Proper plant selection is one the most important "secrets" in successful landscaping. Plants and colors are the "flavors" that bring your garden to life. They're also elements that can be used with purpose such as screening, shade, erosion control, dividing, focal points, noise control, etc.
So propagation of or choosing the right plants for the right place and purpose is helpful for professional looking, working, and manageable landscaping.
Growth habits and characteristics
First, there are some common mistakes that people make about plant selection. Usually this is simply because of a lack of knowledge of the growth habits and characteristics of individual plants. The size plants reach at maturity, light requirements, heat and wind tolerance, and soil preference are the most common.
I can't tell you how many times I've had to redo landscaping ideas where massive trees or shrubs are growing within inches of a home or even worse, cracking the foundation of the home.
These huge plants were planted when they were tiny little cute sprouts without any consideration given to the characteristics of the mature plant. This and all plant selection mistakes are usually the result of impulse buying (what looks pretty at the nursery) and a simple lack of planning and knowledge.
Rule #1 - Don't plan your garden or landscaping at the nursery or garden center. Do a little homework. Know a little about the plants before you buy them and take them home.
You can use the plant databases page for reference and get yourself a good plant encyclopedia in your library. You'll save a lot of time and frustration being able to look up plants according to your specific zone, type of plant, color, characteristics, by name, and so on. They're also very handy to carry with you into the garden or to the nursery.
Another common mistake in choosing the right plants and propagation is made in the area of zoning. Its extremely important to know which planting zone you live in and plant accordingly.
I am amazed at the number of nurseries and garden supply centers that carry plants that aren't even zoned for their area. Now, some of these plants are great for placing outdoors in pots during the summer but they have to be moved indoors during the winter. Unfortunately nobody tells you that.
Most generally you can trust the little plant selection tags that come with the plants but sometimes you can't. Its best to check with the plant databases or your plant encyclopedia for specific zoning in selecting plants.
Primary considerations for selecting landscape plants
- Height and Width are figured by the mature size a plant will reach in both upward and outward directions. Not calculating this can cause serious problems in the future.
- Form is the shape of the plant and how it will occupy and accent space. Form and shape are considered as columnar, round, vase, weeping, oval, creeping, etc.
- Texture is the fineness or roughness of plants. It can also be categorized in terms of leaf thickness and shade(light or dark) of plants. As a rule, plants with finer textures should be used in greater numbers than plants with coarse textures.
- Seasonal interest and color are figured by the special features a plant has at different times of the year. Foliage, fruit, flowers, Winter color, changing colors, etc.
Secondary considerations for selecting landscaping plants
- Insect and disease resistance
- Sun or Shade
- Moisture tolerance
- Drought Resistance
- Soil Type
Plant selection for best design and effect.
A few well-selected plant varieties can have more impact and appeal than a mix match selection of one of these here and one of those there. Unity is achieved in garden design by consistency.
Planting in groups of 3's, 5's, 7's, etc. also gives a sense of intentional design, balance, and unity.
Like I stated above, color is the "flavor" of your garden. Good color combinations and coordination can have a dramatic impact in garden design. So choosing plants that compliment or contrast with each other is essential. I'll use the color wheel below to give you some examples of different combinations. For a more detailed explaination of this, see creating color schemes.
Colors next to each other have little contrast and will tend to blend together well. Colors directly across from each other and at 90 degrees from a color will have the greatest contrast and can be used as complimentary colors. Those in a triangle from your starting color are harmonious to your starting color and can be used together with good effect.
Gray (silvers), blacks, and whites are considered neutral colors. Although they're not on the wheel they can be considered complimentary. These colors are best used in the background with bright colors in the foreground but can be used successfully in many color combinations.
Your plant selection could include silver and reds, silver and purples, silver and yellows, or any number of combinations. Silver plants could include Sages, Dusty Miller, Lavenders, Lambs Ears, or Artemesias just to name a few.
These are just examples of basic color theory that can be used in garden design and choosing landscape plants. Feel free to experiment with other combinations.
There's a software tool that can help you generate, experiment with, and visualize a lot of different color combinations for your gardening or landscape design called color wheel pro. You can get a free trial download here. I don't endorse or recommend that you buy the product. Just use the freebie.
Plant selection should also include plants of different bloom cycles. Use plants that bloom at different times to keep a splash of color in the garden all year. Use plants that are evergreen and semi-evergreen in equally spaced settings for added winter color and unity.
Give consideration to plant height. Obviously when creating striking color displays you want to keep small plants in front and larger plants in the back but plant height can also be used in creating natural focal points. Learn more about creating focal points.
Choosing the right plants for your specific area
As mentioned above, knowing your zone is very important in plant selection but often times there are different zones or microclimates within zones. As a general rule, zoning maps are accurate but there are a few variations that could affect you.
Living near a large body of water or even a slight variation of a few hundred feet in altitude are just a few examples of things that can influence your choice in plant selection.
Along with owning a good general plant encyclopedia you may want to have a regional plant reference for your specific area. These guides are more specific about plant selection and get into more detail about soil types, altitude changes and usually have great planting and design tips.
Native plant selection is also something that you should consider. These plants are already adapted to your area and chances are they're already growing "right in your own back yard". This could amount to a substantial savings not only in plant purchases but in natural resources as well.
For information on native plants, check out this native plant directory. For more information on xeriscaping, go to xeriscaping.
Saving money in plant selection
Saving money in choosing your plants can be accomplished by simply using a little common sense.
When you go to the nursery or garden center you usually have the option of buying plants in 6 packs, flats, 4 inch pots, 6 inch pots, and one, three, and five gallon containers. And of course the prices increase accordingly to the size of pots.
What you may not know is that the plants you get in the 6 packs, flats, and 4 inch pots will reach close to if not the same size of the plants in larger containers by mid-season.
I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. Assuming that you know exactly what plants you want and that they are available in the smaller containers, you can save a lot of money and get the same effect simply by buying the smaller pots.
O.K., now that you've read the whole page and you're good and educated in choosing the right plants, I'll let you in on what a lot of my clients end up doing anyway. I've even used it a time or two myself.
Pre-planned garden designs are a great way to get beautiful plant combinations zoned for your area without having to think about it. Selection, placement, and plants is all worked out for you. All you have to do is follow instructions and create a stunning garden or landscape. I must admit that this is a good alternative for the color and horticulturaly challenged.