Gardening in numbers

Planting a well-designed grouping of plants can be a challenging task, especially when dealing with the fast growing trees or shrubs, which increase twice in size in 5 or 10 years. The slow-growing conifers and deciduous trees with an annual growth rate of only 1 to 2 cm, or those which are generally kept in shape by regular clipping, lend themselves far better to such planting schemes.

Several mistakes are commonly made when grouping trees and shrubs – either they are planted too close to each other, or their forms or colors clash, or their have different cultural requirements, or they simply hinder each other. The first consideration in choosing plants is to decide what their purpose is whether they will be planted in groups or as specimen; in the middle of the lawn or at its edge; next to the fence, in front of the house, or in the backyard. Some trees and shrubs look spectacular when arranged in groups, while looking completely unremarkable planted as accent plants. When making a choice for your garden, bear in mind the ultimate form or shape of the trees in their later years. The plants may look well-spaced today, but will this still be the case in 10 years time?

Choose plants not only by their appearance but also with a view to what their cultural requirements are. Some plants are sun-lovers, while others flourish in a light shade; some thrive planted in clay soils, while others prefer a sandy, well-drained spot; certain plants cannot stand any competition whatsoever. When mixing species, it is also worth considering how fast they will grow. If some plants grow at the rate of 15 to 50 cm a year, while others put on a mere 1 or 5 cm of growth during the same period, then the planting will soon loose its proportions, and you will have to resort to moving certain plants.

Try to sketch your design on paper beforehand. Make a couple of drawings – one of the grouping of the trees and the shrubs at planting time, and another one of its expected mature look in some 10 to 15 years. If you are working with potted plants, spend some time arranging them according to your design, and take a picture. It might turn out that you do not like this particular arrangement, so keep on shuffling the pots until you achieve the desired effect.


Usually, plants look best when planted in groups of odd numbers, such as 3, 5 or 7. The most flattering way is to plant them at the edge of the lawn or close to the flower borders, which directs the eye from the ground to the sky. When planting a composition of plants into the middle of the lawn, the trees and the shrubs are arranged by their size and vigor, so that the group looks well from every angle, with the tallest plants in the middle, and the low-growing ones on the sides.

The trees can be arranged in dense or sparse groups, depending on the distance kept between plants. Crowns of plants, grown in dense plantings, will eventually grow into each other. The tall trees and shrubs are often planted in dense groups, with the purpose of creating a backdrop for the surrounding plants. A nice effect can be achieved when associating trees with foliage of complimentary colors, or those which display bright autumn hues.

A tall and dense hedge can serve as a sheltering belt, protecting adjacent plants from wind and scorching sun. The tall and vigorous trees are generally planted in city parks and squares, in the country estates, since they eventually mature to considerable dimensions. A spacing of 4 or 5 mis adequate for the trees in dense plantings, while 2 or 2.5 m are sufficient for the shrubs. The crowns of the trees planted in sparse groups should not block out the view, therefore, an interval of 5 or 6 m between the plants is more appropriate. Such groups are commonly planted at the forefront, or along the paths or the alleys. Small-leaved deciduous trees (e.g. birches, poplars) or conifers with light crowns (e.g. pines, larches) are planted in sparse groupings, while large-leaved trees (maples, ash trees) and thick-crowned conifers (e.g. spruces) make spectacular dense plantings. The larger the ultimate size of the trees planted, the fewer trees should be planted in the group.

Do not forget conifers, when planting a grouping of plants, for they will add plenty of winter interest. Take into account the overall structure of deciduous trees or shrubs, since some of them, such as the sumac trees, are rather attractive in their own way even when leafless. Plants with clear-cut geometrical crowns look better planted as specimen plants or as a part of a mixed border. The group of trees and shrubs should look comfortable in their surroundings, with a pleasing overall outline.

Plants of the single species can be planted as specimen plants; however, they look best when planted in groups of several. Trees and tall shrubs are often planted in threes, while medium-sized and small shrubs look best planted in groups of threes or fives. Where space is limited, the trees and the shrubs are usually interspersed with flowering perennials. In a typical English garden planting scheme, perennials are planted very densely so that they cover the soil completely, meshing in time into a colorful and glorious flowering carpet.

© Giedra Bartas, 2009

Lithuanian climate

Lithuanian climate lies between maritime and continental, with wet and mild winters, but during the coldest months the temperature may drop to -300C for some short period. Average temperature in winter: -4,9°C, average temperature in summer: 20,0°C , rainfall per year – 748 mm (please check this site for further information Hardiness zone changes from 6 (coast) to 4 (Vilnius surroundings). Please check the hardiness zone map also –

In the shadow

Is your garden overshadowed by a tall fence, old trees, or neighboring buildings? Does it enjoy only a couple of hours of sunshine at most? If so, then maybe it is time for you to consider growing hostas (Hosta).

Hostas have been grown in Europe from time immemorial. Medleys of at least 2-3 varieties of green or glaucous leaved plants flourish in most countryside gardens, including an obligatory green white-edged plant. Hosta leaves come in a variety of shapes and forms – round, oblong, lanceolate, very narrow, puckered, waxy, straight and wavy, erect and drooping. Shades and colors are various as well – glaucous blues, grays, greens, yellows, even white (leaves of the `White Fever` cultivar start of as white, turning green as they mature). Certain cultivars show variegation in white, cream, yellow, gold, green or blue with margins of a few millimeters width to as much as half a leaf. Some hostas retain their color throughout the season, while others reveal colorful changes of foliage, depending on the time of the year.

In addition to the spectacular leaves, hostas possess delicate bell-shaped flowers in long spikes. Some cultivars produce especially large, fragrant and colorful flowers, in various shades of white to purple. Hostas with pure white flowers are especially valuable. According to the size of clump, hostas fall into the following categories: miniatiure (clump grows up to 10-20 cm in diameter), small (20-40 cm), medium (40-60cm), large (60-90 cm) and very large (90-150 cm and more). Usually, plants only attain their final size in their 4th or 5th year.

Over the years hostas have become one of the most popular garden plants. Even owners of sunny gardens turn to them, once shrubs and trees reach considerable height. Although majority of hostas are most comfortable when grown in shade or semi-shade, some cultivars tolerate or even prefer sunny sites (as in the case of yellow-leaved or variegated varieties). They also tolerate salty soil well, shrugging off flooding, drought and even cold.

Hostas are easily grown by an experienced and novice gardener alike, and even a lazy one. They patiently endure poor growing conditions. True, one should not expect plants to be of top condition under such circumstances. When grown in friable, moist and fertile soil, in shade or semi-shade the hosta will always be larger, lushier and more brightly colored than the plant grown in less favorable dry sunshine.It may take up to a year or so for a hosta to reveal its ultimate glory, since young plants often differ from mature ones in their form, texture and coloring.

Slugs and snails are the worst enemies of hostas, although cultivars, resistant to these pests, do exist. One of major drawbacks of hostas is their susceptibility to late frosts. Their growing season starts rather late in spring, and is cut short fairly early in autumn, when the leaves start coloring in preparation for dormancy.

Certain varieties exhibit seasonal foliar changes. Some cultivars retain the colours of their leaves or margins until mid-summer, eventually fading or turning green, while other cultivars behave in a totally opposite way, revealing their beauty only during the second half of summer.

In mixed plantings, hostas make a perfect companion plant to be grown alongside Japanese anemones, arisaemas, astilbes, brunneras, bugbanes, lily-of-the-valley, bleeding-hearts, variegated grasses, hellebores, coral-bells, daylilies, irises, Japanese woodland primulas, pulmonarias, saxifrages, rodgersias, rhododendrons, conifers and ferns.

Hostas are extensively used by gardeners in a multitude of ways – to edge lawns, paths, flowerbeds; in mixed borders; to cover up bases of tree trunks, or to be planted as a backdrop for smaller plants. In mixed border small-leaved hostas, ferns, heucheras and astilbes can be used as fillers-in or for covering up unsightly leaves of the fading plants. It is also possible to create a single-species planting from 4-8 hostas of different sizes and colors. Sun-tolerant hostas are effectively used to shade a raised water feature or a container with water lilies, or to provide a clematis with a cool root run. Planted next to pendant trees, fountains, creeks and waterfalls, hostas can be a genuinely magnificent sight to behold.

© Giedra Bartas, 2009

Will water lilies survive?

All hardy water lilies overwinter perfectly well, if their rhizomes do not freeze completely. Since water lilies come in different sizes – miniature, small, medium and large  – their winter care primarily depends on their vigor and type/depth of your water feature. While miniature water lilies are best grown in shallow waters, their more vigorous counterparts prefer the deeper end of a pond.

In natural ponds large water lilies are generally planted 1-1.5 metres deep. The thickness of the ice layer on large ponds rarely exceeds 1 metre even in the most severe winters, when temperature keeps at around -30oC for a couple of weeks, so the water lilies are safe at the bottom of large water features.

When large water lilies are planted less than 1 metre deep, or if a particular water feature tends to freeze to the very bottom in winter, the safest way is to plant them in aquatic baskets. When the winter sets in, they [banner] should be moved either into the deeper end of the pond or a cool cellar (basement), whichever is more appropriate in your case. The basket with the water lily should be stored submerged in a container filled with water.

The same rules apply to the medium, small or miniature water lilies. If you do not have a basement, after being carefully rinsed and soaked in the Previcur fungicide, rhizomes could be stored in damp peat or moss in the fridge.

© Giedra Bartas, 2009

Pines: pruning and training

pinus-strobus-sakeleHealthy pines, growing in a sunny location, have a shape which is characteristic of the genus. Their crowns are sparse, which is natural. Pines do not become any denser when pruned, since they have no dormant buds; they also do not respond to rejuvenating in the way that deciduous trees would. Only dry or damaged branches can be pruned out.

Recently gardeners have become interested in techniques of how to train pines. The plants do not always look the way one would like them to. It is too often, that we hear that pines  are “too small”, “too tall”, “too thin”, “irregular”, “grow too slow”, “grow too fast”…

One of the most popular questions is how to make a dense hedge of the mountain pine (Pinus mugo). Most nurseries sell adult pines, which are too mature to be planted in a hedge. Even a deciduous hedge is not easily brought back into shape, if left to grow untrimmed for some time. Therefore, choose your planting material well. Look for young trees of approximately the same age, form and height to get the best looking hedge. It is important the hedge is pruned properly, especially in its first year.

Pinch the current year`s growth (“candles”) by a third or two thirds in late May or early June, before the needles break into growth. This will restrain growth of the pines, and they will grow more compact. Shorten only the branches, which need to be restricted. Such method of pruning can be applied every year. In order to stop the branch altogether, pinch the terminal bud in autumn, leaving the adjacent lateral buds, as they will grow into next years shoots. And other way round, the branch will grow faster after the lateral buds have been removed.

Bear in mind, that if all of the buds or the growing tip of the branch are removed, it will completely stop growing. In a few years time this branch will shed all needles and the tree will be left with a dead branch and a “hole” in the crown, when the branch will be removed. This might also happen, if the only bud on the branch is removed (side branches of mountain pines (Pinus mugo) and Japanese stone pines (Pinus pumila) usually have a single bud.

One does not need secateurs to train pines, unless for the purpose of removing the bottom branches of a young tree, when you intend to raise the crown of the tree, or if you need to prune a grafted standard pine, which still has branches of understock attached. These branches feed the grafted plant, until it matures, but later they are removed one by one, rather than lopping them all off in one go.

Training of the other species of pines is similar. However, a Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) or an eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) will never take well to shaping into a cone or a ball, while a Japanese white pine (Pinus parviflora) will never grow to make a dense tree, like a Korean pine (Pinus koreaana) would. Pines are a perfect subject for bonsai training, but they have to be started young. This is an occupation for the most persevering, since it will take another 10 years before some results will show.

Pines dislike their branches being cut or shortened. If you want to remove a branch, then the cut should be made flush with the trunk. Do not prune out more than one or two branches a year. Best time to remove them is in summer (July, August), when weather is warm and dry. Remove dead bottom branches at the same time. The die-back of the lowest branches of pines is a natural process – this may happen when the tree is dense and the light does not get to the bottom branches, or when the plant is growing fast and its crown grows higher.  Just like all the other conifers, pines should not be pruned in late winter or early spring.

© Giedra Bartas, 2009