Garden Design: Choosing Plants

Garden Design: Choosing Plants

Perennials

Let's briefly look at some important considerations when choosing plants. We'll get down to designing some beds soon!

Hardiness. We talked about the different zone maps in the first class. One of your first considerations when choosing perennial plants is to look for their hardiness rating and compare it to the zone you're in.  If you live in USDA Zone 5 (minimum winter temperature minus 20F), choose plants that are rated to Zone 5 or lower.  If you choose plants rated to Zone 6 (minus 10F) or zone 7 (0F), you are likely to lose plants to freezing injury.


Choose plants rated to your USDA Hardiness Zone or lower. For example, if you are in zone 7, choose plants rated to Zones 2 - 7. Plants rated hardy to Zone 8 may not survive your winters.

You may be able to grow plants rated to one zone warmer than yours if you live in a particularly warm spot, such as near a large body of water, or if you place the plants in a sheltered place where they're protected from strong winds. However, if you are just starting out with perennials, why take the chance? Choose plants that are reliably hardy.


Hostas are popular shade plants.

Sun or shade. After hardiness, sunlight is your most important consideration. Choose plants that are adapted to the light levels in your garden. Don't plant sun lovers under dense trees, and don't plant shade lovers where they'll be exposed to blazing mid-day sun. Plant catalogs, labels, and resource books all give the light preferences for plants, so take these to heart. You may be able to grow a sun lover in partial shade, but you may get fewer flowers or weaker growth. Place it in a spot where it can really shine!

Planning for continuous bloom. As we said at the beginning of the course, most perennial plants have a distinct bloom period, lasting anywhere from a week to a month or more. Plant descriptions usually include an approximate bloom time, such as "early summer" or "autumn." A few will describe certain plants as continuous bloomers, but even these usually have a period of peak bloom. When planning your garden, consider bloom times carefully. If you mistakenly choose all early summer bloomers, you may be disappointed when there's only foliage in your garden from midsummer on.

Adventurous gardeners can even plan their gardens so that the color scheme changes throughout the growing season. You might start out with cooler pastels in the springtime, then choose vibrant colors for your summer-flowering perennials. Fall might include plants with complementary colors. We'll look at some specific plant combinations in the next class.

Mix in some annual flowers. Perennial plants take some time to get established. You may get a few flowers in the first season, depending on the size of the plant you've purchased, but you'll need to wait a


Seedheads from coneflowers provide winter food for birds.

season or two for the real show to begin. Plan to add some annual flowers to your new perennial beds to carry you through the first growing season.

Don't forget autumn, winter, and wildlife. Include a few plants that will provide interest once most of the flowers and foliage have faded. For example, large ornamental grasses look lovely in the autumn garden, and cast striking shadows onto snow. Plants with sturdy seed heads remain standing and gather the first snows of the year. They also provide food for winter birds. If you really want to attract wildlife, add some fruit-bearing shrubs and small trees to your landscape.

In our next class, we'll begin choosing plants for various gardens. This is the fun part; we'll see you then!

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