June 6, 2014 at 1:00 am

Gardening

Measure twice and plant once for the best results

Careful planning will ensure that plants don't crowd each other out of your spaces. (PhotoDisc)

This is the time of year when plant fever afflicts gardeners and homeowners in epidemic proportions. But choosing plants just for looks can be risky business.

Impulse buys of trees and shrubs from big boxes and warehouse club stores are generally not a good idea, says Tim Travis, landscape designer and president of Goldner Walsh Garden & Home in Pontiac. Folks fall in love with plants in bloom, take them home, dig a hole where they can find an empty space and expect them to thrive. They rarely take into account not only its mature size, but also the needs of the plant.

Most important is the plants’ exposure to sunlight, but the amount required varies from plant to plant — some need less than others.

The mistake I see most often is planting trees and shrubs too close to the foundation of the house. Homeowners don’t take into consideration the mature size of the plants when siting them.

Shrubs and trees planted in too small an area or too close to a building require pruning and shaping, a job that should be done annually but is more often put off until damage is caused, walkways are blocked or views are totally obstructed. Heavy pruning can mutilate a plant to the point of permanent distortion and sometimes death.

To avoid costly mistakes — having to cut down a tree or shrub that’s overgrown its space, having to continually prune to keep plants in check or watching a plant turn ugly, struggling to survive its competition — put your landscape plan on paper.

Begin by drawing your lot to scale using a pencil and graph paper. Include all hardscape — the house and garage — porches, patios walkways and driveways. Also include doors, windows and air conditioners, as well as arbors, fences and walls. Here’s a website with a really easy how-to tutorial online that will walk you through the process: https://store.ex­tension.iastate.edu/ Product/pm612-pdf.

Don’t use a lack of graph paper as an excuse not to do this, you can download and print out free graph paper on online. Just search for “free printable graph paper” and you’ll find several sources.

Once you’re done, you will know at a glance how much room you have to play with and whether new plants will need sun or shade. This plan can save you big bucks and a lot of heartache — it’s where great looking landscapes begin.

Appearances: Join me at 1 p.m. Saturday at American Tree at 3903 Van Dyke Road, north of Almont, for my “Secrets to Gardening in an Ever Changing Climate.” For information, call (810) 798-2525.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. Email her at Szerlag @earthlink.net. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnews.com/homestyle.