The middle of summer is a good time to assess what is thriving and where the bare spots are in the garden. Also take a look at what could be replaced. The shrubs we put in ten years ago are now thick-stemmed green blobs that no longer inspire.
"400 Trees and Shrubs for Small Spaces" by Diana Miller provides help with selecting, placing, pruning and propagating small trees and shrubs. Of the 215 pages, 134 are descriptions of evergreen, flowering and deciduous trees, shrubs and vines for all growing zones.
Miller, who lives in England, points out that hedges add fruit, flowers, wildlife habitat, privacy and a background for your perennials. But she also reminds us that if we want to reduce the amount of work in the garden, we can have beautiful spaces by selecting the correct shrubs and trees.
Dwarf shrubs are supposed to grow to one and one-half feet tall. For example, Mini Crape myrtles or Lagerstroemia indicta, grow to one or two feet tall (http://www.crapemyrtles.com/). Dwarfs are great for rock gardens and to place at the front of a shrub bed.
Small shrubs grow up to 5-feet tall and medium shrubs grow to 10 feet tall. The rest are considered large.
Small trees, weeping trees, and columnar trees can be planted in small spaces, garden rooms or along a sidewalk or driveway.
To attract wildlife, use plants that have pollen and avoid double flowering varieties because they have been hybridized to create an extra row of petals at the expense of pollen.
The book has pages of charts by flower color, size, bloom season, sun needs and features. Plus there is a chart of shrubs and trees with attractive leaves, fruits, etc.
With the book in hand you could plan a shrub and small tree row or garden that is in flower at least three seasons. Most shrubs and trees will succeed in slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.5. Buy an inexpensive kit at the hardware store and test your soil.
Use a range of trees and shrubs to add interest and so you have something in color most of the warm months. A variety of leaf shapes, tree bark colors and tree shapes are more pleasing to look at than a row of 5-foot tall identical plants.
Bare root trees are best planted between the fall and spring and tender plants are planted in the spring.
Anything that blooms in the late winter or early spring should be planted near the house so you can enjoy them from a window. Scented plants should be near a place you walk or relax.
Choose small trees with a slower rate of growth such as Malus (crabapple) or Sorbus Lutescens (whitebeam) which has red fruit and gold leaves in the fall.
Flowering climbers lengthen the number of months a shrub and tree filled garden has something blooming. Climbers save ground space, too. Plant them where they can cover a fence, wall or shed. Or, let them climb over shrubs.
A well-planned garden of woody plants can be less work. Avoid high maintenance plants that need pruning every few months.
Sit back and look at an area that is visible from your windows. Would you like more privacy, more flowers, better greenery? Take into consideration how your garden is used. Plan for children, pets, poolside activities and eating areas.
Visit public gardens and garden centers and list names of plants that appeal to you. Then, conduct research online and at the library before purchasing.
These tips came from "400 Trees and Shrubs for Small Spaces" by Diana Miller, published 2008 by Timber Press http://www.timberpress.com/. $30 list, $15 used online.