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The Shrub That Ate My House

BY: Jack LeCroy, Regional Extension Agent, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, or

Have you ever planted a shrub or tree that started to engulf your whole home over the years? This problem is more common than one might think. Some plants, once they are established, can take off in a hurry. For example, the silverberry (Elaeagnus × ebbingei) or Russian olive as a common name, can take over anything and everything that it is near.

Every plant has a wrong place to plant it (see photo on left).

Some plants that you can pick up at your local garden center look cute when they are in their small pots but can overrun a landscape in just a couple of years. Another culprit is the azalea. Now, before you get angry with me, I am talking about a specific type of azalea. That azalea would be the Formosa azalea. I call this shrub the Volkswagen Beetle azalea because it gets as big or even bigger. A crape myrtle tree is also one that we get many calls on throughout the year. Homeowners get very frustrated as these trees get much bigger than expected and start damaging their roofs.

All plants list the mature size on the tags that come with them. (See photo on left by Jack LeCroy)

I am writing to give you good news, though! There are ways to prevent or remedy these situations. As we talk about in our Alabama Smart Yards series, picking the right plant in the right place is crucial. All plants list the mature size on their tags that come with them. If they don't have a tag, look online by searching the scientific name to see just how big a plant will get.

Foundation plantings are usually the shrubs that can get us into trouble. When a homeowner is unaware of a plant's growth rate or it wants to grow to 25 x 25 feet, this will for sure cause problems in the years to come. Be aware of different cultivars of plants that might be different sizes to fit your needs. For example, there are many types of azaleas that you can purchase, from the Gumpo azalea (Azalea x 'Gumpo White') that gets about 3 feet tall to the Formosa azalea (Rhododendron indicum 'Formosa') that can grow 8 feet tall.

Most plants have different sized versions or cultivars that you should be able to purchase to find a more "exact fit" for your landscape. Be mindful that a fine line exists between a plant that pleasantly grows fast, and a plant that will cause more maintenance for you during the year. Taking a few minutes to conduct a little bit of research will save you back-breaking work in the years to come as your shrubs become more established in your landscape.

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