In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
Crowding plants close together is a good strategy for annual containers but not always for garden beds.
An Overcrowded Garden
Cheek-by-jowl flower beds look nice to passersby, and some plants tolerate the crowding. But others may not like such close quarters. Sunpatiens and their sun-loving impatiens relatives are good examples of plants that can take dense planting better than most. Both have a common growth habit: they continue to grow at approximately the same rate even when tightly packed. That means in a bed full of these plants, they will hold each other up until a thunderstorm lays them down.
My begonias have started to crowd the hydrangeas, ornamental grasses, and roses in one bed, and they've spread under the shrubs. The measure of a good ground cover is how well it provides an attractive alternative to weeds or the blank palette of mulch. Invasive plants or rampant reseeders are not good company, unless you enjoy weeding them out repeatedly. For those more easily tamed, like my begonias, creeping jenny, and phlox, one "neatening" each year usually suffices. Lately I'm pulling some of each, and it's an easy task to do. Then I add mulch to slow their progress toward the shrubs again.
Keeping Good Company
The choices we make when designing our gardens can help alleviate or contribute to crowding. Spacing trees too closely can make them vulnerable to high winds because they won't have the room to develop strong branch structures. Choose shrubs with approximately the same growth rate to plant together. A bed overfilled with spirea and nandina soon becomes a mass of the former with few of the latter. Take care to space any group of plants far enough apart to allow good air circulation around each one, to help prevent the spread of pests and to allow each to reach its potential.
If you want the look of a full planting in short order, you can plant close together and then remove some plants in a few years to create more breathing room.
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