Woody Plants in the Garden

This snippet has been taken from “Tree & Shrub Gardening For Northern California” by “Bob Tanem Don Williamson”. Woody plants in the garden are usually either trees, shrubs and are usually perennial plants whose stems and larger roots are reinforced with wood produced from secondary xylem. “Tree Trimming Service Stockton CA” provides important details on this topic.

Trees and shrubs create a framework around which a garden is designed.  These permanent features anchor the landscape, and in a well-designed garden, they create interest all year round.  In spring and summer, woody plants provide shade and beauty with flowers and foliage.  In fall, leaves of many species change color, and brightly colored fruits attract attention and birds.  In winter, the true backbone of the garden is revealed; the branches of deciduous trees and shrubs are laid bare, perhaps dusted with silvery frost, and evergreens keep color in the garden.

Woody Plants in the Garden
Woody Plants in the Garden

If carefully selected and placed, woody plants are a vital and vibrant element of any garden, from the smallest city lot to the largest country estate.  They can provide privacy and keep unattractive views hidden from sight.  Conversely, they can frame an attractive view and draw attention to particular features or areas of the garden.  Trees and shrubs soften hard lines in the landscape created by structures such as buildings, fences and driveways.  Well-positioned plants create an attractive background against which other plants will shine.  Trees and shrubs can be used in groups for spectacular flower or fall color shows, and a truly exceptional species, with year-round appeal, can stand alone as a specimen plant.

Woody plants help moderate the climate in your home and garden.  As a windbreak, trees provide shelter from winter cold and reduce heating costs and protect tender plants in the garden.  A well-placed deciduous tree keeps the house cool and shaded in summer, but it allows ate sun through in winter, when the warmth and light are appreciated.  Woody plants also prevent soil erosion, retain soil moisture, reduce noise and filter the air.  Erosion is of particular concern to people whose homes are next to open sake or steep hillsides.  The proper tree or shrub is a must in these situations.

The attraction of wildlife is an often overlooked benefit of gardening.  As cities expand, our living space encroaches on more and more wildlife habitat.  By choosing plants, especially native plants, that are beneficial to the local wildlife, we provide food and shelter to birds and other animals and at the same time fulfill our obligation as stewards of the environment.  We can bring nature closer to home.  The unfortunate difficulty is that the local wildlife may so enjoy a garden that they consume it.  It is possible, though, to find a balance and attract wildlife and at the same time protect the garden from ruin.  In this book we note which trees and shrubs are least likely to be damaged by deer.

When the time comes to select woody plants, give careful thought to the physical constraints of your garden and the purposes you wish the plants to serve.  First and foremost, consider the size of your garden in relation to the mature size of the plants in question.  Very large plants are always a bad idea in a small garden.  Remember, too, that trees and shrubs not one grow up, they also grow out.  Within a few years what started as a small plant may become a large, spreading tree.  Redwoods, often sold as cute seedlings, are an example of fast-growing, potentially huge trees not suitable for many gardens.

Another consideration that relates to size is placement.  Don’t plant trees and shrubs too close to houses, walk-ways, entryways or driveways.  A tree planted right next to a house may hit the overhang of the roof, and trying to fix the problem by running will only spoil the natural appearance of the tree.  Plants placed too close to paths, doors and driveways may eventually block access to them completely.  Trees and shrubs planted near sidewalks or driveways increase the potential for root damage to those structures.

Consider, too, the various features of tree and shrub species a feature is an outstanding element, such as flowers, bark or shape, which attracts you to the plant.  Decide which of the following features are most important to you and which will best enhance your garden.  Many plants have more than one feature, providing interest for a longer period of time.  Whether you are looking for showy flowers, fall color, fast growth or a beautiful fragrance, you can find trees or shrubs with features to suit your design; consult the individual accounts in this book.

Form is the general shape and growth habit of the plant.  From tall and columnar to wide and gracefully weeping, trees come in a wide variety of shapes.  Similarly, shrubs may be rounded and bushy or low and ground hugging.  Form can also vary as the year progresses.  Often, an interesting winter habit makes a tree or shrub truly outstanding.

You should be familiar with some growth form terminology when considering a purchase.  A ‘shade tree’ commonly refers to a large, deciduous tree but can be any tree that provides shade.  An ‘upright,’ ‘fastigiate’ or ‘columnar’ plant has the main branches and stems pointing upward and is often quite narrow.  ‘Dwarf’ properly refers to any variety, cultivar or hybrid that is smaller than the species, but the term is sometimes mistakenly used to mean a small, slow-growing plant.  If a species grows to 100’, a 50’ variety of that species would be a dwarf, but it might still be too big for your garden.  ‘Prostrate’ and ‘procumbent’ plants are low growing, with branches and stems that spread horizontally over the ground.  These forms are some-times grafted onto upright stems to create interesting, often done with weeping Japanese maples.

Foliage is one of the most enduring and important features a plant will provide in the garden.  Leaves come in myriad colors, shapes, sizes, textures and arrangements.  You can find shades of green, blue, red, purple, yellow, white or silver; variegated types have two or more colors combined on a single leaf.  The variety of shapes is even more astounding, from short, sharply pointed needles to wide, rounded leave3s the size of dinner plates.  Leaf margins can be smooth, like those of many rhododendrons, or so finely divided the foliage appears fern-like, as with some Japanese maple cultivars.  Foliage often varies seasonally, progressing from tiny, pale green spring buds to the vibrant colors of fall.  Evergreen trees provide welcome greenery even when winter is at its wettest and coldest.

Woody plants in the garden-Foliage
Woody plants in the garden-Foliage

An entire garden can be designs based on varied foliage.  Whether it forms a neutral backdrop or stands out in sharp contrast with the plants around it, foliage is a vital consideration.  Variegated leaves can add an interesting note to the garden, especially in the evening.

Flowers are often more than enough reason to grow trees or shrubs that are dull or even unattractive the rest of the year, such as the golden chain tree.  Flowering of a species generally takes place over a few weeks or occasionally a month; very few woody plants flower for the entire summer.

Keep this limitation in mind when selecting woody plants.  If you choose species with staggered flowering periods, you will always have something in bloom.  You can achieve different but equally striking effects by grouping plants that flower at the same time or by spreading them out around the garden.

Fruit comes in many forms, including winged maple samaras, dangling birch catkins, spiny horse-chestnut capsules and the more obviously ‘fruity’ Oregon grape berries and quince pomes.  Fruit is often very attractive and provides interest in the garden in late summer and fall, when most plants are past their prime.  When the fruit drops, however, it can create quite a mess and even a bad door if it is allowed to rot on the ground.  Choose the location of your fruiting tree carefully.  If you know the fruit can be messy, don’t plants near a patio or sidewalk.  Most fruit isn’t very troublesome, but keep in mind that there may be some clean up- required during and after the fruiting season.  Olives, female ginkgo plants and even camellias can be a clean-up problem.

Bark is one of the most overlooked features of trees and shrubs.  Species with interesting bark will greatly enhance your landscape, particularly in winter when the exposed bark on a deciduous tree may be one of the most interesting features of your garden.  Bark can be smooth, ridged, furrowed, papery, scaly, exfoliating or colourful.  A few trees valued for their interesting bark are birches, tulip trees, crape myrtles, Japanese maples and paperback maples.

Fragrance, though usually associated with flowers, is also a potential feature of the leaves, fruit and even wood of trees and shrubs.  The flowering quinces, cedars, sweat boxes and lilacs are examples of plants with appealing sce3nts.  Try to plants a species whose fragrance you enjoy where the scent will waft into an open window.  Make sure you check out the plant’s growth habit prior to planting. 

Branches fall somewhere between form and bark as a feature, and, like those two features, they can be an important winter attribute for the garden.  Branches may have an unusual gnarled or twisted shape, or they may bear protective spines or thorns.

Growth rate and life span, though not really aesthetic features of woody plants, are nonetheless important aspects to consider.  A fast-growing tree or shrub that grows 24” or more a year will mature quickly and can be used to fill in space in a new garden.  A slow-growing tree or shrub that grows less than 12” a year may be more suitable in a space-limited garden.  A short-lived plant appeals to some people because they enjoy changing their garden design or aren’t sure exactly what they want in their garden.  Short-lived plants usually mature quickly and therefore reach flowering age quickly as well.  A long-lived tree is an investment in time.  Some trees can take a human lifetime to reach their mature size, and some may not flower for 10 years after you plant them.  You can enjoy a long-lived tree as it develops, and you will also leave a legacy for future generations, because the tree may very well outlive you.

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