With the cost of real estate forever on the rise and the size of thelots decreasing at a similar rate, homeowners are continuously searching for new ways to maximize their available landscape.
One option that has become more and more popular, in this, the era of the townhome, has been the utilization of dwarf conifers or miniature evergreens.
Most dwarf plants are formed through a genetic imbalance of a budor seedling which causes a branch to grow atypical. Although it is unfounded, researchers believe these mutations are the result of the plant's defense system to disease.
Regardless of their origin, these down-sized versions of their parent pine-bearing trees offer the home gardener an opportunity to build an aesthetically appealing landscape, with minimal elbow grease.
"With the current lifestyle in Maryland being the way it is, with kids being more active in sports and other social functions, the husband and wife both working, people just don't have as much time at home to putter around the yard," said David Thompson, owner and operator of Foxborough Farms Nursery in Street. "Dwarf plants make it much easier and less time consuming for the homeowner who wants to have a landscape but also wants to relax.
"When you get into slow growing or dwarf plants you get in material that's almost nil compared to the required attention that other plants need."
While the dwarf plants, which reach a maximum of four feet at full maturity, still require seasonal fertilizing programs and water in times of drought, they require much less time and energy than their parent plants which can claw skyward in excess of 100 feet.
Debbie Downs, manager at Meadow Farms Nursery in Crownsville, said that many of her customers who purchase the dwarf plants live in town homes or single family homes with minimal acreage, but that their pure beauty has no boundaries.
"They're just beautiful plants," said Downs. "I have people come in who have huge yards, but want to highlight a certain area and they do that with the dwarf plants. They're absolutely gorgeous, easy to maintain and people just love to show them off."
As a retail and wholesale grower of nursery stock, Thompson has fielded many questions in regard to the dwarf conifers but says the most common concern is in the fragility of the plant.
"A lot of people are under the impression that these plants are really delicateand that they won't grown in our area, and that's totally incorrect," said Thompson. "They still have the same basic makeup of the parentplan, they just happen to be mutations. They don't require any special treatment and will grow in this area no different than their parent plants."
Thompson advises all home gardeners to make precise measurements when planning the garden to allow plants to obtain their mature, or ultimate size.
When selecting plants, remember to choose those that have the cultural requirements to grow in a confined environment. Careful consideration should also be given to such factors assoil requirements, sunlight and shade, and wind conditions.
Thompson, one of the founding members of the Perry Hall-based American Conifer Society, warns that when planting the dwarf conifers, never plant below the top of the root ball because plant roots always grow downward but never upward.
Scott Neal, a supervisor with Rhoten and Sons, a commercial and residential landscaping company based in Rosedale, has seen a growing trend for dwarf conifers and attributes their popularity to practicality and brilliance.
"If someone wants to putsome trees or shrubs along a fence line they'll plant something that's going to grow fast, but if they want something around their foundation that they don't have to tend to very often and they want people to see, they'll want to plant some type dwarf tree. They're good-looking and are really easy to care for."