How to Avoid Most Plant Problems with One Concept – Right Plant, Right Place

trees and shrubs in a nursery

There are many tempting plant choices at garden centers. Be sure to research the mature height and width of plants before you make a selection for your landscape.

Many plant problems in the landscape could be avoided by choosing the right plant for the purpose and the site. Many insects and diseases are opportunists, taking advantage of plants that are stressed and aren’t healthy enough to fight back.

Whether your landscape plants are having issues with insects, diseases, lack of blooming, or just overall poor performance, chances are that they were not suited for the location in the first place. Improper planting practices or other non-biological factors can contribute to problems and will be addressed in another blog post.

Plant Selection Is the Key

What function do you want the plants to do in your landscape AND what are the site conditions? Answer these two questions to help resolve existing problems and help select the best plants for the job. Plants that are appropriate for the site require a lot less maintenance. Consider the following conditions of your site when choosing plants:

  • Available space
  • Available sunlight
  • Plant hardiness zone
  • Soil conditions and soil test results

Visit your local garden center to see what is available. Then search your library or the internet to find or confirm the plant’s basic requirements and mature size.

When possible, select plants that are native to the planting region. Natives adapt better, require less maintenance, support native pollinators, and look more natural in their native region.

It is best to evaluate your entire property instead of reacting to problems on a plant by plant basis. Mark up a copy of your plat plan with your landscaping ideas. (Read How to Avoid 5 Landscaping Blunders: tips for new and experienced gardeners.) Your plan will be a combination of existing features in your landscape, plants to be retained, and new features and plants to incorporate.

Size Matters

Mature plant size is one of the most important factors to consider when evaluating an existing landscape or selecting plants for a new site. Always consider the full grown height and width of a plant when making your selection. The full grown plant should fit well within your property line. It should not extend over sidewalks or driveways or touch structures like houses or sheds.

overgrown holly in front of a house

Oh the good intentions! This lovely specimen holly (in the photo above) was planted too close to the house with the intention to replant it in the appropriate location before it got too large.

When an existing plant has grown too big for the location and continuous pruning makes it look less than desirable, what should you do? Remove it and replant with something more appropriate for the location.

overgrown hollies

These 35 year old hollies (in the photo above) have outgrown their planting bed. The view from inside the home is obstructed and a potential security issue has been created. The trees look very healthy, but it would be very difficult to transplant these specimens successfully. Both of them should be removed.

Select replacement plants for this area that grow to a maximum of 4 feet in height. If a taller specimen tree is desired for the corner of the house, the distance of the planting hole from the house should be at least 1 foot greater than the radius of the expected mature width of the plant. If the plant can grow to 25 feet wide, dig the hole at least 13.5 feet away from the house.

If you are having a hard time deciding what to plant, send a picture of the area in question and a list of the plants you are considering to the Home & Garden Information Center’s Ask an Expert service. We can help you make a decision.

Plant selection information and references can be found on our website.

In my next blog post, I’ll address the question: What job(s) do you want your plants to perform? I’ll cover plant functions and purposes to consider, such as screening, shading, and more.

By Ria Malloy, Assistant Program Director, Home & Garden Information Center. This is the second in a series of articles on landscaping. Look for future posts on plant selection, planting practices, and plant maintenance.

3 Comments on “How to Avoid Most Plant Problems with One Concept – Right Plant, Right Place

  1. You would think that this is common sense! Brent and I used to exchange pictures of plants that were in the worst of the wrong placed, including queen palms planted under the lanai roof of a Denny’s Restaurant in Santa Cruz!

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    • I hear ya! It doesn’t set the best of examples when the ‘pros’ repeatedly do things like planting shade trees under power lines in brand new developments. Plant junkies are known offenders of breaking some common sense rules in their own landscapes, don’t you think? I have made the mistake of planting too close to the house. But in my own defense, the plants were so happy in those locations that they exceeded all size expectations. Do as I say, not as I do!

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      • Well, I have planted some of the worst trees, including Lombardy poplars. I put six at my mother’s house, and nine at mine. I do not mind planting such trees because I know what they are and am willing to deal with the consequences. (They actually were not that bad.) However, I would never recommend them for a client unless they REALLY wanted them for a very specific application. Years ago, other poplars were used as temporary trees while the more permanent trees grew up, but that technique does not work where tree preservation ordinances prohibit the removal of the temporary trees. (see Planned Obsolescence). It does not bother me when we do such things in our own gardens where we are willing to deal with the consequences. It seriously bothers me when ‘professionals’ do such things in the landscapes of their unsuspecting clients.

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