Match the Plant to the Site

leafy greensMost fruit, nut, and vegetable plants produce best in full sun, but leafy greens may produce satisfactorily with five to seven hours of direct sunlight per day. (Photo by M.H. Ferguson)

(News article for August 11, 2019)

I’m wrapping up the series on “right plant, right place” this week. During the last few weeks, I’ve addressed choosing fruit plants that are suited to our climate and choosing fruit, nut, and vegetable varieties that are resistant to common disease problems. This week, I’ll address matching the plant to the site on your property.

Site conditions to consider include the amount of sun or shade an area gets, how well drained it is, and whether the site gets more or less effective rainfall than the open yard. I’ll also throw in the idea of spacing plants according to their size at maturity.

Most fruit, nut, and vegetable plants produce best in full sun. For these types of plants, more hours of direct sunlight is generally better than fewer. You’ll often see wild blueberry plants, for example, growing in the woods, but for maximum fruit production, full sun is best. An exception is that one less-commonly grown fruit tree, the pawpaw, needs some shade during its early years.

Some vegetables tolerate shade better than others. Leafy greens like lettuce, collards, and mustard greens will likely produce satisfactorily with five to seven hours of direct sunlight per day. Likewise, some herbs – like chives, dill, and mint – can grow well in less-than-full sun.

There are several things that affect how wet a site is, including the slope of the land, the soil texture (how sandy, silty, or clayey it is), and the depth of the water table. If you know that water tends to stand in an area after rain, this probably isn’t a good location for fruits or vegetable plants. Even sites that don’t have standing water after rainfall may have drainage-related limitations. Particularly in the central and southern parts of Tangipahoa Parish, we tend to have water tables that are close to the surface.

Raised beds can be used to prevent problems associated with poor drainage in vegetable or herb gardens. The Raised Bed fact sheet in our Home Garden Series provides information about constructing raised beds for vegetables.

For some fruit plants, like blueberries and blackberries, it’s also fairly easy to build a raised area to improve drainage. For larger fruit or nut trees, modifying the site conditions to provide adequate drainage is more difficult. I’m happy to help people learn more about soil texture and water table depth on their property, and how these affect planting considerations.

Plants placed near eaves without gutters can get much more water than plants in the open yard. Let’s say we get an inch of rainfall and that there are 20 feet between the edge of the roof and the middle of the house, where the peak of the gabled roof is. Twenty-five gallons of water would run off of a 2-foot wide strip of such a roof, with 1 inch of rainfall. If you don’t have gutters, be careful about placing plants that are sensitive to wet feet near the edge of the house.

The final thing I’ll mention is something that is probably neglected more often in the planting of ornamentals than fruit and vegetable plants. That is the consideration of how large the plant is expected to be when it matures. When plants crowd each other, air movement is poor, and leaf and fruit diseases are more likely to occur.

Planting too close to houses is a commonly observed garden issue. If a tree or shrub is expected to reach 12 feet wide, for example, it’s a good idea to plant it at least 7 feet from the house (half the mature width, plus 1 foot for air movement and access around the house).

Matching the plant to the site can improve plant performance and reduce time and money spent on maintaining and replacing plants.

Contact Mary Helen.

8/20/2019 3:10:51 PM
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