The Gardener on Main Street in Blowing Rock, looks for a spot for just one more plant.

‘The Gardener,’ on Main Street in Blowing Rock, looks for a spot for just one more plant.

As a master gardener, I volunteer my time to help answer gardening questions at the county extension office. A question came in the other day that seems pertinent to share, as it’s a mistake nearly every gardener has made, at least once.

A woman called, concerned the roots of her Doublefile Viburnum (V. plicatum) were going to damage the foundation of her house. Now it’s fair to assume you may be thinking, “Nope, I’ve not had a viburnum’s roots damage my foundation, one gardening mistake to check off my list.” Stay with me a moment as this might be more familiar than it seems.

My caller was emotionally attached to her pretty shrub as it was a gift from a now-deceased relative. She had planted it near her house so she could enjoy it from her window; the problem was that she may have let her emotions override practical matters. With a growing season that can stretch from April to November, it can be shocking how fast our plants grow. What seems to be a perfectly sized shrub can outgrow its location in just a couple of seasons.

My caller also revealed that she had installed her viburnum just four feet from her house. A quick internet search revealed that mature size of this shrub is 6-8 feet tall and 8-10 feet wide. Its branches will grow through the windows of her house long before the roots damage the foundation.

Underestimating just how large a plant will be, I’d argue, is a mistake all gardeners make, and then we are faced with some unhappy choices: Either we have to move a too-large plant or we have to cut it down and deal with the gap it leaves behind.

After brainstorming options for replacements, I referred my caller to a publication from the Cooperative Extension Service about proper planting techniques for trees and shrubs. She found it online as we talked, and her response was one I’ve heard before: “This publication is so long — how come it’s so complicated? I normally just dig a hole and put it in the ground.”

And here, finally, is my point. We’ve all found ourselves, plant in hand, looking around our gardens for a spot. I have a small garden, so my options are limited, while Kit enjoys nearly an acre of space but faces the same dilemma — where to place just one more new plant.

Most garden centers include tags on their plants with its basic information: name, requirements and mature size. Take a moment and read the tag before you pull your money out. No tag? The internet provides information on virtually every landscape plant offered so take a moment, do a bit of research and make a plan before digging. We intend for our trees and shrubs to reside in our garden for a long time so it’s worth the effort to give them a proper home.

The Extension publication I mentioned can be found online at Don’t be daunted, make your garden the right place for that plant you just brought home.

Still want to add something new to your garden? The N.C. Herb Association’s Wild Herb Weekend is coming up July 26-28 at the Valle Crucis Conference Center. Their Executive Director, Camille Edwards explains that members are “passionate about herbs and joyfully share their knowledge of how to identify, grow, use, respect, study and celebrate herbs of all kinds.” Find more information at

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram AbsenteeGardener or email

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