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Landscaping Plant Guide

Plants are used as important elements in landscape design. Plants can be used to line paths, hide objects, or lead your view to a focal point. They can stimulate your sense of touch or smell. When placed together appropriately, they will enhance your landscape. Plants make it easy to add color, form and texture to your design.

Different plants are genetically designed to grow in certain ways in the proper environment. This form can be rounded, columnar, weeping, oval, and so on.

landscaping plant-spartan juniper

Texture may be expressed through the size of the leaves. Fine textured plants with small leaves make you feel like the plant is further from you, while a coarse textured plant with large leaves appears closer.

You can get color from both the foliage and from flowers; don't rely solely on flowers. Most of your color should be based on foliage to give continuity and to create a backdrop.

Color should be used carefully; always select complementary colors. Mass colors together, don't alternate or you'll end up with a distracting landscape with no place to focus.

Selecting the Best Landscape Plant

This can be tricky. Choosing the right plants goes beyond picking the plants that you like best; you must consider how the place they will be planted will meet their needs.

Will the plant quickly outgrow the space?

Does that plant require full sun or will it burn if it gets too much? Paying attention to the needs of the plants you want will help you create the type of yard you desire.

Do you enjoy working in the garden or do you want a very low maintenance space that you can relax in?

Depending on the plants you choose, you can create a low or high maintenance yard; one that needs less pesticides or water, or one that requires exacting precision work. You can also save a lot of money that will be lost if you choose plants that are wrong for your conditions.

Always consider these factors when you choose a plant for your garden

  • Heat tolerance/cold hardiness
  • Light needs
  • Moisture needs
  • Soil drainage needs
  • Soil pH needs
  • Susceptibility to pests and disease
  • Rate of growth
  • Size at maturity

Plant Hardiness and Heat Tolerance

Cold hardiness is easy to find online or in many print resources by looking for the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

Heat tolerance is harder to find, but you can get an idea by what may be available in nearby nurseries or in local landscaping.

Plant Light and Moisture

Light and moisture requirements are very important. You don't want to spend a lot of money on a mass planting of hostas and put them in the sun; they'll die.

Likewise, lavender does better in dry, sandy soil than in wet clay.

Start with the Best Soil

Assess your soil. Does the water drain easily? If not, be prepared to settle for marsh plants. You can amend your soil so it drains better by using sand or other additions that will help aerate the soil.

There are soil pH test kits for sale online or take a soil sample to your local extension office. Test your soil in several places.

Some plants prefer acidic soil (blueberries, rhododendrons and azaleas come to mind), while others prefer more alkaline soils. Your plants will look anemic if they are in the wrong pH.

Plant Disease and Insects

Look for varieties of plants that are not susceptible to disease or insects. While you can spray your plants, overuse of pesticides and other sprays can be toxic.

One popular landscape plant, Japanese euonymus, is well known for its ability to attract scale insects.

Size of the Landscape Plant

Finally, check resources like Sunset's Western Garden Book (for western states gardening zones) or Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs ( for all gardening zones) to find out what the mature size for your plants will be.

This will ensure you don't plant that beautiful little tree under the powerlines leading to your house when it turns out, that tree will mature at 60 feet tall.

Arranging Your Plants

There are seven basic ways that plants are arranged in the home landscape:

  • Foundation plantings
  • Entrance plantings
  • Borders
  • Screens
  • Specimens
  • Accents
  • Corner plantings

Foundation Plants

Foundation plantings help anchor the house into the landscape. A good planting will direct the visitor's eye to the entrance of the home.

The basic design for foundation plantings places taller plants at the corners or beyond them, so the heights of the plants descend as they reach the entrance. Your goal is not to cover the house, but to make it feel like it is part of the landscape.

Entrance plantings identify the entry to a driveway, gate or the house itself. They should appear inviting.

Border Plants

Borders can line a path, the edge of the property, a deck or other space. Along the property edge, many borders have the most height in the center and taper off to each end.

Spaces between borders make them appear more interesting. Low borders are just as interesting as high borders. Play around with this a little.

Screening Plants

Screens are groupings of plants used to hide an object or objectionable view. Perhaps you have neighbors that are too close, or the field next door is full of rusty cars.

By planting a screen at least 6 feet tall, your problem is solved. Go for evergreen if you want it screened all year round; deciduous works fine if you want more color and texture.

Speciman Plants

Specimen plants are the center of attention. You put it in a place where it can't help but be noticed. Specimens should be used sparingly so the landscape is not overcome by them. Accent plants are similar to specimen plants, but they are subtler.

Think of an accent as a featured plant in a grouping, like a rhododendron in a group of other shrubs.

Corner Plants

Corner plantings are, as the name implies, planted at the corners of the house. This "ties down" the house. They help blend the vertical wall with the horizon by softening the edge.

Corner plantings should never grow taller than the eaves.

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