Gardening in Langley: Plan plantings for easier future

The New Year is a time for new beginnings. For gardeners it can be new plantings, new designs, or sometimes figuring out how to undo a not-so-new planting you wish you’d never done in the first place.

Trees usually come with labels indicating how tall they’ll get. But you’re not always told how wide they’ll become.

Some species produce low branches that block driveways and paths, lead to complaints from neighbours, and become difficult to garden under.

But if you clue in early to approaching trouble, you can go out with loppers in fall or winter and high-limb those offending lower branches right back to the trunk. The trunk will grow and carry the remaining branches out of harm’s way.

Hydro lines are another issue.

Tree-loving gardeners who think ahead may decide they prefer to settle on the other side of the street.

Rural gardeners also need to remember that squirrels plant black walnuts, hazels, and acorns wherever they want.

Some of us love the look of Virginia creeper winding its scarlet leaves high up in an evergreen tree. But it also puts out runners that extend to the ground and become quite a nuisance because they root wherever they touch.

You can avoid that by cutting the main runners of Virginia creeper to the ground every few years.

They re-grow quickly, and by the second year, the fiery leaves are up in the tree again.

Allowing clematis montana or tall climbing roses to climb up a tree is also problematic. Both scoot up trees and flower higher than you can see or pick. Both favour the sunny side.

The shorter climbers are much more manageable.

Slopes are another issue.

Terracing is by far the best approach, but it’s a lot of heavy work and even the shorter slopes may need to be handled by a professional.

Installing proper drainage is a big issue with slopes. Even so, the longer, steeper slopes may tend to slip, especially in heavy rain.

To help prevent slippage, some plants with deep and tenacious roots should be planted on slopes.

Native shrubs such as salal, red-stem dogwood, Pacific ninebark and Indian plum have very deep roots.

Ground-covers are also helpful on slopes, because they stabilize at least the top layers of soil.

But when they’re first planted, they do need weeding, though less so as they get older and denser.

Many perennials make good ground-covers, especially the epimediums and the cranesbills. Ivy does not. It has fairly shallow roots, climbs trees and becomes uncontrollable very fast.

People planning new raised vegetable beds need to be careful in figuring out the widths of paths.

Paths destined for grass need to be at least the width of the lawn mower. And it helps if the longer paths can accommodate a wheelbarrow.

Very narrow paths are great space-savers, but best paved.

Many vegetables grow fine in 30 centimetres of soil, but if you’re going to grow deep-rooted crops (such as parsnips), a raised bed 40cm deep gives you more flexibility.

Now as we each face our own new beginnings in 2015, I wish you all a happy, healthy New Year – and joyous gardening.

Anne Marrison is happy to answer gardening questions. Send them to

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