide color from flowers or foliage, fruits and nuts and shade and wind protection. It’s possible to have blooms for most of the spring and summer and fruits or colorful fall foliage later in the season, without using any perennial or annual flowers. Evergreen trees provide winter color, and the bark of some trees even provides winter interest.

Properly placed and cared-for trees and shrubs add value to a home. Home builders generally landscape their model homes because they know that a well-landscaped home is attractive to buyers. And true gardeners judge other gardens by how well they incorporate trees and shrubs into their design.

Trees that shade the home can save the homeowner a considerable amount of money in cooling bills. The area shaded by large trees is often 10 degrees or more cooler than surrounding sunny areas. Trees also absorb carbon dioxide and remove other pollutants from the air. In the winter, trees that break the wind reduce heating bills and protect other plants in the landscape.

Trees and Shrubs

Choosing Trees and Shrubs

There are trees and shrubs native to every area of the country, from the desert to the Arctic. A good gardening reference book can describe those trees and shrubs and suggest others that may grow in your gardening zone. Since trees and shrubs are more expensive than perennials, choose them carefully according to your site conditions.

Make sure you consider the adult size of trees and shrubs when making your gardening plans. Most references and plant tags will give you the mature size. It is unfortunate to see trees whose tops have been lopped off because they were planted under power lines, or shrubbery that has grown to cover the windows and doors of a home. Trees and shrubs should be planted far enough from a home or other building so that they do not touch it when mature.

Other things to consider when choosing trees and shrubs is whether the plant will have fruits or nuts that will be messy on walks and lawns, or become a problem because they attract insects or birds. No trees or shrubs should be planted over septic tanks or fields or close to water lines, and some trees are more likely to invade water and sewer lines if planted close to them.

The time you have to spend on gardening can also affect the choice of trees and shrubs for your landscape. Some trees and shrubs require frequent trimming and pruning to look their best. Some people enjoy trimming shrubs into exotic designs; if you like the idea, make sure you choose plants that won’t suffer from your efforts.

The most important thing to remember about gardening with trees and shrubs is to choose diversity. A variety of trees and shrubs keeps you from losing your total landscape should an exotic disease or insect invade. And diversity attracts more wildlife to your grounds than just planting one or two species.

Choosing Trees and Shrubs


If you are landscaping a bare lot, start with the trees and shrubs. They are the most expensive, but they also need time to grow. Your other plantings can then be built around these structural points. Use your gardening reference books to get a feel for how fast a plant will grow.

Dig your planting holes wide, but only as deep as the plant’s root system so the tree or shrubs sits at the same level it was planted previously. Gardening justify will try to sell you soil amendments such as peat to put in the hole, but resist the sale. Current research says it is better to back-fill with what you took out of the hole, no matter what type of soil you have. You can fertilize, but mix it with the soil, don’t dump it on the bottom.

Trees and shrubs are sold in a variety of ways. Bare-root plants have no soil on the roots or are wrapped in damp wood shavings. These are dormant plants and they should be planted in the spring, as soon as you can work the soil and while it is still cool and wet. Plant them as soon as you get them.

Balled and burlapped trees and shrubs have the root systems wrapped in a ball of soil. Some larger plants have a wire cage around the root ball also. These plants can be dormant or growing. They are best planted in the spring or in the fall when it is cooler.

You must remove as much of the burlap and wire as you can after setting the tree or shrub in the planting hole. Modern burlap does not rot fast enough to get a good root system established quickly. It will wick moisture away from the roots, especially if any becomes exposed above ground. Wires may girdle roots or trunks as the plant grows and kill it.

Trees and shrubs that are potted can be planted any time of the year, but make sure they are kept well-watered if it is hot. Remove all pots before planting, including those so-called degradable pots. They don’t break down quickly enough to let the root system support the top growth.

For more information on planting care, visit the home and garden section of


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