Guide to Picking Landscaping Plants

Stewartstonian azalea has red flowers. They are numerous.
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

    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 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 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. Some examples include:

    • Flowering trees
    • Fall-foliage trees
    • Fast-growing shade trees
    • Evergreen trees
    • Dwarf trees
  • 02 of 07

    Garden Shrubs

    Stewartstonian azalea has red flowers. They are numerous.
    David Beaulieu

    Like trees, shrubs can be categorized in a number of ways. Some examples include:

    • Flowering shrubs
    • Shrubs for fall color
    • Fast-growing shrubs
    • Evergreen Shrubs

    Shrubs can also be organized according to how they are used.

    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 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

    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), some like to classify vines according to how they are used in landscaping. 

    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 yard-maintenance nightmare. That is the case, for example, with Virginia creeper in eastern North America, where it is native.

  • 04 of 07

    Types of Ground Covers

    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. 

    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, perennials can be categorized in a number of ways including:

    • Tall perennials (such as hardy hibiscus)
    • Short perennials
    • Long-blooming perennials

    Many of the traditional cottage-garden plants are perennials.

  • 06 of 07

    Types of Annuals

    Red salvia is an annual. The flower 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 closeup. 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 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?

    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.