Steele: Pruning tasks reduced in a water-wise garden

Planning, design, appropriate plant selection, proper planting and efficient irrigation can reduce pruning needs.

Honey locust trees (Gleditsia tricanthos var. inermis) can grow to 40 to 60 feet tall. Located under power lines

Pruning tasks may be reduced several ways in a water-wise/xeriscape landscape.

These include planning and design, followed by appropriate plant selection, proper planting, and efficient irrigation.

Here are some brief points on each of these.

In the planning and design stage, in addition to taking measurements, the site is assessed for such things as light conditions and good and bad views.

A scale drawing is made to include all buildings, location of windows and exterior doors and location and size of any vegetation (trees, etc.) to be kept.

Views to be preserved are noted so that any plants selected for that area will not obscure the view even when fully grown.

Overhead obstructions such as power lines and clotheslines are noted.

Next, plants (trees and shrubs, in particular) are chosen by their mature size to fit the space available.

For example, a tree chosen for a small front yard might be a golden rain tree (Koelreuteria), Amur maple (Acer ginnala), or even an apricot or Italian plum tree.

All are low water users, once established, and grow to 20 to 25 feet high and wide to form a nice shady canopy.

The planting stage is critical. It is often hard to imagine that a small potted plant will grow as big as the plant tag states.

However, to avoid future overcrowding and extra maintenance tasks, it is vital to space for mature size.

Tape measures help with spacing of plants with a large spread. Once the plants are set out ready for planting, it pays off to double check that each plant will be able to grow to its full height and width without crowding other plants or buildings, obstructing walkways, windows or views, or growing into overheard lines.

Careful spacing at the planting stage will eliminate future pruning tasks.

Trees and shrubs take several years to grow to a substantial size.

In the meantime, some of the big empty space could be occupied by perennials and/or ornamental grasses.

Both grow quickly so they are ideal for filling in the gaps. As trees and shrubs mature, the perennials and grasses can be removed to use somewhere else.

Annuals could also be used as fill-ins although this can be more labour-intensive and costly if they are to be replanted for several years.

All plants need irrigation to get established. Water-wise plants should be gradually weaned off water once they are nearing the desired size. This will slow their growth.

As stated last week, more water causes faster growth and increases the need for pruning.

The plant database at is an excellent resource to find water-wise plants for your garden. Each plant description includes height and spread as well as light and water requirements. Check the website’s ‘Welcome’ page for the Tip of the Month. This month’s tip is planting instructions.

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