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Too Close for Comfort
by Carla Allen
January 1, 2000


Warmer days just have to arrive soon and many of us will be setting out our transplants, scattering seed and digging holes for trees and shrubs. A problem that may puzzle those who are just beginning to explore the wonderful world of gardening is "How close do I plant these seeds, annuals, perennials, bulbs, trees or shrubs?"

Let's start with seeds, the seeds of annual flowers for instance. If you are sowing them in a container inside the house the tendency is to plant them in drills or rows in the flat, fairly close together, almost touching one another. Or you can scatter them over the surface of the soil and cover them very lightly with a light dusting of soil or vermiculite(unless they are one of the few varieties that germinate better uncovered.) After all, you are going to be transplanting these to roomier quarters outside. Don't let them grow too big in their first location as there will be poor air circulation and increased danger to the damping off fungus.

Very small plants like alyssum and lobelia can be transplanted in small clumps. In the garden if you want a good showing of annuals a popular rule of thumb for most varieties is to plant them 6-9 inches apart in groups of five or six. They can go even closer in containers at 5-7 inches apart.

With perennials, it's a different story. Almost all of these plants will spread as the years go by. You have to allow for their expansion. Some perennials spread much more quickly than others, but a distance of 12-18 inches is generally suitable. Eventually you'll have to divide most of your perennials to keep them healthy and attractive.

How about the vegetable garden? Carrots are one of the closest at two inches, but you'll be pulling out the babies as they grow throughout the season to give more room for those left to become larger. Corn should be a foot apart. Those veggies that grow on vines - cukes, squash and pumpkin can be 18 to 24 inches apart. Beans, beets and peas ........ 4-6 inches. All of the "cole" crops should be planted at least 1 foot apart to allow for good spread, this includes broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower.

Dwarf apple trees have a really comfortable range to be planted in, between 5 and 20 feet apart, standard sized trees should be 30-35 feet apart. The distance recommended for highbush blueberries is equal to their minimum height, 6-8 feet. If you're putting in a strawberry bed this year, plant them 12- 18 inches apart. They are going to send out lots of runners to root in between that distance.

For a real impact when it comes to bulbs, plant them just inches apart, fairly close together in groups of 5, 7 or more. There are so many shrubs covering such a wide range of sizes and shapes, it's quite impossible to descibe planting distances for all of them.

First of all, make sure you carefully read the description of the plant you are buying or installing. Is it a dwarf variety? There are dwarf and "full size" varieties of burning bush, mugho pine, honeysuckle and dozens of junipers. Dwarf varieties can be planted within 2 or 3 feet of one another. Full size variations can demand an 8 foot radius or more. Never think you can confine the size of a large shrub by pruning it back hard each year. You're working against the natural tendencies of the plant. Why not choose something smaller that requires less maintenance? Read the backs of seed packets, tags on landscape plants and never be afraid to ask garden center staff or your local nurseryperson about the eventual spread of the plant(s) you hope to add to your property. Plants that are installed too close together can rob one another of nutrients, air and water. Give them space to develop to their full potential.

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Bulbs planted just inches from one another give a really good show in the garden.

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