Being a part of urban landscaping is very difficult for many plants. They have to contend with de-icing salt used in the winter, hot summers, and poor drainage because of the number of impervious surfaces that are present in our cities. Planting a plant, grass, tree, shrub or flower that is very sensitive to heat and changes in weather and soil moisture can put its health at risk. It is important to choose plants that have some grit and to remember that plants have not evolved in our urban environment. Even if a tree species can tolerate a poor site does not mean it will have perfect health. Many of the plants that survive well in urban areas can often tolerate poor, dry soils or even wet sites in nature. Urban soils are easily dried out because of all the heat collected by impenetrable surfaces. Soils can also have different chemical make-ups and texture. Some plants prefer richer, well-drained soils like Redbud (Cercis canadensis) while others grow in dry sites like the Orange Coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida). If you are unsure of what kind of soil you have on your property or in a specific area of your yard, you can have it tested with a soil analysis. A soil analysis can tell you the texture, pH, soluble salts, and nutrients of the soil.
A major aspect that must also be taken into consideration is the mature size of the plant relative to the location where you want to plant it. A lot of plants can get rather large and tall, particularly trees. For example: if you look out onto your street, are there powerlines, and how big are those grassed areas? Powerlines are often 30-40 feet high, you should not plant a tree like a Red Oak (Quercus rubra) that can grow to an average of 70 feet tall or it will need to be pruned by the power company. Also, larger plants like Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) may not fit well in small spaces near sidewalks. Consider plants like Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) or Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) instead.
One quick point that should be considered is to diversify from species that are commonly planted in our urban landscapes. Try to avoid planting common trees like Red Maple (Acer rubrum) and definitely stay away from foreign/invasive species that are commonly planted. If you are having trouble deciding what to plant or how to plant for your location contact a professional to conduct a site analysis.
Guest Blogger Biography: Victoria Cruz is currently a Senior at West Virginia University studying Forestry and Urban Forest Management. She has worked for the Maryland Park Service as a seasonal employee in the past and will be doing so again this summer.