variety of shrubs and trees in front of house - 7 Tips for Choosing the Right Plants for Your Garden 

Using the right plants in your garden design will help ensure that your landscape thrives. The best way to sort your plant selections is by water needs, followed by sunlight requirements.

Take into account the various visual planes, such as the overhead plane (trees and archways) and the ground plane (flowers and herbs). Use the design-centric filters baked into eGardenGo to find plants that align with your gardening purposes and preferences.

1. Look at Your Soil

The health of your soil has a profound impact on the health and beauty of your garden. Knowing your soil’s composition and structure, nutrient levels, drainage, acidity, mineral content and more can help you plan for an eye-catching landscape. For example, clay soils tend to clump together and have poor drainage; sandy soils drain quickly but may lack nutrients; loam soils have excellent aeration, moisture retention and nutrient holding ability.

If you’re not sure what your soil is, take a small sample from different parts of your yard and have it tested. Soils are limited natural resources that form at very slow rates; one inch of topsoil can take 1000 years to form. Using a soil test kit (available at most gardening centres), take samples for your flower beds, vegetable gardens, fruit orchards, shrub borders and lawn areas.

Healthy soil is teeming with life. A hole dug in damp soil should have worm casts and earthworm burrows visible on the surface, while a healthy population of fungi, insects and other critters indicates that your garden’s microbes are “recycling” organic matter, drawing or fixing nitrogen from the air to feed plants, or detoxifying organic pollutants for healthier soil.

2. Consider Your Climate

Every garden has a microclimate, and knowing your climate zone will help you select plants that will thrive in your local weather conditions. Your USDA plant hardiness zone will indicate how cold or hot your area can get, as well as whether you’ll have a lot of rain or very little at all.

Observe how much sunlight your garden gets throughout the day. Full sun is 6 or more hours of direct sunlight, while partial sun refers to an area that receives half that time or less. Make note of this information so that you can plant sun-lovers near other sun lovers and shade-lovers near other shade-lovers to create a colorful, well-rounded garden design.

Find out what your soil’s drainage and water needs are, as well. Some plants require more water than others, and you may need to invest in a new sprinkler attachment for your hose or an in-ground irrigation system. Be sure to group together plants with similar watering requirements in order to minimize overcrowding and increase moisture consistency. It’s also helpful to know how tall and wide a plant will grow when mature, as this can help you decide where to place it in your garden layout.

3. Take a Good Look at Your Yard

The right plant in the right place makes a huge difference in the ease with which it establishes, grows and bulks up. A plant in the wrong spot will struggle and look bad and can quickly succumb to disease or insect attack.

When redesigning a garden, take a walk around your property and make note of the sun and shade patterns and how the garden looks at all times of the year. Use this information to guide your planting decisions.

For example, light-dappled shade and pitch-dark shade each call for different garden plants. Fortunately, there are many options for the former, including hydrangeas and viburnums; paeonia and heuchera for the latter. And don’t discount ferns and vinca, as they can add interest to dark spots.

Pay attention to the size of your garden and yard, too. A few annual impatiens brighten a postage-stamp-sized plot but will be lost on a large landscape, while the sweeping swaths of color provided by flowering shrubs are well suited for sprawling properties. And remember that some plants are more attractive in winter than they are when they’re blooming, such as grasses and evergreen shrubs with interesting bark or form. These elements provide “bones” for the garden and help it stand out during the cold months.

4. Consider Your Maintenance Needs

table and chairs in peaceful garden 300x218 - 7 Tips for Choosing the Right Plants for Your Garden 

The kind of plants you choose for your garden will largely determine how often you need to prune, water and sweep debris from the plantings. Are you willing to spend time weeding and watering or would you prefer to let the plants grow more naturally? It is also important to consider how much you want to maintain your landscape and how many times a year you need it to be mowed.

For example, if you like the way trees add structure and color to a garden design, but don’t want to deal with the maintenance issues of regular trimming, then you might consider evergreens such as rhododendrons, hollyhocks or mountain laurel. Or perhaps you’d like to use deciduous plants such as tulips, daffodils, and spring bulbs that shed their leaves in the fall and then grow back in the spring.

Another consideration is the height of the plants. Some shrubs and perennials reach their full size quickly, while others take years to mature. It is also important to estimate how tall you want the plant to grow so you can choose a proper location for it in your garden. For example, a tree that is too tall for the space will create an unruly look.

5. Take a Good Look at Your Plants

The plants you choose will need to fit into the style of your garden. A formal garden requires symmetry, balance and straight lines, while cottage-style gardens need verdant, voluptuous planting.

You’ll want to make sure that your plant choices are not invasive. Invasive plants can be a real nuisance and often cause problems in their natural environment, so it’s best to avoid them.

When selecting plants, take the time to read the information on the label. This should include the plant’s ideal growing zone, sun requirements, water needs and mature height and width. It’s also important to consider the size of your yard and existing landscaping. A large plant in a small space could look out of place and can be a challenge to maintain.

Pay attention to leaf and flower color, too. When designing a planting scheme, using clumps of plants with similar color combinations can help create a pleasing effect known as “color echo.” The color palette can be inspired by your landscape or even hardscaping elements like timber panels or Corten metal sheets. This is a great way to create cohesion between the different garden elements and create a more cohesive overall look.

6. Look at Your Flowers

A flower garden is a part of the landscape just like a shade tree or a bluestone patio, and it needs to fit into its surroundings. A flower bed that looks like an afterthought or a distraction doesn’t have the best impact. Fortunately, there are many ways to help your garden feel at home, and one of the easiest is to use your personal style and landscape context as a guide for flower garden design.

For example, you might want a more contemporary-leaning garden that uses hard lines and clearly defines planting areas with low shrubs or a flower border, whereas a cottage-style garden might encourage a mix-and-match approach to bed shapes and paths. Some gardeners also find it helpful to set a color scheme as they begin planning their flowers, such as choosing cool colors (blues, purples, pinks) or warm colors like reds and oranges.

Choosing plants that bloom at different times will help ensure that your garden has continuous color from spring to fall, while the addition of evergreens offers winter interest. And don’t forget to take note of your USDA plant hardiness zone before you go shopping for new flowers. Choosing plants that don’t thrive in your growing zone could cost you time and money as they struggle to get established.

7. Consider the Color of Leaves and Flowers

Getting the right plants for your garden is one of the most important steps to take when designing your landscape. You want to make sure that the plants you choose will grow well in your climate, soil type and garden aspect, and that they aren’t too big or small for the space you have. It’s also a good idea to consider the color of the leaves and flowers, as this can add interest and variety to your garden design.

Remember to read the plant label and take note of how much sunlight is required for the plants you are considering. You don’t want to place shade plants in the sun or vice versa, as this can cause stress for your garden and can lead to problems with disease and pests. For example, camellias won’t thrive in the cold and lilacs won’t survive in heat.

Capturing distinct characteristics of your plants can help you portray personality and create a unique look for your garden design. You can take a close-up of the flower or leaf, or you can get creative and use different angles to photograph the plants. Try focusing on patterns, lines and textures as well to add a more abstract look.