Plant Complex Landscapes

In a complex community, like a forest or a multi-level landscape bed (ground layer, shrub layer, understory tree and canopy tree layers), some roots die every year. Those dead roots provide organic matter to improve soil structure and provide channels in the soil for needed air and water to flow to plant roots. If you were a tree, would you rather live as a part of a community with other plants where you get watered and fed by the plants around you or would you rather live in a ring of wood mulch and a shallow-rooted lawn that often forms a barrier to rain and air exchange. Easy choice, right?

Complex landscapes also do a better job of controlling disease and insect pests. Diverse landscapes prevent one disease or insect pest from devastating the entire planting. They also support beneficial insects that often eat the pests and keep the ecosystem balanced.

Suburban back yard with neat mowed back yard.

There is a street in Newark where narrow backyards back up to the road. Each homeowner treats their backyard differently, but because they are all lined up, they are easy to compare. To some people, the perfect aesthetic is a clean, neat mowed lawn from the back of their house to the street. Others though, opt for a complex community growing in their backyard. Everyone has the right to their preference and to treat their backyard as they wish. But, when more people chose the community concept, our suburban landscape does a better job of providing the ecosystem services we need to survive. It also results in “happier”, healthier plants.

Suburban back yard with complex community of trees, shrubs and ground cover.

For more information about horticulture in Delaware visit and follow me on Instagram @sbartonhort.  The Sue Barton blog has a calendar of events that includes many interesting meetings, workshops and webinars for interested gardeners and landscape professionals.  Check it out!