Trees, Shrubs And Climbers For Beginners

Trees, Shrubs And Climbers For Beginners

Trees are among the most important features in garden design, and a single tree can make a garden. Because they are long lived, the eventual size, shape and habit of growth should be considered very carefully before you choose a tree. A tree which outgrows the available space can be costly, embarrassing and even dangerous to live with. The importance of specific names and varieties cannot be overemphasized; there are named cultivars of cedars which form dwarf hummocks and others which grow to 30 m (100 ft) or more in height.

The usual distinction between a tree and a shrub is whether a single, main trunk or several, smaller stems form at ground level. However, some trees, such as some birches and magnolias, are naturally multi-stemmed, while shrubs, such as lilac or cotoneaster, can reach treelike heights and proportions.

Colour, not only of the flowers but also the leaves, bark and berries, should be considered. A tree or shrub that blooms lavishly for one week and is dull for the rest of the year is of less merit than one with more modest flowers, but a longer flowering period followed by perhaps brightly-coloured berries or autumnal foliage. This is particularly true if your garden is small and the space for planting limited.

Trees and shrubs vary enormously in their hardiness and the amount of care and maintenance they need. If you are a weekend gardener, then tough, self-sufficient plants, which give a reasonable display for little effort, are best.

The same factors which determine the selection of trees and shrubs are valid when selecting climbers. The easiest are self-clinging climbers; once established, they need virtually no attention. Best known is ivy. As well as the common garden, dark-green form, there are many named cultivars, often beautifully variegated. Other self-clinging climbers are Virginia creeper and climbing hydrangea.

Typical climbers needing support are wistaria, honeysuckle and clematis. These will need tying in at 15-20 cm (6-8 in.) intervals, to keep them close against a wall and minimize wind damage.


The pruning of trees, shrubs and climbers ensures the continued provision of new growth, particularly important for plants which only flower on new wood. Secondly, it keeps plants from becoming too large for the space allotted them.

Where shrubs and trees have been obtained with a good framework of branches and the soil is fertile, little pruning is needed. Dead and diseased wood should always be cut out, though, and any which is awkwardly shaped or spoils the plant’s shape should also be singled out and eliminated.

Generally, the harder the pruning, the more vigorous the growth; light pruning results in weak growth. Prune evergreens (other than conifers) in spring or summer, but only if essential, and deciduous plants while dormant, or immediately after flowering if they flower on the previous year’s wood.

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