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Uses for Landscape Plants, Lawn Care Tips

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Learn about the care for and uses of landscape plants, including trees and shrubs. Some landscape plants have a practical function. For instance, groundcovers on hillsides can prevent erosion, shrubs in a foundation planting can reduce your heating bill, and trees can serve as windbreaks. But in all these cases, aesthetics, as well as functionality, will be considered. Other plants, of course, will be grown mainly for their beauty, whether singly (specimens) or in groups (flower beds, hedges).
  1. Shrubs
  2. Trees
  3. Vines and Groundcovers
  4. Annuals, Perennials, Tropicals: Shade Plants and Sun Plants
  5. Plant Care
  6. Lawn Care
  1. Maintaining Lawns, Mowers, Driveways and Gardens
  2. Weed Control, Poor Plant Choices
  3. Green Landscaping
  4. Theme Gardens
  5. Putting It All Together

Shrubs

Picture of a hemlock hedge.

Shrubs are the "workhorses" among the landscape plants, serving a number of functions in yard design. Some shrubs are groundcovers, others are planted in rows to be trimmed into hedges, while still other shrubs are used as specimens.

Trees

Picture of fall foliage of sweetgum trees.

When selecting trees for your yard, the goal should not be simply to have a collection of great specimens, but rather to have at least one tree per season that will add pizazz to your yard. I offer examples for each of the four seasons in these resources.

Vines and Groundcovers

Creeping phlox picture.

Perhaps no other category of landscape plants boasts the versatility of vines. A lot of that versatility has to do with the fact that vines can either stay close to the ground (i.e., function as groundcovers) or climb. Other groundcovers aren't vines at all, but rather shrubs or perennials. Learn more about vines and groundcovers in these resources.

Annuals, Perennials, Tropicals: Shade Plants and Sun Plants

Coral peony picture.

Perennials are landscape plants with a variety of uses. Some will plant them in a row, for example, to form a garden border. I often see some of the larger perennials, such as peonies, used in foundation plantings or as specimens, to supply seasonal color. Most commonly, however, we see perennials mixed in beds, as in English cottage gardens. Annuals, meanwhile, are often used to supplement perennials with sustained blasts of vibrant color. In regions with cold winters, tropical plants are sometimes used as if they were annuals. Whether planting perennials or annuals, always pay attention to sunlight requirements.

Plant Care

Photo of elephant ears plant.

Ensuring that landscape plants perform well involves forethought, and that includes providing proper drainage for them. "Plant care," proper, begins with how you install landscape plants in the ground. From that point on, there are preventive measures you can take to maximize performance, including the use of mulch, the "unsung hero" of your yard. But no amount of mulch will save tender landscape plants such as elephant ears from the ravages of winter; they'll have to be dug up in fall and brought inside. I offer tips on these and other plant-care topics in these resources, including how to prune trees and shrubs.

Lawn Care

An irrigation photo, showing a lawn sprinkler.

Before you make the commitment to have a big, beautiful lawn, make sure you know what you're getting yourself into! All things considered, lawn care may become the single most time-consuming task in your yard. For those interested in making the commitment, I offer resources on starting a new lawn, mowing the lawn, overseeding lawns and other aspects of lawn care. For the rest of you, I discuss one of today's most popular lawn alternatives, xeriscaping.

Maintaining Lawns, Mowers, Driveways and Gardens

Photo of monarch butterfly on goldenrod.

For me, one of the best parts of gardening and yard work is that it's seasonal. Your tasks in the yard change as the seasons change. Those of us who spend a lot of time out in the yard become acutely aware of not just inter-seasonal changes, but even intra-seasonal changes. Call me "odd," but I find such awareness deeply life-enhancing. These tips on yard maintenance will save you time and energy, enabling you more fully to enjoy the beauty afforded by each of the four seasons.

Weed Control, Poor Plant Choices

Picture of crabgrass.

It can be useful to identify a weed before you fight it, so that you can learn some of the eradication tricks others have passed on. Sometimes, studying up on a weed may even convince you that it's really not an enemy to fight, after all -- thereby saving yourself time, energy and money. Other times, you'll decide that your property isn't big enough for both you and the weed, meaning one of you (probably the weed) will have to go. To help you in your eradication efforts, I offer tips on how to get rid of some of the most common weeds. But not all undesirable plants necessarily fall into the "weed" category, so I also link to information about plants you should avoid growing -- and why.

Green Landscaping

Picture of dandelion flowers.

But fighting weeds isn't everybody's cup of tea, especially if the battle involves the use of herbicides. Some take their cue from Emerson, who famously scribed, "What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered." Others do wish to kill the weeds, but only if they can do so organically. Still others are looking for easy, organic methods for getting rid of lawn areas -- grass, weeds and all! -- to make room for flower beds or naturalistic plantings. These resources will be of interest to environmentalists and to those who strive for a more natural yard.

Theme Gardens

Palm trees photo.

There are all sorts of themes you can build a garden around. Some themes are popular across a wide swath of the population (e.g., moon gardens), while others may be the darlings of particular sub-cultures (e.g., Goth gardens).

Putting It All Together

Picture of a driveway planting.

A lot of thought goes into achieving an effective design for your yard. As the discipline where gardening and art intersect, yard design demands both a knowledge of landscape plants' growing requirements and an eye for arranging them. These resources will aid beginners in choosing the optimal landscape plants for the job, while offering ideas for their arrangement in the yard through examples.

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