Trees, Shrubs, & Groundcovers



Trees are used for shade, decoration, screening windbreaks and sound reduction purposes. Woody plants are large and generally long-lived components of the landscape. They are not easily replaced, therefore, critically important are 1) careful consideration of species and 2) site selection.
Groundcovers serve as attractive carpets of foliage that cloak and beautify our landscape “floors.”  A groundcover is a low-growing plant species — 3 feet tall or shorter — that spreads to form a relatively dense layer of vegetation. In covering bare soil, groundcovers reduce soil erosion and provide habitat for insects and other animals, along with a host of other positive environmental effects.

Some Important Practices

  • Select trees/shrubs whose mature sides will fit the scale and size of the landscape (the cute sapling planted a few feet from a house may grow into a 20, 30 or 40-foot tree and cause numerous unintended problems in the future)
  • Avoid planting invasive species; instead choose plants, especially native plants, that minimize maintenance and have a higher likelihood of survival
  • When adding trees and shrubs to the landscape ensure that they will grow in the conditions that is offered by the soil (pH, sun or shade … get a soil test)
  • Plant trees/shrubs in holes that are 3-5 times the width of the root ball and slightly less than the height of the root ball
  • Use no soil amendments (fertilizer, compost, bagged top soil etc.) in individual planting holes of new woody plants
  • Mulch only 2-3 inches deep and keep 4-6 inches away from the trunk of the tree/shrub (resist the temptation to make a large mound of mulch around the tree trunk – it can damage or kill the tree/shrub)
  • Maintain healthy plants by meeting their cultural requirements (sun, shade, wet, dry, fertilizer, no fertilizer…)  with the goal of using no or less pesticides
  • In times of low precipitation irrigate landscape plants deeply and infrequently at a rate of one inch per week (remember that roots will spread out as far as the drip line of the branches
  • Irrigate early in the morning, rather than late at night, to minimize evaporation losses and allow plants to dry off before evening
  • Do maintenance pruning to remove dead, diseased or problem branches as soon as they are found to keep trees and shrubs healthy
  • For questions or problems contact the Help Desk, phone number is 703-792-7747 and email is

Overarching References

Tree and Shrub Planting Guidelines, VT Publication 430-295 is a good basic introduction to plant and site selection and tree care after planting. The diagram is especially helpful.  See

A Guide to Successful Pruning: Pruning Basics and Tools, VT Publication 430-459
introduces the subject of now to prune, maintenance pruning, rejuvenation pruning and when to prune.  See

Selecting Landscape Plants: Groundcovers, Virginia Tech Publication 426-609
provides an introduction to groundcovers and descriptions of several species with descriptions of their cultural requirements (sun exposure and soil conditions).  See

More Resources and References

Trees, Shrubs and Groundcovers, VT Website lists numerous web links for many more detailed subjects related to this topic. See

Last checked: LGL 9/6/16