Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

September 23, 2013

Plateau Gardening: Use fall to plan your landscape

By C. Rae Hozer
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — While late autumn, after deciduous trees drop their foliage and go dormant, is the recommended time to transplant, right now is a good time for planning and preparing.

Start out the same whether working on first-time landscaping around new construction or making changes to an established layout. Make a rough pencil sketch. Put in fixed objects like the house, driveway, utility poles, existing trees, etc. Mark down problems to be solved such as a need to block unsightly views like the neighbor’s utility shed or to buffer traffic sounds from the street beside the house. Such situations might be handled using screens created with plants or by using a physical structure. Outline different outdoor areas on the drawing. Label how each will be used. Estimate the space available in each. Observe hours of sunlight and at what time of day they occur in areas designated as garden or landscape spaces where larger trees and shrubs are to be installed around the house.

If their basic requirements are met, transplants should thrive. If not poor health could turn a badly placed young tree into a future hazard. Place it a good distance from the house at transplant time. If installed on the home’s shady north side and/or crowded too close, there won’t be either sufficient sunlight or good airflow. That’s two strikes against the tree. Southern houses are often built with deep eves for energy efficiency in summertime. Should the tree be located just under the edge of the eves trough or only inches out, a rain shadow created by the roof can block life-giving moisture. Since water is an essential requirement for new transplants, that situation could be a killer and strike three. Tree roots should be set no deeper than the root ball in the planting hole. Roots do however; need plenty of room to spread laterally. Allow from three to five times the width of the root ball when judging the size to make the planting hole diameter for a tree. Allow no less than an eight-foot gap between the home’s foundation and the trunk. Don’t skimp on space between the outside face of the trunk and the lot line either.

This is the best time to do a realty check. Adjustments can still be made. Permanent fixtures like retaining walls and drainage are not yet in place. The plan has only been drawn in pencil. It can be erased and redrawn. These plants are the real framework for the landscape plan. When correctly positioned, larger shrubs and trees anchor the design making it appear balanced and to scale. Considering size at maturity in the early planning stage is very important. 

Be aware trees grow in girth as well as in height. I mention that not merely as a declaration of the obvious, but being mindful of a problem a friend faced recently. In his case the house and a hickory tree growing along side of it, which now appears to be more than 40 feet tall and over two feet in diameter, have been in place for many years. I’m not sure how long ago the gas company that sells him propane for his heating and cooling system delivered a new tank. I believe it has been in place about six or seven years.

A few months ago, I noticed he, his wife and another man standing on their deck all looking up at the tree canopy. I didn’t notice anything wrong with it from inside the house and was busy anyway and for that matter hadn’t been asked my opinion. Sure did look like the kind of discussion that takes place just before the guy whose name you don’t know goes out to his pickup, gets a chain saw and starts to take the tree down. That didn’t happen though. Next week the rest of the story.

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Plateau Gardening is written by Master Gardeners for gardeners in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region. Contact UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (484-6743) for answers to horticulture questions, free publications and how to become a Master Gardener. Send email comments or yard and garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae, MGardenerRae@frontiernet.net.