Guide to Picking Landscaping Plants

Stewartstonian azalea in bloom with red flowers.
David Beaulieu

If you need some help selecting plants for your garden, this guide 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.

Here are all the different plant types to consider when planning your landscaping.

  • 01 of 07

    Types of Trees

    Heaven Scent magnolia trees in bloom.
    David Beaulieu

    In other categories of plant selection, you have room for some 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. Be sure to 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 in bloom with red flowers.
    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.

  • 03 of 07

    Plant Selection for Vines

    The leaves of kiwi vines are tri-colored with green, white, and pink.
    David Beaulieu

    Even more so than with shrubs, 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

    Purple Creeping phlox spilling over stone 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

    The purple and pink center of the Amethyst Dream.
    David Beaulieu

    For many, flower gardening is almost synonymous with growing perennials. Indeed, if you do not wish to have to replant annuals every year, planting something (perennials) that comes up year after year is a no-brainer for low-maintenance landscaping.

    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

    Several red salvia in bloom.
    David Beaulieu

    Three common uses of annual flowers are for:

    1. Bedding plants
    2. Decorating for Memorial Day (in the United States)
    3. Injecting bursts of color into the landscape on an as-needed basis

    But as always, plant selections must be made based on sun and shade preferences.

  • 07 of 07

    Other Considerations for Plant Selection

    Several leaves of lamb's ear.
    David Beaulieu

    Other considerations in plant selection cut across the categories previously discussed. Depending on where you are starting your new garden, limiting factors may come into play. Do you live in an area plagued by deer and/or pests, like moles and voles? 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, the lamb's ear is both deer-resistant and drought-resistant.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to enhancing your landscape. Make a list of your favorite varieties of plants and flowers you enjoy, then add plants gradually over time as you get a feel for your outdoor space. Taking walks around your neighborhood is a good way to find inspiration. You may even find a gardener who will be happy to give you extra perennials they have thinned.