Consider potential size whenever planting

By: Nancy Olsen - Bladen County Extension agent

Some of the best–laid plans of dedicated gardeners run amuck because they don’t know how large their plants will grow. This problem is as common to the container gardener trying to sustain a 4-foot tomato vine in a 6-inch pot as it is to the homeowner maintaining a potentially 10-foot-tall shrub beneath a low, picture window.

For fewer frustrations, select plants with natural proportions to fit the allocated space, then resist the urge to fill in around them until they get bigger. A layer of attractive mulch can cover the open spaces until the plants grow larger. The only time “filler” are appropriate is when using short lived plants that will be removed before the space is required by the chosen plant. Vegetable gardeners may recognize this as a method called intercropping, where lettuce may be grown between young tomato vines since it will be harvested before the space is required by the tomatoes.

In a similar manner, annual flowers may be used to fill in around shrubs for the first few years until they approach their mature sizes and require the space.

To assist in planning your garden, whether a vegetable plot, a flower border, or the trees and shrubs in your landscape, it is important to acquire a mental image of the mature size of each plant. It is almost impossible to believe that the young tree in a gallon container will eventually have branches spreading 20 feet or more, thus you may end up with a tree bowed away from the house or misshapen by nearness to neighboring trees.

The idea that a tiny pumpkin seed can, in only one summer, produce a 15 –foot-long vine, can only be grasped by some as it marauds across the peppers, eggplants, and broccoli. Measure the space available, and check the mature size of the proposed plant. If it plant it there. won’t fit, don’t It is equally difficult for some to understand that different varieties of the same plant may vary significantly in size. Some of the tiniest zinnias hardly exceed 6 inches in height and width, while other zinnias may stretch toward 3 feet tall.

Another excellent example of size variability in a popular plant is the tomato: midgets are suited to 8-inch pots and produce a vine smaller than a gallon bucket; compact or determinates stop growth at about 2 1/2 to 3 feet; and indeterminate of large vines can reach 8 feet in height and spread 3 feet or more in a single summer. These are called indeterminate because the vines continue to grow until killed by frost. Among the shrubs, consider juniper for diversity of size. The creeping and shore junipers make excellent ground covers under one foot in height. Different varieties of Chinese juniper, such as ‘Pfitzer’, reach a maximum of between 6 and 15 feet, depending on the variety.

There are also tree forms, such as the Eastern red cedar, that mature at well over 45 feet. Ideally in planning, you decide on the desired results, then study catalogs and horticultural books for plants to fit the need. Unfortunately, the ideal rarely occurs. Instead, we see a flower or read about a shrub that would be fascinating to grow and decide to add it to our landscape. Next time, before setting shovel to soil, find a site that will permit success by considering the mature size of the plant.

If you have questions about what is going wrong in your lawn, garden or landscape contact your local Cooperative Extension office. In Bladen County, call 910-862-4591, bring samples to our office at 450 Smith Circle Drive in Elizabethtown or visit online anytime at

Nancy Olsen is an agent with the Bladen County Extension Office. She can be reached at

Nancy Olsen

Bladen County Extension agent