Most likely just about every one of us has run into the problem of shrubs or trees planted too close to our homes, whether of our own making or caused by a previous owner.
Trees can crack concrete foundations, and branches rub against walls or eaves — the latter very annoying at night and both very damaging to buildings. House siding needs space for air circulation; otherwise mildew can set in and not enough space causes havoc in painting or cleaning the outside of the house.
Plants need air space to remain healthy. Ones planted too near a building tend to lean out seeking sunshine.
As I was writing this column, a friend asked about this very problem and he agreed to share his dilemma.
Ernie Chan-Nui bought his home 47 years ago in a comfortable neighborhood just beyond Wenatchee’s city limits. The previous owner had planted Doug fir and cedar trees in a U shape around the lot. Many have now been removed, although Chan-Nui appreciates the shade and screening effect of the remaining 10 or so trees. But he knows they’re too large for a city lot and they will eventually have to go.
Back a few decades, he planted another Doug fir, filling an open space, then later decided to have a 24-by-12-foot shed built nearby. As you can imagine, the tree and shed are now in fierce competition.
“Of course, the circumference of the tree just got bigger,” says Chan-Nui. “I tried to figure out what to do with either the tree or shed. So this year I compromised and when the shed was reroofed, I had them make a notch in the roof at the corner of the shed.”
He knows this is just buying a year or so before he’ll have to face the music and remove the tree. He asked me if he should slice the side of the tree base next to the foundation. My reply was a definite no, unless he wants a damaged tree likely to topple during the next windstorm.
So how does a person decide how close to plant a shrub or tree?
A general rule is allow two to three feet between building and mature plant.
But, you say, a house without plantings around it looks bare. Corners especially are enhanced by shrubs. So the challenge is where to locate a little gallon or 2-gallon shrub (or even more of a problem — a tree) where it looks not too forlorn in its youth, while allowing distance from the building and as it matures.
First, do some research on how wide the shrub or tree will reach at maturity. A big tree can reach above the roof at maturity, but big trees don’t belong in city lots or right next to a building. Small trees are appropriate away from a building, but their canopy can reach surprisingly wide, so consider this before planting. A long-range consideration is needed.
Shrubs are a good choice for foundation plantings, as long as they’re planted far enough from a building. Again, check their spread at maturity.
While you’re researching, consider how tall a shrub will reach at maturity so it won’t block window views.
While your foundation plants are small, you might consider planting annuals or perennials that can be moved later, or tossed … just to fill in empty spaces until the long-range shrubs or trees don’t look like orphans out in the cold. Aesthetics are important, both for immediate enjoyment as well as in the future.
Some homework before planting saves much consternation later.
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in the At Home section. Mary Fran McClure is one of three columnists featured.