Things to Know Before Purchasing Plants for Landscaping

When designing a landscape, the right plants can make all the difference. Sure, this means thinking about things like size, shape, and color, since you want to create a lot of visual interest. But even beyond that, there is more to consider. If you want your landscape to truly thrive and to suit your lifestyle needs, then there are several factors to take into account.

Here are some essential things to know before selecting and purchasing plants for your landscaping project.

1. Sunlight requirements

Understanding the sunlight requirements of each plant type is crucial for their growth and health. Plants generally fall into three categories: full sun, partial sun/shade, and full shade. 

  • Full sun: Plants that require full sun need at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. These plants are ideal for open areas without obstructions from trees or buildings. Popular “full sun” plant options include sunflowers, roses, and most vegetables. 
  • Partial sun/shade: These plants are more versatile and need three to six hours of sunlight per day. They can tolerate some shade, making them suitable for areas that receive dappled sunlight or have partial cover. 
  • Full shade: Plants that thrive in full shade prefer less than three hours of direct sunlight, often benefiting from the cooler, damp conditions found under large trees or on the north side of buildings. 

Determining which areas of your yard get which types of light can take some time and planning. Still, it is worth it in order to choose plants that will actually thrive where you place them.

2. Water requirements

Plants have varying water needs. Understanding how much water a plant needs, and creating a plan for watering, can help you create an efficient watering schedule and avoid over- or under-watering.

  • Drought-tolerant: These plants require minimal water once established. They are perfect for areas with water restrictions or for gardeners looking to reduce water usage.
  • Moderate water: Many common garden plants, including many perennials and shrubs, require moderate water. This means they need regular watering, particularly during dry spells. It’s important to keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged.
  • Water loving: Some plants thrive in consistently moist or even boggy conditions. They are ideal for rain gardens or areas with poor drainage.

When considering different types of plants, take into account any watering systems you already have set up in your yard, plus what it would take to establish new systems that would help your plants get the water they need. Think about your schedule, budget, and climate as you try to decide what types of plants will be most suitable to your yard and lifestyle.

3. Soil type and quality

Soil is the foundation of a healthy garden, and different plants do best in different soils. Before purchasing plants, you should assess your soil’s type and quality. The main soil types are sandy, silty, clay, and loamy, each with different drainage and nutrient characteristics.

  • Sandy soil: Drains quickly but may not retain nutrients well.
  • Silty soil: Feels smooth and floury when dry, but slippery when wet. Holds onto water better than sandy soil, but can have drainage and air flow issues.
  • Clay soil: Retains water and nutrients but can be heavy and compacted, making it harder for roots to grow. 
  • Loamy soil: Considered ideal for most plants, it retains moisture and nutrients well while allowing for good drainage.

If you’ll be planting in containers, you can purchase the soil that will best meet your needs. Improving soil quality through the addition of compost or other organic matter can enhance plant health and growth.

4. Plant size

When selecting plants, consider their mature size and growth habit to ensure they fit well in your landscape design.

  • Height and spread: Research the mature height and spread of plants to avoid overcrowding and ensure they fit the space available. For instance, a tree that grows to 20 feet high may not be suitable if your yard is near power lines, or for planting near structures.
  • Growth habit: Plants can have different growth habits, such as trailing, clumping, or upright. Understanding these habits helps in placing them appropriately in your garden. Trailing plants like ivy can cover ground or walls, while upright plants like coneflowers add vertical interest.

5. Climate and hardiness zones

Choosing plants suited to your climate is vital for their survival and growth. Hardiness zones, defined by the USDA, indicate the average minimum winter temperature for an area. Select plants that are rated for your zone to ensure they can withstand local weather conditions. Additionally, consider microclimates within your garden, such as sheltered areas versus exposed spots, and how that may affect temperature, rainfall, or exposure to wind.

Related: Unique, Custom Hardscape Options for your Arizona Landscape

6. Toxicity to kids and pets

Safety should always be a significant concern in every aspect of landscape design, especially if you have children or pets. Plant selection is no exception, as some common plants are toxic if ingested, can cause skin irritation, or may be hazardous in some other way. Research plants to ensure they are safe for your family.

  • Toxic plants: Plants like oleander, foxglove, and certain types of lilies can be highly toxic. If kids or pets have access to your garden or yard, opt for non-toxic plants like to ensure a safe environment.
  • Otherwise dangerous plants: Some plants can pose a more direct physical hazard. For example, the spines of a cacti, or thorns on a rosebush, can lead to injuries. Additionally, be mindful of allergy sufferers in your home and avoid plants that they are allergic to or that are known for irritating seasonal allergies.

7. Maintenance requirements

Consider how much time and effort you are willing to invest in maintaining your landscape. Some plants require regular pruning, deadheading, or pest management, while others are low-maintenance and easier to care for. 

  • Low-maintenance: Plants like ornamental grasses, succulents, and native perennials often require less attention and are more resilient to local conditions.
  • High-maintenance: Roses, topiary shrubs, and some flowering annuals may require more frequent care and attention.

For some people, the visual payoff of certain high-maintenance plants may be worth it. Others will opt for only low-maintenance selections that do well even when ignored. Either way, it’s good to know what you are signing up for before you purchase any plants.

Selecting the right plants for your landscape involves more than just choosing what will look good. When you consider all the relevant factors, you can be smart about your plant selection and create a beautiful, thriving garden that suits your lifestyle and environment. 

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