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Trouble Free Plants for Small Places

Trouble-Free Plants for Small Areas

How often have you bought on impulse at the nursery, only to find that elegant little plant that looked so neat and well behaved in its pot grew into a forest giant when planted out in the garden?

Such plants not only look out of scale, but also compete with other plants for water and nutrients. They can be messy and cast too much shade, and can be dangerous and expensive to remove. Careful plant selection will ensure that everything “fits in” and stays in proportion to the other features of the garden.

As with any garden, good planning and preparation are important. Ensuring that you have prepared your soil well, provided good drainage, and installed irrigation systems before you consider any plantings will minimise the likelihood of problems.

Types of plants to grow in small gardens

Plants with the following characteristics are suited to small areas:

· Non-invasive roots. Plants with suckering, invasive roots have the potential to cause havoc in small areas where they are in close proximity to foundations, underground pipes and paved surfaces. (Note that any plant root can enter a crack or a join in a sewerage pipe, but those with invasive roots will cause far more damage.)

· Small-growing, or can easily be kept small. As a general rule 5-7 metres is the upper limit for tree height in a small garden. Remember that soils and climate will affect the eventual height of a plant, eg. a tree that grows to 6 metres out in the bush may grow two or three times that height in a sheltered backyard with rich soil and plenty of water.

It’s preferable to choose plants that are small growing, rather than pruning to limit their height. Too often we find we don’t have the time we hoped we would to keep such plants in check, and they soon outgrow their welcome. It can also be difficult to store and dispose of the prunings in a small area.

· Slender habit, or trees that have most of the canopy well above head height. Taller-growing trees, ie. those that grow taller than 6 m can still be grown in small gardens, providing they have a narrow form, such as silver birches. You will still need to consider how the tree fits in with the surrounding plants.

· Pest and disease resistant. A confined space will usually have much less ventilation than more open gardens, so it is preferable to avoid having to use chemical controls.

· Interesting features such as unusual bark, colourful flowers and leaves, attractive fruits, etc. Every plant counts in a small area, so choose those which put on a good display for more than just a few days of the year.

Dwarf Plants

Many commonly grown plants have dwarf forms that enable you to enjoy many of your favourites, but in a much more compact form. Examples include:

· Dwarf fruit trees, such as the Ballerina series of apples, or dwarf citrus.

· Dwarf Lillypillies such as forms of Acmena smithii, can be used in containers or to create low hedges.

· Miniature roses.

· Dwarf or compact conifers – there is a huge range of shapes, colours and textures. Many are slow growing, making them ideal for gardens with limited space.

Strategies for growing plants in small areas

· It’s better to use several smaller plants rather than one large one to give the impression of greater space.

· Grow plants in containers to keep them compact.

· Use water well pots instead of plastic or terracotta pots, especially in courtyards that become quite hot in summer. Water well pots have a reservoir of water at the base of the pot, so you only need to refill them occasionally.

· Limit root growth problems by providing root barriers when first constructing the garden.

· Avoid overcrowding plants.

· Use only a few plants with large leaves, as these make the plant seem bigger.

· Espaliers are an effective way of covering up a blank wall, and making good use of limited space.

Article by John Mason Dip.Hort.Sc.FIOH Principal ACS Distance Education

For more information on courses and books offered world wide through John’s school, see www.hortcourses.com , www.acsgarden.com , www.acsbookshop.com

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