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Selecting Landscape Plants

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Gardening is an art and a science. While there is a lot of science behind growing plants, your plant choices will also be unique to your tastes and situation. Ideally, gardeners should take an intentional approach to selecting plants to grow in their yard, including time spent researching the plant, its needs, and features.

In a fast-paced world, you may not have lots of extra time to plan out your garden, or you may be eager to get started right away. A little bit of time spent researching your plant choices can go a long way in preventing future maintenance headaches, plant health problems, and even help prevent plant loss. This can be as simple as looking up the plant’s growing requirements and other features on your smartphone while you are out shopping at the garden center. Generally, a good way to delegate your time is to spend the most time researching more expensive, more permanent plants in the landscape, including trees and shrubs. You can spend less time making selections of annuals.

Some questions you might want to ask as you start choosing plants include:

Conceptual questions:

  • How do I want to use the space?
  • In general, what do I want it to look like?

Concrete questions:

  • What kind of sunlight does the area get?
  • What is the water availability? Do I plan to irrigate?
  • What is already growing there? How much space is available?
  • Do I already know of pest problems (e.g. deer)?
  • What is my budget?

After these questions, there is still more to think about. You might choose annual plants, which will grow, bloom, and die all in one year. These can produce a lot of color at a low cost, but will require you to replant next year. Perennial plants will return year after year with the proper care, but may be more expensive. When choosing a perennial plant, make sure it is hardy in your climate zone. Check the USDA Plant Hardiness Map for this information. You’ll also want to make sure you know the mature size of any plant you purchase, and inspect the plant to make sure it is healthy before you purchase.

A great tool for researching plants is the NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. The toolbox contains a wealth of information, including the “find a plant” feature that allows you to search for plants specific to your needs.

If you’re starting a new garden, another useful tool for you may be this Guide to Plant Selection and Landscaping from Florida Extension. It includes sample landscape designs. Be aware that plants that grow well in Florida may not be suitable here in North Carolina, but the general concepts are helpful. New gardeners can also find a wealth of information in the NC Extension Gardener Handbook.