Watch what and where you plant!

I see so many plants that are planted in the wrong place for the size of the plant. ‘Wrong plant wrong place’ perhaps, instead of ‘right plant for the right place’ as our gardening mantra goes. By right plant in the right place we should take into account not only the environmental conditions that the particular plant needs, such as soil, light, moisture, hardiness, etc, but also the eventual size that it will become and its future impact on our gardening activities.

The problem is that when we purchase plants they are so small; it may be hard to visualize how large they might become someday. I live in a Victorian home built about 1895 and the builder was an amateur horticulturist, so he planted a variety of plants which included a horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum).  It was planted about 10 feet from the house and now it towers about 60 feet with branches touching the roof and hovering over it. Definitely it is a problem of being too close to a structure, a not uncommon problem in landscapes.

Horse chestnut planted too close to the home and Cotoneasters too tall for foundation plantings.

Recently I looked at a property that had two large conifers, a Deodor Cedar (Cedrus deodara) and an incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), planted only about 10 feet apart. When planted as small trees in the 1950’s that distance likely looked very large. However, now that both trees are over 50 feet tall, with interlocking branches shading out lower limbs, the distance apart was obviously too small. One tree needs to go, if not both of them and the expensive removal costs will not be paid by the person who planted them.

In surveying my own landscape I can find mistakes too. I planted a Chinese fringe shrub (Loropetalum chinense) several years ago and I thought it would grow only 3 feet tall as per my observations of other specimens in people’s landscapes. According to the specifications for the species it can get over 6 feet tall, so I obviously did not do my homework. It is now 5 feet tall and blocks one of my sprinklers. I added 12 inches to the sprinkler riser, but that only helped for one year. Now the sprinkler is blocked again, so it’s time for serious pruning to reduce it in size. Had I checked out the mature size before planting, I would have found a different spot. The good news is that Lorapetalum tolerates heavy pruning, but the bad news is it will likely need doing often.

Another mistake I made was planting Salvia microphylla ‘Hot lips’ too close to a walkway. If I had read up on this prolifically blooming plant, I would have learned that it can sprawl 6 feet, so planting it 1.5 feet from the walkway was only half way from where I should have put it. It is a beautiful plant, but now I need to prune it to keep it in check.

Foundation plants around homes can be another area where size can be a problem. At my home,   Cotoneasters that grow to over15 feet were planted along the west side of the home and two Camellias, 20 feet tall, are on the east side. Both of these plantings block the view from the windows which in my case is not a big problem. Because I don’t have air conditioning they do tend to shade the home and keep it cooler. When selecting foundation plantings, it is wise to look for plants that will not block views or become crowded.

Being aware of is the aggressive plants can also prevent a lot of work. I planted a New England aster which blooms with blue flowers in the fall and attracts butterflies and other beneficial insects. However, it is very spreading in habit with underground rhizomes spreading the plant in a widening circle. I took it out and put it in a 15 gallon pot to contain it, but 5 years later I still have remnants popping up among my Iris and though I dig them out each year, I never have defeated this plant as it pops up again the next year.

Similarly, a past owner had planted periwinkle, Vinca major, which has become a major pain in my horticulture. I have been trying for forty years to get rid of it without success. If I let up on extermination efforts, I soon lose what gains were made because it is aggressively invasive.  
Avoid ‘wrong plant for the wrong place’ by checking the label before you plant or consult a ‘plant finder’ website such as: or Sunset’s Western Garden book on the plant to find out its maximum size. For information on noninvasive alternatives to invasive plants consult May all your plantings have happy endings.

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website:


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    Lee Miller

    Lee Miller is a University of Delaware graduate and retired fisheries biologist, he gardens on 10 acres and makes wine each year with the help of a cadre of friends. However, his first love is gardening and he grows various fruit trees, heirloom ... Read Full

    Marcy Sousa

    Marcy Sousa is the San Joaquin County UC Master Gardener Program Coordinator. She is a Stockton native and enjoys teaching others about gardening. She has her bachelors from Stanislaus State in Permaculture. She has been with the program since 2007. Read Full

    Nadia Zane

    Nadia Zane is a UC Master Gardener, a landscape designer and Stockton native. She has a fondness for California native plants and sustainable landscaping, which she utilizes in her work for Native Beauty Garden Design. She is a member of the CA ... Read Full
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