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Plant Selection

Guide to Picking Plants for the Landscape

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Could you use some help with your plant selections? The guide below provides information on perennials, annuals, ground covers, vines, shrubs and trees commonly used in designing a garden.

Plant selection should always be governed by research into the qualities of the specific specimens under consideration. But never is such research more critical than when it comes to selecting trees for your landscape -- so it is with trees that I will begin:

1. Types of Trees

Heaven Scent magnolia trees are sometimes misspelled 'Heaven Sent' magnolia tree.
David Beaulieu

In other categories of plant selection, you have room for error. But if you situate a big tree in a spot where it doesn't belong, it can cause grave headaches down the road. Many homeowners end up limbing a tree that overhangs a house dangerously.

There's another reason to exercise wise plant selection when choosing a tree. Many trees are slow growers, meaning you'll have to wait years to reap the benefits of planting them. When that waiting period is over, you don't want to be saddled with features for which you didn't bargain. Know what to expect before you install a tree!

Trees can be categorized in a number of ways; here are some examples:

2. Garden Shrubs

Picture of red azalea bush.
David Beaulieu

Like trees, shrubs can be categorized in a number of ways; here are some examples:

Shrubs can also be organized according to how they are used, as I do in my article on landscape shrubs.

Plant selections for areas adjacent to the house should be made carefully, as with trees. Certain shrubs are good choices for foundation plantings, because they stay compact, thereby minimizing maintenance.

Appealing to the eye and nose alike, roses are so popular that they virtually form a subcategory of shrubs all to themselves. Browse my pictures to learn about some of the types of roses available.

3. Plant Selection for Vines

The leaves of kiwi vines are tri-colored, as image shows. Spring colors of kiwi vines most vibriant.
David Beaulieu

Even more so than with shrubs (above), I like to classify vines according to how they are used in landscaping. I consider a number of uses for them in my article on flowering vines.

Impressed by their versatility and vigor, I'm a huge fan of vines. But you do have to be careful with your plant selection. Many vines are invasive plants. And even in some cases where a vine is not technically considered invasive in a particular region, it may grow so vigorously as to become a yard-maintenance nightmare. That's the case, for example, with Virginia creeper in eastern North America, where it is native.

4. Types of Ground Covers

Phlox photo. As this picture of phlox shows, the spreading ground cover comes in pink and lavender.
David Beaulieu

Some ground covers are foliage plants; i.e., they are not known for putting on spectacular flowering displays. A very popular ground cover for landscaping on a hill that falls into this group is Blue Rug juniper.

But many homeowners want more from a ground cover: They demand that it bloom profusely, as well as affording soil erosion prevention. Browse my photos of flowering ground covers for some examples.

5. Kinds of Perennials

Yellow Centaurea picture.
David Beaulieu

For many, flower gardening is almost synonymous with growing perennials. Indeed, if you don't wish to have to replant annuals (below) every year, planting something (perennials) that comes up year after year is a no-brainer for low-maintenance landscaping, right?

Just remember that while perennials may, in general, be low-maintenance, they are not maintenance-free. Expect to perform tasks such as dividing perennials in some cases, to keep your perennial patch robust.

As with other entries above, perennials can be categorized in a number of ways; here are just a few:

Many of the traditional cottage-garden plants are perennials.

6. Types of Annuals

Red salvia picture.
David Beaulieu

Three common uses of annual flowers are for:

  1. Bedding plants
  2. Decorating for Memorial Day (U.S.)
  3. Injecting bursts of color into the landscape on an as-needed basis

But as always, plant selections must be made based on sun / shade preferences.

7. Other Considerations for Plant Selection

Lamb's ear photo. As the picture shows,lamb's ear has silver leaves.
David Beaulieu

Other considerations in plant selection cut across the categories discussed above. Depending on where you're starting your new garden, limiting factors may come into play. Do you live in a region plagued by deer pests? Will your new garden be subjected to drought conditions? Will you be starting a garden in the type of salt-laden soil characteristic of seaside communities?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you may find it helpful to consult one of the following resources before you shop for plants at the nursery:

Sometimes, you're lucky and get a 2-for-1 deal on such specialty plants. For example, lamb's ear (picture) is both deer-tolerant and drought-tolerant.

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