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Extension > Garden > SULIS > Maintenance > Sustainable Woody Plant Maintenance

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Sustainable Woody Plant Maintenance

Image Woody landscape plants provide structure and a sense of permanence in our landscapes. Unlike herbaceous landscape plants, most woody plants do not die back to the ground over winter, but will leaf out from above ground, woody stems. Woody plants are available from ground-hugging groundcover type plants to 100-foot towering trees.

Woody plants serve a wide variety of important purposes in our landscapes. They can provide a canopy or "ceiling" for our outdoor rooms, provide shelter from winter winds or shade from hot summer sun, create a backdrop for ornamental herbaceous plants, screen undesirable views, visually anchor or balance buildings in the landscape, and help us conserve energy in our homes. They can also provide food and shelter for wildlife, provide edible food for us, create spectacular seasonal interest with flowers, fruit, bark and twigs, and fill the air with fragrance.

Because woody trees and shrubs can get considerably large, it is important that careful consideration be given to the plant's location at planting time. Unlike herbaceous plants, it is often difficult, or even impossible, to transplant a mature woody plant. Species should be chosen for a site based on soil and moisture preferences, available sunlight, and available space. Plants given proper site conditions will be healthier and require less maintenance. Cultural practices such as mulching to control weeds and conserve moisture will reduce maintenance and help plants do their best.

The following section of SULIS provides basic information about types of woody plants and their maintenance needs.

1     Deciduous Trees

Deciduous Trees
Deciduous trees include everything from 6-foot tall ornamental trees to towering 100-foot tall specimens. They also contribute a vast range of shapes, forms, colors and textures to our landscapes. While deciduous trees lose their leaves in winter, they still provide us with structure and interest all year long. There is some overlap between small trees and tall shrubs, as many larger shrubs can be pruned into "tree form," meaning there is a visible "trunk" with foliage at the top 2/3 or less of the plant. Trees can have a single trunk or be in clump form (multi-stemmed).
2     Deciduous Shrubs

Deciduous Shrubs
Deciduous shrubs can be ground-hugging groundcovers or thick, large, screening plants. They are the backbone of our foundation and border plantings, often mixed with trees and herbaceous plants. They provide us with a wide range of seasonal interest, even in winter when they have lost their leaves. Wildlife often depends on deciduous shrubs for shelter and food
3     Evergreen Trees and Shrubs

Evergreen trees and shrubs
Evergreen trees and shrubs maintain their foliage all year long, providing some structure and color in our winter landscapes. They can be short, spreading groundcovers or tall, majestic trees. The foliage is often needle-like or scale-like, though there are a few broad-leaf evergreens which are usually treated more like deciduous shrubs. Evergreens are used in foundation and border plantings, as well as for windbreaks and screens
4     Woody Vines

Woody Vines
Unlike herbaceous vines, woody vines usually grow each year from above-ground stems and do not die back to the ground during winter. Some woody vines will die back to the ground in colder climates, but not in warmer areas. While many need a trellis, arbor or other structure on which to grow, others are able to attach themselves directly to buildings, trees or other substrates. Woody vines can fill in where vertical height is needed, such as along a building, where there is not enough space to accommodate the width of a shrub.
5     Woody Groundcovers

Woody Groundcovers
Some woody plants can spread through rhizomes or layering (rooting where branches touch the ground) and quickly fill in an area, providing valuable, yet attractive, erosion control. Other woody plants can be planted in masses to give a groundcover effect. Once established, groundcovers can be a low maintenance solution for areas not appropriate for other plants, and can be repeated to visually provide unity to a landscape.



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