Is Big Really Better?

Is Big Really Better?

By Christina McDonald

The latest trend in gardening is to use really large plants and the nursery industry has responded with improved growing and shipping techniques that help to bring a variety of large perennials, trees and shrubs to the marketplace.

Why the trend for big? Not content to purchase a smaller plant and patiently await its maturity, new homeowners seek out plants that fill out their garden immediately. This trend also benefits those replacing a dead plant in an existing mature garden. A new plant no longer has to catch up to the surrounding landscape.

There are advantages to going this route. Aside from having an instant garden, you’ll spend less time guessing how a plant will look at maturity. Often several years old, these are premium plants that have been properly pruned and shaped and come with an intact, healthy root system.

There are also some disadvantages to consider, however. The price, for one, reflects the years of care each plant receives before it arrives at the garden centre. There are times when choosing a large over a small may not be economically advantageous. Fast-growing species that establish quickly may be best purchased in a smaller size and your landscaping dollars saved for bigger, slower growing plants or for those that will give you the instant impact you’re seeking. As well, while handling large perennials and shrubs isn’t too difficult for the average gardener, if you’re looking to bring in a very large tree, you’ll need the services of a specialty nursery or tree moving company.

Just how big are people planting these days? One excavating company in Connecticut handles trees up to 16 m tall with a trimmed and tied root ball measuring up to 4 m wide. Weighing in at almost 14 tonnes, these trees can come with a hefty price tag for the tree and its installation. Trees with the best survival rates are generally six to 12 years old with a caliper measuring 10-15 cm in diameter and a length of 3-6 m, depending on the species being planted. Planting is accomplished with a large machine called a tree spade, which is mounted on a truck. A ratio of 10 to 1 for spade diameter to tree diameter (caliper) is recommended so that the tree retains enough root mass to transplant successfully. Be sure to ask if the tree and its installation are guaranteed and let your landscaper know early on if it’s having problems.

Across North America some of the most popular trees to move and install are ash, apple, maple, chokecherry and evergreens such as spruce, Douglas fir, pine and hemlock. Trees are planted more successfully in the cooler spring and autumn months than in the heat of summer.

Not every property is a candidate for planting a tree this large. Accessibility is key with lots of room to maneuver and no overhead or underground lines and utilities with which to contend Keep in mind that the heavy equipment used can destroy sidewalks, driveways and compress and damage lawns. This type of planting is best done before the rest of a new landscape goes in and prior to the installation of fences. Trees may be installed before a house is constructed, however watch out for heavy equipment compacting the soil around a tree and factor in the cost of having water trucked in.

Whether planting a tree, shrub or perennial, provide an adequate planting hole that is at best 1.5 x 2 times the width of the root ball. Place at the same depth as in the pot. Backfilling adequately is important and building a trench or saucer around the plants root zone really helps to catch and hold moisture, as does adding a layer of mulch. Remember that root development is the goal in the first year and large plants need more water than their smaller counterparts. Make sure to ask how much and how often each plant should be watered and the best fertilizing routine.