Right Plant Right Place: 8 Tips In The Art Of Plant Selection

“Impulse Buying” is a part of modern merchandising from malls, grocery stores, online services, card shops, drug stores, and even in garden center nurseries.

If you depend on “impulse” for selecting your plants, however, your garden is likely to be a hodgepodge of colors and effects. Worse, maintenance will probably be heavy and losses many.

When you go to your favorite nursery, know what plants are the “right plants” you want for the “right place” and save most of your “impulse purchases” for garden tools. Those items already on your list and you’re just waiting for the right time.

The result will be a better garden, and less work, if you do.

woman looking to pick the right plant for the right place but checking the fragrance first

It is all too easy to see some plant in spectacular bloom and buy it because of that alone. When you get it home, though:

  • How will it fit into your garden picture?
  • How will it react to your soil and what special care will it require?
  • Will the bloom alone pay the rent?
  • Does the plant have other good qualities which will be attractive at other seasons?
  • Are there bad features which you overlooked because of the splendor of the bloom?

These are all questions you should decide before you buy plants if your garden is to give its full quota of beauty the year around, without a backbreaking schedule of maintenance.

Well, you may ask, how should I shop for plants and pick the right plants for the right place?

Any smart selection of plants considers their many attributes and requirements. Before you make a final selection, evaluate their standing on at least these points:

Right Plant For Your Climatic Requirements

Is the plant well adapted to your particular climate?

Plants which are doubtfully hardy require extra care in winter protection or particular locations or both. Is the beauty of the plant worth the extra trouble? Can’t you find an equally attractive plant which requires no special pampering?

It is just as difficult to grow a balsam fir at Charlotte, North Carolina, where it is too hot, as it is to grow Kurume azaleas at Boston, where it is too cold.

Even if you succeed in making the misplaced plants live, they will seldom be an attractive part of the garden picture.

What Kind of Soil Does the Right Place Need?

What about soil requirements? Trying to grow rhododendrons in limestone country, or delphiniums in areas of quite acid soil always means extra work in soil preparation.

If you want to specialize in these special cases, and are willing to pay the cost in extra work and care, that is fine.

If, on the other hand, you want a maximum of beauty and pleasure at a minimum of effort, select only plants which require the soil you already have to work with, or some slight modification of such a soil.

Only you can determine how far you will be willing to go (translation: how hard you are willing to work) to have any given plant. Don’t overestimate your enthusiasm early in the game. You may live to regret it.

A lot of grief can be avoided if plants are selected with their “insect and disease potential” in mind. There are many plants which appear to attract troubles.

Equally, there are many which seem to be troubled by nothing at all like a yucca tree. In shade trees, the ginkgo is remarkably trouble free, while the elm is all too prone to both insect and disease attack.

Early consideration of this point will cut maintenance and assure a long-lived planting.

Ultimate Height Of The Right Plant

There is probably no plant characteristic more often overlooked than height. How many houses do you know which were attractively planted some time ago but now look like “houses in the woods?”

When a spot in your planting calls for a plant of a certain height, try to select a plant which will grow only that high!

Don’t use spruces in foundation plantings. Such plants are bound to be too large for the location within a short time.

Not only will they block windows, but they will soon become a major removal problem.

And don’t put in such misplaced plants thinking that you will move them when they start to crowd. Very few gardeners follow through on such good intentions.

The Width Of The Right Plant

Everything which has been said about ultimate height applies equally to the spread of a plant. It is better to buy a few mature plants for a planting than many small ones and mass them to achieve an immediate effect. Not one in a hundred such plantings is ever properly thinned as the plants spread.

The Right Flowers In The Right Place

Now to the question of the attractiveness of the “parts of the plants.” It is important to consider them all.

Of course, we all check on the flowering habits of plants under consideration. That is as it should be. But don’t make the color or size the only criterion. A flowering cherry will be attractive for five to ten days, or so, depending on the weather.

On the other hand, a double white flowering dogwood may be a mass of spectacular bloom for four weeks or more! A careful weighing of such distinctive features can make your garden more colorful and rewarding.

The Right Fruits

Fruits often make a plant attractive for a much longer time than the flowers do. In addition, most of them come at a time when flowers are few, so they are doubly welcome.

Important points are the color, the placement, value as bird food and the “effective time” of the fruits.

As for placement, compare the ruby sprinkled herringbone pattern of the rock cotoneaster with the February daphne. In the latter, the perfectly lovely red fruits are carried under the leaves, so that one must actually hunt for them. Their garden value is, therefore, almost nil.

As for the duration of the fruit, the possibilities are great. Hollies frequently hold the fruit of the previous year in good condition while that of the current season is forming. Sometimes wide differences may be found in a single genus.

Whole books have been written on the value that some plants have in attracting birds. It’s a fascinating and rewarding study in itself.

Consider the Right Leaves

The leaves of plants should be put in proper regard, too. Many leaves even though they may not be evergreen, have great attraction value. The lovely red new growth of photinia, the delicate blue-green, rough leaflets of rugosa roses are all useful in making garden pictures. Many other effects are just waiting to be used when you study leaves for their color, texture, size, persistence and even fragrance.

Buds and Bark

And finally, buds and barks should not be overlooked. The fat, furry buds of the star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) are a muted, but appealing, spot in the winter landscape. So, too, are the delicate, pendulous buds of the Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica).

Other examples are everywhere to be found. As for the bark, we tend to recognize the white of birches, the rich mahogany of cherries and the creaminess of sycamores. Lovely pictures can be painted with such colors, especially for the winter landscape.

There is no need to belabor the point further, even though other characteristics might well be mentioned. It should be quite evident by now that knowing your plants before you buy can mean more beauty, less work and a longer season of interest.