Is There a Rule of Thumb in Designing Your Own Landscape for Grouping Plants?

You Bet There Is (Ignore It at Your Peril!)

This flower bed (image) consists of shrubs and perennials. Mulch is your floor and weed-fighter.
To get off on the right foot with your flower beds, learn how to group plants together properly. David Beaulieu

So you are looking forward to designing your own landscape? Exciting, isn't it? But maybe you are stumped over this question: Is there a rule of thumb for grouping plants together in your landscaping?

That is, when you design your own landscape, how do you know which types of flowers and other plants go together? Is it arbitrary (dependent on how good they look together to your eye) or are there botanical reasons to take into account?

The fact is, the job in front of you calls for both an artistic flair and a practical bent.

How to Group Plants Together in Your Landscaping

You may like a lot of different plants, but when designing your own landscape, you may not be sure how to group them. There are, of course, aesthetic considerations (please consult landscape design for beginners to learn more about these artistic factors), one of the most basic of which is that, in planting bedding plants, you will produce a greater effect if you mass like plants together (rather than installing one here, one there). Even in planting foundation shrubs, the rule is to plant like shrubs together in groups of three or five (even numbers can sometimes look awkward).

One aesthetic trick that beginners often fail to avail themselves of is varying plant texture and plant form within the same flower border. This is because those new to gardening and landscaping tend to gravitate to flowers, mesmerized by the color that they afford the landscape.

Flowers are wonderful, but they are not the final word in landscape splendor. Veteran plant growers tend to place less emphasis on blooms and come to understand how much fun it is to play with texture and form. Juxtaposing plants with contrasting textures or forms can create fascinating contrasts. 

The artistic angle may be the fun part of designing your own landscape, but you can't allow your artistic eye to be sole arbiter when it comes to site selection for your plants: There are also practical reasons for grouping plant A with plant B, rather than having it grow next to plant C.

The rule of thumb for the practical side of designing your own landscape is to group plants with similar growing requirements together. This includes sunlight, soil and watering requirements. Grouping them together will reduce maintenance for you (saving you from dragging the garden hose around unnecessarily, etc.). Plants can be said to "go together" if they share, for example:

  1. A need for lots of sunshine.
  2. A tolerance for shade.
  3. A tolerance or need for wet soils.
  4. A tolerance for poor soils or for clayey soils.
  5. A resistance toward garden pests, such as deer pests.
  6. Water needs that are below average.

One method for grouping plants together (specifically plants that like -- or do not mind -- dry conditions) goes by the rather fancy name of "xeriscaping."

Learn more about site selection here.