Putting the right plant in the right place is the simplest thing you can do for your garden that will have the biggest impact. So many of our garden troubles and problems could be avoided if we simply put the right plant in the right place. Just because a plant looks pretty doesn’t mean it is a good fit for your garden.
Last week, I visited a big box garden retailer and found that they were selling tropical fruit trees that are not hardy in my zone. What happens when a unknowing customer buys a 15 foot papaya tree only to find out it won’t survive the winter? When I think about how much they paid for such a tree, it makes me wonder if they’ve lost their good sense. I mean what the crap are they going to do with a 15 or 25 foot non-hardy expensive tree once its time for a frost? Dig it up and bring it in the house? Well, hello! It won’t even stand up in a typical room with a 8 foot high ceiling. I guess you could chop off the top and hang Christmas lights on it. Or just leave it in the yard so you can dig up the dead tree next spring.
In all fairness to the garden center, they did label the plant tag with the plant’s eventual height and the hardiness zones. At least the papayas and guvas came with a warning note. All I have to say is this is why you need to put the right plant in the right place. It will help you avoid all sorts of trouble. Like half of a papaya tree in your living room wearing Christmas lights.
Why You Need the Right Plant
How many people stroll down the aisles of their local garden center and select any plant that strikes their fancy based mostly on what it looks like. Sure, it may have breath taking red flowers but do you know what it needs? Does that plant like sun or shade? How much water does it need? How fast will it spread? I’ve planted beautiful plants like Chocolate Mint, only to have it take over my garden like an invasive army.
Plants have basic needs such as soil, water, light, and temperature. If you plant the wrong plant in the wrong place, it can’t grow to its full potential. It won’t be able to flower. Plants that don’t have their requirements met will have to fight just to survive. You will water it and wonder why its struggling to hang on. It can’t live a healthy life unless its basic needs are met. Unhealthy plants are much more susceptible to pests and diseases then healthy plants because of their weakened state.
Each yard has its own micro-climate. Sometimes sections of the same landscape can have different requirements. For example, my backyard will grow only shade loving plants and my front yard gets full sun. Some landscapes have areas that are wetter or drier than other spots. Those areas need the right plant so it can thrive and create a healthy garden.
How to Put the Right Plant in the Right Place
1. Hardiness Zones
The USDA plant hardiness zones can tell you exactly which plants will live in your area. Most garden centers label each plant with its hardiness zone. This allows you to select plants that you know will survive the winter in your landscape. If you don’t know your zone, the USDA website allows you to type in your zip code or select your state to find out exactly which zone your garden is in. Here is a link to their online map.
How much light exposure does your garden receive? Different areas get different amounts of sunlight. Lighting is one of the most important things to know to help put the right plant in the right place.
Full Sun is 6 or more hours of direct sun a day.
Partial Sun or Partial Shade is 4 to 6 hours of direct sun a day.
Full Shade is less than 4 hours of direct sun a day.” (Source: Proven Winners)
There are different types of lighting requirements for plants. Full sun plants need 6 to 8 hours of light each day. Partial sun plants need 4 to 6 hours of light. If a plant tag says part sun or part shade, the two terms are interchangeable because they both require the same amount of sunlight. Partial shade plants prefer morning light because it isn’t as strong. There are several different types of shade.
- Dappled, Partial Shade: 4 to 6 hours of sunlight
- Light, Filtered Shade: 2 to 3 hours of sunlight
- Full Shade: 1 hour of sunlight
- Deep Shade: no direct sunlight all day
If a full sun plant is planted in the shade it won’t flower or grow as well. If a shade plant is planted in the sun it will burn. Determine the amount of light in your garden and choose a plant which needs that type of light. The Garden Continuum has a great article on how to determine your garden’s sunlight exposure.
Plants have different water needs. Grouping plants together which need the same amount of water will make your gardening easier. If you have an area that stays wet, choose your plants carefully. Some plants will enjoy staying damp. Most plants can’t handle that much water. The average plant will die because its roots need oxygen and they won’t get enough if your soil stays saturated for an extended period of time. However, there are plants that enjoy having wet feet.
Plants for wet boggy gardens:
- Blue Flag Iris
- Water Iris
- Marsh Marigold
For areas that stay dry for an extended length of time, try a plant that enjoys being dry. This way you won’t have to water so much and the plant won’t dry up and die. For a dry shady area, Solomon’s Seal never fails to thrive.
Plants for dry sunny gardens:
- Butterfly Weed
- Purple Coneflower
- Black-eyed Susan
- Lamb’s Ear
A great option if you have an area which doesn’t have much rain is to try xeriscaping. This is designing a garden that will thrive on your normal amount of rainfall without needing too much extra irrigation. Since describing xeriscaping goes beyond the scope of this blog post, here is a link with more information: Xeriscape: An Introduction.
4. Size and Spacing
Put the right plant in the right place. Make sure the height and width of the plant suit your garden space. You don’t want your young plant to outgrow your garden when it gets mature. My grandmother planted some daylilies around her azalea cuttings once. Over the years, the azaleas grew and covered up the daylilies. She had to move the smaller plants to a different location.
Tall plants should always be planted in the back of a border with short plants in front. This way the taller plants don’t shade the shorter ones. If you have a round bed in the middle of a lawn put the tall plants in the center and the short ones around the edges.
Another important detail about size is how wide the plant grows. This will tell you how far apart to space your plants when planting. A common mistake beginning gardeners make is planting things too close together. As the plants grow, there isn’t any room for air circulation, which leaves plants vulnerable to fungus and disease.
5. Growth Rate
Different plants grow at different rates. How fast will the plant grow and spread? Is it invasive? My parents have mint growing in their front flower bed and it has choked out all of the other plants. The daylilies couldn’t compete with the rapid and rampant growth of the mint. Certain plants like wisteria can quickly become invasive if not pruned regularly. I’ve seen it almost swallow a small backyard garden before.
This is not to say you shouldn’t grow these plants. Just be careful when planting them so that they don’t get out of hand. I still grow mint in flower pots so it can’t get loose in my garden. Make sure you can meet the needs of the plants and that they won’t overtake a small space.
6. Trouble Spots
Some gardens have trouble areas that are either too wet, too dry, too shady, or other non-ideal growing conditions. Don’t keep putting plants there and watching them struggle. Do a little bit of research first and find a plant that will thrive with your unique growing conditions.
There are plants that thrive in windy locations, salt spray from the ocean, dry shade, drought, wet boggy areas, heavy clay, hot sun, slopes, and rocky areas. Consider creating a rain garden in a soggy, wet area and planting bog plants. If you have a rocky area, create a rock garden with small plants that enjoy rocky slopes. For dense, dry shade try planting Solomon’s Seal.
Whatever your problem area is, there is always a problem solving plant to suit that spot. Don’t try to change your garden’s climate. Instead, save yourself a lot of trouble and put the right plant in the right place.
Questions to consider before selecting your next plant:
- Does it like sun or shade?
- Is it hardy in your zone?
- Is it invasive?
- How tall does it grow?
- How much water does it need?
- Does it meet the requirements of your space?
Take action and be informed before you purchase your next plant. If you learn nothing else from my blog please always remember to put the right plant in the right place. It will make gardening so much easier and avoid a lot of trouble in your landscape. If I could hammer anything into my reader’s heads it would be to put the right plant in the right place.
So go out there and garden and remember what?
“Put the right plant in the right place!”