Lee Valley Tools Gardening Newsletter
Vol. 2, Issue 4
August 2007
Are Trees and Shrubs Crowding Out Your Yard?

Gardeners often face tough decisions regarding the sizes of their mature trees, especially if the trees are crowding each other and casting heavy shade over shrubs, perennials and grass. Once crowding sets in, the health of those plants will be questionable at best. As a certified arborist and urban forester for over 36 years, I find this problem is one of the most common faced by homeowners who have planted trees in small yards. Colorado blue spruce saplings may appear dwarfed by a 40' x 30' yard, but in 10 years they will have grown approximately 15', in 20 years they will have grown over 30', and in 30 years they can reach nearly 50' tall. And once that spruce reaches maturity, its canopy will be approximately 20' - 25' in diameter. So, why do we let it happen?

A front yard with an abundance of trees and shrubs.
Trees and shrubs can do much to enhance your property and provide subtle shading and privacy. However, without proper planning from the outset, they can overtake your lawn.

The More, the Merrier?
The most common reason we let overcrowding happen is that we purchase most trees and shrubs when they're relatively small and our new yard has a lot of space available. Why be content to plant just a few, when there is space for a dozen or more? It's especially tempting to fill garden space with small, woody plants—particularly in areas around foundation walls and along perimeter beds adjacent to fences—since masses of woody plants are useful as privacy screens. For many gardeners, the goal is to foster growth in order to fill the yard and create a special, private space. And for many, the sooner this goal is achieved, the better.

However, many gardeners are surprised at how fast the trees and shrubs they plant can grow. Many people know that if they plant an ash sapling or a Colorado blue spruce, these have the potential to grow into tall trees with either a broad crown, as is the case with the ash, or a broad mass of boughs, as with the spruce. Placing the ash beside the smaller spruce may seem like a good idea at the time. You may even have an unspoken intention to transplant one of the trees to another location before it gets too large. More often than not, though, that intention is simply forgotten or you find better things to do with your time.


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