Published on 04/27/06

Proper landscape plant spacing saves time, money

By Gary L. Wade
University of Georgia

Most landscapes today are overplanted. With too many plants for the given area, each plant is less healthy, requires more maintenance and just doesn't look as good as it should.

The really sad thing is that such landscapes cost more money than they should, too. If you're planning a new landscape or shopping for plants to add to your landscape, proper plant spacing is a great way to stretch your dollars.

It's hard to imagine cute little 1-gallon plants growing 10 feet wide within five years. But knowing the mature size and shape of the plants you want can help you avoid buying more than you need.

Move over, Bud

When plants are spaced too closely in the landscape, they begin competing for space, light, water and nutrients. Internal foliage begins to die off. Air circulation within the plant canopy is restricted, and the plants become stressed and more susceptible to insect and disease problems.

Close spacing reduces curb appeal, too, when plants lose their individuality and are sheared as huge blobs of intertwining green foliage.

Horizontal groundcover junipers, like Shore and Blue Rug, will form layer upon layer of foliage when they are planted too closely.

Creating chores

When this happens, the dense inner growth begins to die out, and it becomes a haven for spider mites and twig blight diseases. To avoid these problems, thinning the plant canopy to increase light infiltration and air circulation becomes an essential chore every three to five years.

Shrubs look their best when they have enough space to achieve their full size and shape without fighting for space with their neighbor.

The label that comes on the plant often tells about the plant's mature height and width. But it doesn't hurt to double-check for more information in a horticultural reference book or on the Web.


I recently bought several dwarf Burford hollies, for instance, and the label said they grew 12 inches to 15 inches tall and wide. Fortunately, I knew the plant grows 12 to 15 feet tall and wide. The label was misprinted. What a disaster this would have been if I had planted them 12 inches apart!

One of the most commonly used foundation plants is dwarf Yaupon holly. This plant will eventually grow 8 feet high and 8 feet wide. Ideal spacing, then, would be 8 feet apart.

Hedge plants are often planted so their canopies touch, particularly if they're to be sheared into a formal look. To do this, take the projected mature width of the shrub and decrease it by 2 feet. In other words, if the plants' mature width is 12 feet, space them 10 feet apart in the row to allow the canopies to overlap slightly.

Happy plants

By spacing plants properly, you'll likely find that you don't need as many plants as you thought you did. The landscape may look a little sparsely planted at first. But it will grow healthier, require less maintenance and look better.

It will stretch your landscaping dollars, too. That's something you can bank on.

(Gary Wade is an Extension Horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Gary Wade is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.