Few topics are as interesting to homeowners as color, and few things affect the overall look of a landscape as much as color. Used effectively, color can create a feeling of calm, graciousness, spaciousness, excitement, or just about any mood we want to achieve. Unfortunately, when determining color combinations, most of us learn by trial and error. A color wheel (right) can be helpful in selecting flowers that will give the best contrast or harmony. If you don’t have a color wheel, you should be able to purchase one at an art supply or paint store. If you don’t want to buy one, check out a book on color at your library. Also, professionally landscaped homes, public parks, botanical gardens, arboretums, and gardening magazines can give you ideas on effectively using color . . . but have your notebook with you.

Colors directly opposite one another on the color wheel; i.e. red & green, blue & orange, yellow & purple, will give the greatest contract. These opposites are called complimentary color. Contract diminishes as colors draw nearer to one another on the wheel. Adjacent colors, such as, yellow and orange give harmony to a particular area of the landscape. Some homeowners prefer to use variations of only one or two colors, such as, pink and white. Each landscape and the preferences of the homeowner are unique. By using basic color principles, you can develop as vibrant or as subtle a landscape as you want. Our friends at the National Garden Bureau offer these tips on color:

1. To brighten shady areas use light-colored annuals such as white, light pink, or palest blues. Dark colors tend to get “lost” in shady areas. You can still use deep colors in a shady area, but be sure to use lighter colors around or behind them to provide contrast so they can stand out and be seen. Burgundy impatiens surrounded by pale green coleus or coral impatiens, for example, will stand out due to the contract.

2. For maximum effect, think about how the colors of plants will blend or contrast with their surroundings. For example, deep red geraniums or red salvia planted against a red brick or redwood fence will not stand out as well as white or pink geraniums. And white will not stand out dramatically against a white fence or white siding. Think of using a more dramatic color scheme such as purple or magenta against a white or light-color background, and something lighter, such as, pink or peach against darker surfaces.

3. Just as interior decorators use three or four colors as a theme throughout a home, the exterior can be done the same. Theme colors used in repetition will unify different landscape areas just as they unify the rooms of the house. For example, bordering all your garden areas with a row of yellow marigolds or creamy petunias can tie areas together for a unified look. Repeating the same colors but in different plant types can crate the same effect. If white and blue are your colors, plant different types of flowers such as lavender, blue petunias and blue salvia, and for white use white geraniums, white impatiens, white petunias, to carry the theme, but vary the look.

4. Just as a room should have a focal point, so should areas of the landscape. If there isn’t a natural focal point such as a pool or garden statuary, color can create one. Instead of long, uninterrupted rows of flowers, create a focal point by planting a mass of one color in the center of a bed, and then surround it with flowers or plants that contrast in color, texture, and height. One exception to rows is using yellow flowers to border steps or other areas where caution should be exercised. Note: Know the height of the plants you’re purchasing. Tall plants should go in the back, low ones in the front.

5. Colors affect our emotions. Bright colors such as red and yellow excite us and can make us feel warm (that’s why they are often called “hot” or “warm” colors). Colors such as blue, lavender, green, pink, and peach are considered cooler and calmer. For the entrance to your home, you may want to create a feeling of warmth and excitement, and could choose stronger, more exciting colors such as yellow marigolds and scarlet dianthus. In the backyard areas or for patio containers, you may want to create a more relaxing and serene mood by choosing cooler or softer colors such as pansy rose shades with blue violas.

Planting Trees, Shrubs, and Hedges in the Landscape

The International Society of Arboriculture has good advice for planting trees and shrubs. Before selection, determine the mature size of the tree by consulting nursery personnel, catalogs, books, or your local extension office. Be sure to get the correct information for the specific variety of tree or shrub you want as to maturity dimensions and adaptability for your area. The most common landscaping mistake is selecting plant materials that will overgrow their location.

Many shrubs and round-headed trees grow about as wide as they grow tall, so if figures for width are unavailable, estimate from the ultimate height. For example, a tree that grows between 10 and 15 feet tall will commonly spread its branches about the same distance, and should be planted at least 7 to 8 feet away from houses or other structures.

Careful placement can reduce future maintenance problems. Place shade trees away from the house or other buildings. Keep in mind that in years to come the tree will be larger and may lose branches in storms. For this reason, oaks and other strong-wooded shade trees should be planted at least 20 ft. away from buildings and utility lines. Place soft-wooded trees such as soft maple at an even greater distance.

In relation to one another, large shade trees should be planted about 50 ft. from each other for best results. Medium-sized trees such as red maple or river birch should be spaced about 35 ft apart. Dogwood, redbud, hawthorn, crab or other small trees may be planted 15 to 20 ft. apart and at least 8 ft. from buildings.

Spacing is also a consideration for shrubs and hedges. Shrubs should be spaced about one-half of their ultimate spread from buildings. Place different varieties of shrubs about one-half the total spread for both plants. For example, an 8 ft. shrub and a 6 ft. shrub should be placed about 7 ft. apart. Hedges may be spaced closer together to form a full, dense screen. Low hedge plants, 3 to 4 ft. high, should be spaced at least 18 in. apart, while tall hedge plants will need to be 3 to 4 ft. apart.

The best time to plant trees and shrubs is during the dormant season; in fall after leaf drop or early spring before budbreak. Cool weather lets plants establish roots in their new location before spring rains and summer heat stimulate new growth. However, if the plant has been properly cared for in the nursery or garden center, it’s okay to plant throughout the growing season.

Proper Planting is the Key to a Healthy Future for Trees and Shrubs

Dig a large enough planting hole. The planting hole should be deep enough so the new plant is no deeper than it was in the nursery or container and twice as wide as the size of the ball or container or the spread of the bare root system. Check for injury to roots or branches. If any roots are crushed, cut them at a point just in front of the break. Prune only broken branches. Begin corrective pruning after a full season in the new location.

Prepare the hole and soil. While some newly planted trees and shrubs may benefit from an application of plant food, it is best not to use fertilizer until the plant is well established. Good, rich native soil mixed with the location soil is usually adequate. Never apply high nitrogen fertilizer at planting time, as it may burn tender roots.

Place the plant in the hole. To avoid damage, lift plant by the root ball or container; never by the trunk. Container plants must be removed from the container before planting. If needed, add soil to the hole to raise the plant to its original growing level.

Fill the hole gently, but firmly. Cut the string or twine from balled or burlaped plants. You need not remove the burlap or any similar decomposable material, but make sure it is completely buried. Firm the soil around the plant to hold it in place and settle the soil with water to eliminate air pockets. Make sure it is planted straight and add more soil until it is firmly placed. Don’t use your feet to tamp the ground, as it can cause compaction.

Stake the tree if needed. Staking can damage the tree or large shrub, so avoid if possible. If support is needed, use a broad, soft strapping material such as woven belt fabric or padded wire. Drive two or three stakes into the ground just outside the perimeter of the planting hole, an equal distance apart. Attach one end of the strapping material to the tree at the lowest practical level to keep it upright; fasten other end to the stake. Remove the stakes after the tree is firmly rooted; normally one growing season.

Post-planting care. After the plant is completely back-filled and is settled at its proper height, create a ring of soil a few inches deep at the outer edge of the planting hole to serve as a basin for holding water. Watering is critical for the new plant and it is very important that the water soak deep into the soil. Fill the basin with a good mulch such as bark, wood chips, or pine needles.

The Lawn Institute