Place evergreens properly

Why create maintenance issues when you can just let the plants take care of themselves.

A weeping white spruce gets tall, but only about 3 to 5 feet wide when mature. John Zvirovski / The Sun

One of the most common problems I see in residential landscaping is the poor placement of evergreens. At onset, many of them look quite nice but as they age and grow, the problems become quite apparent with their lack of growing room.

Even though this can be a problem with other plant products, evergreens can be less forgiving in the long run. Deciduous trees and bushes can usually be trimmed to avoid problems and grow fairly rapidly. If they begin to cause you problems, many times they can be removed with ease.

Evergreens grow at a much slower pace and by the time they are causing issues, one feels like too much time has been invested in them to just remove them. Removing them is not as easy as it seems either, as their root systems become quite complex with time.

Unlike deciduous plants, evergreens begin to look rough and become brown through time with over pruning. Obviously, if the right plant products are planted in the beginning according to size and space descriptions, these issues can easily be avoided.


The No. 1 problem with evergreen placement is locating them too close to the house, borders or walkways. When they are small, they always look like they have plenty of room to grow but once they have become mature, typically they need twice the space over what they have been allowed.

By reading the plant descriptions and sizes on the tags during purchase, you can plant much more responsibly. If an evergreen shrub states it will get to 6 feet wide, never plant the item any closer than 3 to 4 feet from the foundation. Closer placement will cause problems down the road.

Large, upright evergreens will need even more space to grow. If there is an item that grows taller than 8 feet, make sure that it is not planted directly beneath a roof eve or power line. Allow them the proper space and you will have a very happy plant.

The second common problem with planting evergreens is the use of actual trees such as Blue or Black Hills Spruce. Don’t plant them in front of a picture window and then remove all the lower branches so you are able to see through it later. Spruce are designed to grow all the way to the ground. By removing the lower limbs, you actually weaken the structure of the other branches that remain.

Spruce grow in a pyramidal form. The lower branches actually support the branches above them and create an efficient scaffold to bear weight. In the wintertime, these branches can hold hundreds of pounds of snow without much of an issue. If these lower branches have been removed and snow accumulates on the upper branches, they will begin to crack and die, as there is no support underneath.

Pines such as Ponderosa, Austrian, White and Scotch are much airier in structure. When they mature, they develop a flat top and commonly lose their lower limbs in time naturally. These are a much better choice for one who likes evergreens minus the lower limbs.

Typically, a healthy tree will never need branches removed. Common causes of dying lower branches are crowding from other plants, heavy trimming, disease or stress. Healthy well-treated trees will be lush all the way to the ground. Remember, most spruce can get 15 feet wide and at least 50 feet tall … allow for their space requirements.

I have seen cute little Blue Spruce planted within 3 to 5 feet of a house foundation. It is just a matter of time when this tree matures. A 10- to 15-foot-wide tree will cause major problems in various ways that are quite obvious. Don’t make that common mistake.


Plants against the house can cause scratching of permanent siding, peeling of paint and potential cracking of foundations. They can also cause broken windows during storms and can block views from your windows and doorways.

For foundation plantings, there are numerous choices from the low-growing groundcovers of Prince of Wales and Blue Rug Junipers to the conical form of the Dwarf Alberta Spruce that remain under 6 feet. Medium-sized junipers such as Andorra are quite nice with a rich green hue in summer and a purple-rust color in the winter.

If you have narrow spots, look for columnar varieties such as DeGroot Spire Arborvitae over large bulky ones. Instead of a pyramidal arborvitae that can get 8 to 10 feet wide, try the columnar arborvitae that will only get 3 to 4 feet wide. Instead of a large globe arborvitae that can reach 6 by 6 feet, try the smaller ones such as Hetz Midget that will only get 2 to 3 feet wide and tall.

Tall and narrow selections of the White Weeping or Norway Spruce can be wonderful conversation pieces without taking much space. Both will only get about 4 to 5 feet wide and have a great weeping growing habit.

Evergreens can be such a wonderful addition to any yard as they come in many shapes, sizes and textures. They are also that "eternal" life that we seek during the winter months with their lush green coats. With proper planning and placement in the beginning, you can have healthy and breathtaking plants for many years to come without all of the unnecessary evils that accompany a hasty planting.

To read more columns written by John Zvirovski, click here.


Why create maintenance issues when you can just let the plants take care of themselves and enjoy the beauty of their uniqueness as nature created it. Sometimes smart and simple is the way to go!

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