Plant Selection

Guide to Picking Plants for the Landscape

Photo: Stewartstonian azalea has red flowers. They are numerous.
Stewartstonian azalea can offer a dazzling display of red flowers. David Beaulieu

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, and sometimes you will need to make a compromise. But never is such research more critical than when it comes to selecting trees for your landscape -- so it is with trees that we will begin:

  • 01 of 07
    Heaven Scent magnolia trees are sometimes misspelled 'Heaven Sent' magnolia tree.
    'Heaven Scent' is a magnolia tree cultivar. 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 does not belong, it can cause grave headaches down the road. Many homeowners end up paying to have a tree that overhangs a house dangerously limbed (or removed altogether).

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

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

  • 02 of 07

    Garden Shrubs

    Photo: Stewartstonian azalea has red flowers. They are numerous.
    Stewartstonian azalea can offer a dazzling display of red flowers. 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 is done in this 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 the...MORE nose alike, roses are so popular that they virtually form a subcategory of shrubs all to themselves. Browse these pictures to learn about some of the types of roses available.

  • 03 of 07
    The leaves of kiwi vines are tri-colored, as image shows. Spring colors of kiwi vines most vibriant.
    Kiwi vines sport tricolored leaves. David Beaulieu

    Even more so than with shrubs (above), some like to classify vines according to how they are used in landscaping. A number of uses for them are considered in this article on flowering vines.

    Impressed by their versatility and vigor, some gardeners are huge fans 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...MORE yard-maintenance nightmare. That is the case, for example, with Virginia creeper in eastern North America, where it is native.

  • 04 of 07
    Creeping phlox (image) looks good spilling down a hill or over a wall. Here's a pink type.
    Creeping phlox is shown off to best effect when spilling down a hillside and/or over a wall. David Beaulieu

    Some ground covers are foliage plants; that is, they are not known for putting on spectacular flowering displays, but they have attractive leaves. 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 these photos of flowering ground covers for some examples.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Kinds of Perennials

    Amethyst Dream (image) is a purple Centaurea montana (mountain bluets or perennial bachelor button).
    Amethyst Dream is a purple cultivar of Centaurea montana, commonly known as "mountain bluets" or "perennial bachelor buttons.". David Beaulieu

    For many, flower gardening is almost synonymous with growing perennials. Indeed, if you do not 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,...MORE perennials can be categorized in a number of ways; here are just a few:

    Many of the traditional cottage-garden plants are perennials.

  • 06 of 07

    Types of Annuals

    Red salvia (image) is an annual. The flower is sure to catch people's attention.
    Red salvia is an annual that is sure to catch people's attention. 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.

  • 07 of 07

    Other Considerations for Plant Selection

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

    Other considerations in plant selection cut across the categories discussed above. Depending on where you are 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...MORE shop for plants at the nursery:

    Sometimes, you are lucky and get a two-for-one deal on such specialty plants. For example, lamb's ear (picture) is both deer-resistant and drought-resistant.