Exposing Myself and Other New Year Resolutions

I had a professor once tell me that 90% of inspiration is preparation.

You can find quotes all over the web to a similar effect. There was even a study done recently which indicates that many of one’s creative solutions can be directly correlated to the information one consumes.

And that is why, this year, I resolve to look at more porn.

Plant porn, that is. With some design porn thrown in for good measure. As creators of built works, we must first visualize the outcome we want: What will the finished project look like at every level of detail? What new combinations of plants or materials can we create to engage the people who will inhabit the space? But the longer you are in the profession, the greater your risk of constantly retreading the same path. Utilizing the same design solutions, going with the same plant combinations.

black eyed susan

It’s an old standby but still a beauty. Rudbeckia ‘Denver Daisy’ Image Copyright The Plantium Company®

More politely referred to as “visual inspiration,” sexy imagery of other people’s work is a fantastic way to ensure you keep your own work and your enthusiasm fresh. Flicking through other’s design solutions creates an arsenal of ideas at our disposal that you can then piece together in new ways to solve your own design challenges.

And fortunately in this digital age there is no lack of resources! Pinterest is probably the best known imagery resource. (Check out The Plantium’s Beautiful Landscape Ideas board!) Houzz is another great source of design imagery. But perhaps my new favorite imagery resources are the web pages of fellow landscape professionals, especially those practicing in my area. Check out the gallery on the websites of your competitors! You will see different solutions to design and planting challenges you yourself have likely encountered.

But looking at imagery related specifically to the field of ornamental landscaping is only one step in really good preparation for inspired creative brainwaves.

ice plant

Flowers are early and short-lived but punchy and the juicy leaves live on as a great groundcover. Delosperma floribundum ‘Starburst’

Image Copyright Plant Select®

 

partridge feather

Pairs the heavily contrasting grey foliage you are looking for with a brilliant bright yellow flower! Tanacetum densum spp. amani Image Copyright The Plantium Company®

So this year I also resolve to expose myself.

Exposure to many types of thought processes, creative thinking, and problem solving gives you an even broader well to draw from when working on your projects. Maybe you will find inspiration from a painting you encountered, a material you saw while hiking, or even a book you read.

So get out there, surf some plant porn, and expose yourself. The next time you face a design challenge your colleagues might comment on your inspired solutions, but you will know the secret.

moon carrot

It may look like an alien landed in the garden but it will get a lot of attention! Seseli gummiferum Image Copyright The Plantium Company®

spanish gold broom

Striking in the spring and great texture all season long. Cytisus purgans ‘Spanish Gold’ Image Copyright Plant Select®

Soil Depth and Plant Selection

Dive into The Shallow End

As designers and installers we are tasked with creating landscapes in all sorts of conditions. Often these conditions are challenging and not necessarily what plants might prefer in their natural environments. Soil depth is one of the most common challenges we face. From containerized plantings on a pool deck, to street trees or green roofs, almost every designer will eventually need to choose plants for a constrained location.  This article will give you some insight into creating successful plant designs in tight places!

The definition of limited soil volume!

Talk about limited soil depth!

Making sure your plants have enough room to root seems like it would be the primary concern when creating a design with restricted root space. However there are really multiple factors you have to consider before you even get to soil depth!

Proper Drainage

Planting areas with restricted soil depth or restricted soil volume are notoriously prone to drying out quickly, but don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t need to address drainage! Whether your planting bed is in the lawn, green roof or a planter, proper drainage is crucial. While certain plants can survive inundation in a natural setting, standing water or improper drainage will quickly de-oxygenate and compact the soil in contained situations and kill your oh-so-carefully selected plants. There are many ways to tackle drainage and all are dependent on the design situation. If you are working on a new install, drainage is first and most important thing to get right, as is can be difficult and costly to fix down the road. If you are working in an area with existing poor drainage, find solutions before considering any next steps!

 

Soil Health and Longevity of the Design

The anticipated lifespan of landscapes varies considerably. Before you choose plants, consider how long you anticipate your design persisting before a “refresh.” Are you creating a container design that will be replaced every year or even every season? Are you planting trees and shrubs you want to see mature over time?

Planting areas with restricted root space require monitoring of soil health. The more restricted the soil volume, the more quickly that soil will be depleted of nutrients crucial to the plant’s health. However if a refresh of the plant material (and soil) is planned to occur frequently, then shallower soil profiles can be no problem. If the design contemplates trees and shrubs that are intended to grow to maturity over time, then a more significant soil volume should be considered to promote long-term plant health.

Proper Plant Selection

Let’s look at those tough little plants growing in the cracks and crevasses! Plants that grow in these conditions in the natural world tend to be tough, resilient, vigorous, and drought tolerant plants. If you have all the right soil and bed conditions but choose sensitive plants, it is likely your design will still struggle without intensive care. And don’t forget how soil volume can affect plant hardiness. Plants with reduced soil volumes, especially container plantings, are much more susceptible to larger swings in soil temperature. If you are planting long-lived plants in containers it is best to pick plants at least two zones hardier than you normally would.

Don’t forget, The Plantium can help you quickly select plants for even the toughest planting project!

Find Tough Plants Fast

Soil Depth

And now we finally come to soil depth.

We have all seen the beautiful and resilient plant that appears to be growing happily, in what appears to be almost no soil volume. However, plants grown in-situ from seed are are much more successful establishing themselves in challenging growing areas than transplants.  Imagine going from a pot in a comfortable nursery to being blasted by sun and heat in a roof deck! To have you transplanted plants thrive, follow these basic rules of thumb for soil depth.

Plant Type Plant Height Minimum Soil Depth
Annuals Any 3”
Turf Grass NA 4” (3” in warm climates)
Perennials <8” 4” (3” in warm climates)
Perennials 8”-16” 6”-8”
Perennials/ Ornamental Grasses/ Shrubs 16”-24” 12”-18”
Perennials/ Ornamental Grasses/ Shrubs 2’-6’ 24”
Shrubs/ Small Trees >6’ 3’ Minimum (should consider overall volume as well)
Trees All Should be calculated on overall volume for each tree and not just soil depth

If you are looking for more information on soil depth and bed construction, check out this great article by Proven Winners.

https://www.provenwinners.com/learn/make-your-bed

Maintenance

Lastly, on-going maintenance is the greatest issue facing these planting designs. In addition to soil replenishing mentioned above, containerized plants can also suffer from large swings in soil moisture. Because they are prone to drying, too much irrigation is often applied, and over-watering is perhaps the most frequent maintenance faux pas committed against plants with restricted root space. Carefully working with the maintenance team is critical to head off this issue early on.

Happy Planting !

Check out The Plantium’s great plant selection tools to make all your projects a breeze!

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Sourcing Plants – New Plant Availability Feature (beta)

Sourcing plants is about to be easier than ever!

UPDATED 5/1/17

Just choose your state and see all of The Plantium’s participating nurseries. Don’t see your favorite nursery? Just complete the form and get their information on our site as soon as possible! You can now also export existing plant lists as a spreadsheet, including availability.

Colorado Nurseries

Plant availability is live on The Plantium. Do you want to sign up a nursery that you frequently go to for plant material? Send them this link. Fill out the quick easy form and we can list that nursery’s stock for FREE! ENJOY!

For Nurseries

Plant Availability (beta) is LIVE! Sourcing plants can be the most disheartening part of planting design.  As a landscape architect I cannot think of anything more frustrating than spending hours choosing just the right plants for a project only to have my contractor or nursery supplier come back and tell me they cannot find half of what I specified. It drives me crazy!

That is why we are so excited to launch the new Plantium availability feature (beta) in Colorado, Utah and beyond. Landscape professionals in these states will soon be able to search for great plants, make lists, evaluate their designs AND locate those plants at nearby nurseries. While only in beta version right now, we are thrilled to make finding plants just a little bit easier. This plant availability feature will be live in the coming weeks. Start your free one month trial now, and take advantage of your free web training session so you can be ready to take full advantage of this new time saver as soon as it hits the primetime!

Thanks and Happy Plant Hunting!

By Heather Henry, President and CEO of The Plantium

Understanding Nursery Stock Sizes

It’s time to build your plant lists…. And there’s one thing to remember. Size matters! But understanding and deciphering standard nursery stock sizes can be like trying to find your way out of an Iowa cornfield. You’re bound to get lost a few times. Everyone calls out nursery stock sizes differently. Gallons, flat size, tree height, or caliper have all appeared in our plant lists. But depending on your familiarity with the nursery industry, you may not know that there is a continuously updated national standard on how to spec nursery stock sizes!

When writing this blog, I set out to include a nice handy, dandy all-purpose cheat sheet for our landscape professionals but it turns out that is easier said than done! Instead, this article provides a brief overview of the standard and can get you started on the right path to learning more for the next time you specify plants. We cannot promise that your suppliers will be following this standard to the number and letter, but if you stay familiar with the standards you will be much more likely to specify the nursery stock sizes that are available.

Specifying the Right Sizes Takes Knowledge

Specifying the Right Sizes Takes Knowledge

Called the American Standard for Nursery Stock, this national standard is published and maintained by AmericanHort, which is a somewhat recently formed consolidation of the American Nursery & Landscape Association and OFA—The Association of Horticultural Professionals.

According to AmericanHort, “The purpose of the American Standard for Nursery Stock … is to provide buyers and sellers of nursery stock with a common terminology, a ‘single language,’ in order to facilitate commercial transactions involving nursery stock. For instance, the Standard establishes common techniques for (a) measuring plants, (b) specifying and stating the size of plants, (c) determining the proper relationship between height and caliper, or height and width, and (d) determining whether a root ball or container is large enough for a particular size plant.”

The organization has been publishing this nursery standard since 1923, and it was adopted as a national standard in 1949 (ANSI Z60.1-2014). The most recent revision to the standard was published in 2014, and is available free from AmericanHort HERE. Use of this standard when growing and specifying plants is voluntary, but it is widely accepted and often referenced in standard specification sections. Using the standard has many benefits for designers and contractors, not the least of which is simplifying the procurement and acceptance processes by relying on clear pre-defined standards for quality and size of nursery stock.

The complete standard may be a daunting 109 pages but it is a surprisingly easy read, and provides in-depth, but digestible information. Below are a few key points from the American Standard for Nursery Stock you may find helpful (along with a cheat sheet to get you to the appropriate tables in the larger document). However, we would HIGHLY recommend reading through the whole standard and having a copy handy. It truly provides an amazing wealth of info (there’s a great section on identifying unacceptable co-dominant leaders – a problem I’ve had first hand issues with!). This resource also provides all the information necessary when accepting or rejecting plant material that shows up at your site!

Read on below for a summary of what you will find in the standard. Or, if you’re looking for other ways to make specifying plants easier check out The Plantium!

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 General Standards for Nursery Stock Sizes:

  • Specifications must include plant size by caliper, height or width appropriate to the plant type.
  • Certain plants may be specified by container size (see below). ALL others should be specified with caliper, height or width.
  • Typically, plant size specifications should include only the minimum allowable plant size in that interval. In other words, if you specify a 2.5 in. caliper Type 1 shade tree you may get a tree anywhere up to a 3 in caliper because it references the 2.5 to 3 inch range for that type of tree. As long as you specify the minimum, you know you will not get a SMALLER tree.
  • Caliper is always measured six inches above ground or soil level for trees less than 4.5” caliper, and 12 inches above the ground for 4.5” or larger.

General Standards for Containers:

  • These are generally the only plants to specify by container size
    • Herbaceous perennials
    • Non-winter-hardy shrubs
    • Ornamental grasses
    • Groundcovers
    • Vines
  • Containers marketed and sold with a # designation must have volumes within the ranges shown in the ANSI standard in order to comply
  • Container classes #1 through #100 include the volume of a container that, if such a container were manufactured, would hold the equivalent number of gallons as the container class number. #1 = one gallon; #5 = five gallon and so on.
  • Nursery stock specifications that reference only an imperial volume measurement, such as “quarts” or “gallons,” are not in accordance with the Standard. I can tell you that our plant lists have gotten that WRONG for years!!
  • The SP designation refers to ‘small plant’ containers. #SP4, for example, is a 4 inch container, or “quart” container. This designation goes from #SP1 – #SP5 and should reference square or round.
  • Container grown nursery stock shall have a well-established root system reaching the sides of the container to maintain a firm ball, but shall not have excessive root growth encircling the inside of the container (the same holds true for roots in ball and burlap!).

 

Root Bound

Container Growth Gone Wrong – Root Bound Tree

Tree B&B

When Done Right – A Thing of Beauty

 

Shade and Flowering Trees:

  • There are FOUR types of shade and flowering trees identified in the standard with the following associated specifications tables
    • Type 1 – Page 15-16
    • Type 2 – Page 17
    • Type 3 – Page 19
    • Type 4 – Page 21
    • Multi-stem and Shrub Form Trees – Page 24
  • Multi-stem tree specifications should include a minimum number of stems. If none is specified, 3 will be assumed.

Deciduous Shrubs:

  • There are THREE types of deciduous shrubs identified in the standard with associated specifications
    • Type 0 – Page 28
    • Type 1 – Page 28
    • Type 2 – Page 29
    • Type 3 – Page 30
  • Plants may not meet plant size specification or minimum number of canes at time of shipment at certain times of the year, but would be expected to reach the plant size specification and minimum number of canes during the first growing season after shipment.

Coniferous Evergreens:

  • There are SIX types of Coniferous Evergreens identified in the standard with associated specifications
    • Type 1 – Page 32
    • Type 2 – Page 33
    • Type 3 – Page 34
    • Type 4 – Page 36
    • Type 5 – Page 38
    • Type 6 – Page 40
  • Coniferous evergreens will also be described by their shearing:
    • Natural: (showing the form natural for the species)
    • Semi Sheared (sheared when plant is young to maintain symmetrical shape)
    • Sheared (pruned regularly to retain a symmetrical shape)
    • Altered Form (Can you say POODLED!!)

Broadleaf Evergreens:

  • There are SIX types of Coniferous Evergreens identified in the standard with associated specifications
    • Type 1 – Page 42
    • Type 2 – Page 44
    • Type 3 – Page 46
    • Type 4 – Page 48
    • Type 5 – Page 50
    • Type 6 – Page 52

Additional information in the standard provides specs for young plants, roses, palms (and other bare root stock), fruit trees, bulbs, corms/ tubers, and understock/seedling trees and shrubs.

Now, armed with this great information, you can confidently go forth and specify!

Also, check out these other great articles regarding considerations on transplant size:

https://www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/Influence_of_Tree_Size_on_Transplant_Establishment_277656_7.pdf

http://www.ncufc.org/uploads/Tree_Establishment_A_Review_of_Some_of_the_Factors_(Struve_2009).pdf

 

Don’t forget, The Plantium can help you save time and money on all your planting projects!

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Pick Plants with Emotional Intelligence

Selecting the right plants for a design regularly becomes one of the most time consuming portions of a design project for me.  Like all designers, I have my list of go-to plants; the tried-and-true plants that thrive and provide a lot of visual interest.  But every landscape calls for unique plants, whether for a unique function or to highlight a specific spot.  When you are trying to pick plants…. those few perfect plants, from the thousands of possibilities, it is easy to have time fly by and, before you know it, you have skipped lunch (maybe even dinner) and still have to select more plants.

Of course, the more conditions you add to a specific selection, potentially the more amount of time it takes to make the right choice.  This is especially true when you are working in less familiar territory.  If you need a Mediterranean garden, I can rattle off a list of plants a mile long that would fit.  But what about when that garden is going to be located adjacent to a disused rail line, and I need plants that will help detoxify the soil in addition to looking great?

This is where The Plantium will step in.  For the last couple of months I have been speaking with landscape architects and designers, environmental planners, urban planners, conservationists, and many others, asking the question: What environmental factors impacting plants do you regularly consider?  All of these responses are being used by The Plantium to improve their database of plants so that the selection process will be easier, no matter the situation.  So when you need to know what plants will thrive along a disused railroad track, you can search for plants that are tolerant to copper, arsenic, and petroleum products, three of the most common pollutants along rail lines.

What are some of the most common environmental factors design professionals consider when selecting plants?  There are the apparent ones (and ones that The Plantium already supports) such as sun exposure, water requirements, and soil conditions.  Some of the other commonly mentioned factors were:

  • High wind conditions
  • Heavy metal tolerance
  • Pollution remediation
  • Intermittent water inundation
  • Nitrogen and phosphorous uptake
  • Air pollution tolerance
  • Early establishers in disturbed landscapes
  • High UV radiation tolerance
  • Pine needle and leaf-litter tolerance
  • And many others

Some of these factors are certainly specialized to specific design sectors, but others are ones that designers need to deal with on a regular basis.  For instance, in Northern Utah we receive approximately 15% more UV radiation than at lower altitudes.  Several plants have foliage damage at our elevation if they are planted in the direct sun.  This is just one example of why I am excited to see these factors added to The Plantium’s database.  Look for that in future updates!  Until then, happy planting!

Check out the entire white paper. CLICK HERE

Guest Author:

Benjamin George, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning
Utah State University