Too Close to Home

March 1, 2018

 

TOO CLOSE TO HOME is the title for a TV drama by Tyler Perry, but it also describes many woody plants that are planted "too close" to buildings or other plants; i.e., without the understanding that the plants will get bigger--continuing to grow (except when dormant) until they die.  This is called indeterminate growth and it applied to ALL woody plants--trees, shrubs and vines.  Humans and dogs exhibit determinate growth, but woody plants do not.  Moreover, the garden center labels and website listings often imply there is a maximum size, but that is not the case--misapplying the word mature to size rather than reproduction.  While it is possible to generally characterize the size for a species (i.e. small, medium, large), genetics and growth conditions permit a substantial amount of variation.  Moreover, many people presume they can simply prune the specimen to prevent it from getting too big.  They do not realize that pruning often disfigures, particularly when improperly done, and can deprive a specimen of flowers (and fruits) if done in the wrong season, and pruning, sometimes kills and, if not, actually will stimulate growth--sometimes causing the production of 2-3-times the amount of normal growth.

 

The specimen in the photo is American Holly (Ilex opaca).  It is a potentially gorgeous, native, evergreen, small tree that can easily exceed 30 feet in height and with a flared basal canopy spread of 15-20 feet.  The specimen shown is planted one foot from the wall/foundation.  Unfortunately, the person who planted it presumed it would be a good low foundation shrub.  Not!  Additionally, being dioecious (separate male and female plants) only the female is capable of producing the desirable, but poisonous, red fruits, and you will not know the sex unless grown from a cutting, until the plant is old enough to produce flowers since the sets are vegetatively indistiguishable.

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