Don’t plant tree too close to the garden

I have a 12-foot by 12-foot space next to my vegetable garden that might be suitable for a tree that would offer shade. A smaller flower garden with a fence borders the other side of this space. I would like advice on a type of tree that might be compatible with a vegetable garden. Is there a smaller growing tree you could recommend? Would the required spraying and care for fruit trees interfere with the more organic nature of the garden?

— Barb

If the tree really, really, really can’t get wider than 12 feet at maturity, your choices are limited. There aren’t a lot of plants that are tree-like and fit that size range. Snow Fountains cherry is a very nice tree that would fit into that area, but it’s really an ornamental specimen, not something we look to get any shade out of. You might consider a variety of saucer magnolia like “Leonard Messel,” “Randy,” or “Merrill.” They will probably get a bit bigger than what you’re looking for, but they grow awfully slowly so it would be decades before that would become an issue. I also think magnolia are happiest with some shade in the afternoon around here.

Another good choice is a tree form rose of Sharon. Not too sure they would reach 12 feet (probably 8 feet to 10 feet) but they make a lovely little specimen and have gorgeous flowers from midsummer into fall. Another possibility is a tree-form hydrangea. Again, they’ll be smaller like the rose of Sharon, but are beautiful in bloom through the summer.

Now, if we can get a bit bigger than 12 feet, our choices start to increase. The thing to remember about the size of plants is that they’re not like us — they will grow some every year until they die. They don’t grow up to one size and then stop. So, when we talk about the size of a tree, we also have to consider the time frame we’re talking about. There is a lovely group of smaller ornamental trees that would get wider than what you want (say 18 feet to 22 feet). Just keep in mind that it will take 15 or 20 years for them to get to that.

If this works for you, then you could consider trees like flowering crabapple (don’t dismiss them—there are newer varieties that are much cleaner than the old ones), hawthorn, flowering pear, purple leaf plum, European bird cherry, horse chestnut, tatarian maple, dwarf umbrella catalpa, mountain ash and redbud.

If you get a chance, stop by the store. We have a book we’ve put together with descriptions for all these — plus pictures showing some characteristics of the tree — to give you a better idea of what they’re like so you can choose something you like.

As for requiring lots of spraying and such, that’s usually not something to worry about. I have a number of smaller ornamental trees in my yard that we’ve had for more than 30 years, and I’ve never had to spray them since I’m not looking to get edible fruit from them. Of course I’m not running out to spray them if I see a few aphids in the tree. I just wait and let all the other little critters that eat them take care of them.

Finally, I do have one potential concern about where you’re thinking of putting the tree.

If the tree is going to shade the vegetable garden, it could affect growth and yields from it. A veggie garden should have at least six or seven hours of bright, direct sun a day. If the tree is going to do more than that you might reconsider where to put the tree or whether you need a vegetable patch.


I am taking out some rock surrounding our current yard and we would like to plant grass seed in place of this. I’d like to get an early start, but wondered what time of year is most appropriate to do so. Can we do this this spring?

— Brian


Spring is a great time to do this. Most people wait to plant grass seed until they have ditch water to keep it irrigated. Once you have it available, you can go for it.

If the weather turns cold the seed may take a bit longer to germinate. Just maintain even soil moisture and it will be fine.

Also, take advantage of the opportunity by amending the soil well before you plant by rototilling in a good amount of decomposed organic matter.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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