At first glance, you may think you’ve crossed wires and are reading a post from a realtor. Not so, but when it comes to planting, regardless of what kind of plant it is, location is just as crucial as buying a house (okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get the point).
What do I mean by location, location, location? When it comes to plants there are three basic factors to consider that help determine the best location for your new plant(s).
The first consideration for location is the sun factor. Most plants are pretty particular about how much they like. Give them what they need. Put sun plants in sunny locations and shade plants in shady locations. Plant tomatoes in sun. Hostas in shade. (I still scorn the first person to use Hostas as landscape plants in Southern and Western exposed foundation plantings. Those poor Hostas! What did they ever do to you?!)
The second consideration for location is the soil factor. While some plants can handle a range of conditions, others can’t. Don’t put water-loving plants in sandy soil and plants that like “free draining” soil in clay. For example, Willows love water. If you plant them in sand you will either be watering constantly (not exactly a very environmentally friendly thing to do) or they be stressed (kind of cruel), but they will chase water wherever it might be, including underground water lines and water mains. Unless you like calling Roto-Rooter, skip the Willow if you have sandy soil and plant something that likes good drainage in its place.
The third consideration for location is the exposure factor. When it comes to exposure this is where it’s handy to know a plant’s origin. Let’s take Birch trees for example. When I was growing up many homes had one single Birch tree right smack dab in the middle of the yard. People love them, myself included. The white peeling papery bark, the airy, wispy canopy and the unique branching habit. Beautiful. But, unlike taking a walk through the woods where you might see a limitless number of Birch among other hardwoods, many Birch trees in front yards have had issues. Lost limbs, storm damage and overall just stressed. Why? Because Birch trees in their native habitat are understory trees, meaning they receive protection from the canopy of larger trees. If they were to plant themselves in their ideal location, it would not be in the middle of a lawn with blazing hot sun and no protection from strong winds, storms or winter cold. But we love the beauty of Birch trees, so we plant them there anyway. Unfortunately, the stress eventually catches up to them and they just can’t survive. Bummer for the trees. Bummer for us.
You get the picture, right? Location, location, location. Put plants where they like to be and they’ll thrive, put them in less than desirable conditions and they’ll struggle.
So knowing all of this location stuff, why on earth do you think I would I build my raised vegetable beds in shade? No, I did. Seriously! This past weekend I finally had a little window of time and ventured out to get my garden planted and started looking at my plan and siting and realized… there’s no sun on my garden. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. There is one corner of one bed that gets about an hour of morning sun and a corner of the other bed that gets about 25 minutes just before the sun sets. Holy cow was I ticked when I realized this. How did this happen?!? What was I thinking? Seriously! So ticked.
Okay, in my own defense I must explain. You know how it’s hard to see change in people we live with? Kids grow-up so fast, adults ahh.. um… age, but we it’s not until someone points it out who hasn’t been around us every day that we realize how much we’ve changed. Well, the same goes for my garden. You see, I have a little problem with plants. If its alive, I want to keep it. If it’s on its last leg, I want to revive it. If it’s a volunteer, well it must like it there, who am I to remove it? Add to that the novelty of growing at least one of just about anything that comes my way and lo and behold the raised garden is in the shade. You see, about 5 or 6 years ago I got a couple of ash and elm volunteers on my fence line and left them. They weren’t doing any harm at the time so why remove them? Besides, they provided a little screening too. Fast forward to today and I can’t even reach the lowest branches to limb them up, which is what I originally thought when I discovered the shade. But after a closer look, I realized these trees are probably 30 feet high and have a combined canopy of about 60 feet shading my entire garden.
So now what? No, seriously. That’s what I’m asking myself. Per my previous paragraph, I have a problem with plants (and trees and shrubs) so it makes it really hard for me to remove them. On one hand, these are healthy trees. On the other hand, they were volunteers. On one hand,they screen the power pole. On the other hand, they’re growing through the power lines that connect to the power pole. And did I mention they shade my garden. And while I’ve been gradually converting my landscaping to edible landscaping and this would definitely speed up the process, I’m just not ready to bail on my raised beds. Oh, and did I mention how ticked I am that I will now have to pay someone hundreds to cut them down whereas if I’d had the foresight I could have used my own saw to take care of them a couple of years ago? Yeah, ticked.
So, learn from my mistakes. Location is of utmost importance. Before you plant, or let a volunteer continue to grow, think about the future. Sure it’s just a little guy now, but what’s it going to be when it grows up? Will provide shade? In the right place? How big will it get? Will it get too big for the space? Is it an understory tree? Does it need protection? Will it get it? How high are those power lines? Will it get big enough to touch them?
The same goes for edibles. Some like rich soil, some not so much. Some are finicky about water, others could care less. And when siting your plants, make sure you’re not planting your tallest plants on the South end of your garden. You don’t want them shading everything else out. Well, unless you do. In other words if you’re trying to create cool and shade in an otherwise hot environment, but that’s another conversation.
So needless to say, the raised beds didn’t get planted this weekend… and more edible landscaping did. But there’s a lot more I wanted to do and a lot more plants to go in the ground, so I’ll keep you posted on what ends up where and how they do. 2012 may turn out to be one giant experiment!