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Tips for laying out and organizing your landscape

Here's a useful tip you should remember when you next plant trees, shrubs or other garden plants. It's something that professional landscapers always do, but the rest of us might overlook. You've unloaded all the plants you've just bought from the Lawn and Garden store and fetched the shovel from the basement.

Before you dig into that first clod of soil, do what the pros do. Place each plant still in its container approximately in position. Lay all of them out, then stand back and take a minute or two to look over your layout. Are they too close together? Too far apart? Should this one swap places with that one? Use the power of your mind's eye to "see" what the mature plants will look like. Think of how the colors and textures will look in relation to each other, and consider the relative height and cover of each plant. Height can be particularly important and is easy to overlook because some plants might look quite small in relation to others right now, but in a few years they could dominate and overpower their smaller neighbors. This can change the entire look of your landscaping from your original concept. The easiest way to avoid this is to be aware of the mature dimensions of each tree and shrub you intend to plant, so be sure you have this information either from your supplier or from a quick search on the Internet or at your local library.

Armed with this information and the amazing power of your own imagination, try moving one or more plants and take another look. Keep doing this until you're satisfied with the way they look. Believe me, it's a lot easier to do this before you plant them, rather than after! If your plans are a little more complex than just a few shrubs here and there, take another tip from those professional landscape designers.

Get a pencil and a sheet of paper and sketch out a plan of your land. I find grid paper with quarter-inch squares is the easiest to use. Try "borrowing" a sheet from your kid's backpack. Or as a last resort, buy a cheap pad from an office supply store. Draw a rough layout showing the position of your house and/or any other outbuildings such as a garage, a barn or that compound with your sixteen Rottweilers. Then start placing your new trees and shrubs on your plan.

You don't need to be particularly creative; a dot for a tree trunk surrounded by a rough circle indicating the circumference of the mature spread is fine. Not happy? Just erase it and move it over. Simple. If your creative juices are drying up, your library will have a number of books to get the ideas flowing!

QUESTION: Some young trees on my land are exposed to sustained strong winds. Should I put up a fence on the windward side of them?

ANSWER: Yes... but maybe not the kind of fence you're thinking of! Firstly, wind can cause a rapid loss of water vapor on the windward side of a tree through a process known as transpiration. Trees sometimes appear to be turning away from the wind as they grow. In reality, the buds on the side of the tree facing the wind have dehydrated and died, creating a lopsided effect. But the shelter you need to build should be an open fence or a shrub hedge or a tall hedge which will defray the wind speed. A solid fence should be avoided as it can increase air turbulence and end up making matters worse. For more on plants, Greenwood Nursery Gardens.