The one question I get asked over and over again is "where do I begin?" The second most asked question is "how do you know what plants to use together"? I refer to this as Plant Considerations. So today I want to discuss how I decide on what plants work well together. When choosing my plant palette, I always have to consider the needs of my clients first. But in the end most of my clients just want something beautiful and easy to maintain. This seems very simple, but it's only simple if you have considerable knowledge of plants. So here are four plant considerations when deciding on your plant combinations.
1. Plant Compatibility. This is the most important criteria to consider. All plants in your landscape should have similar growing needs. These needs are water, sun/shade and soil type. You must first identify plants that will grow well together. If I want to start a perennial garden then I consider plants that need full sun, are drought tolerant and will grow in poor soils. That pretty much sums up the Texas Hill County conditions, which is where I live. Once you know what the growing conditions are, then you will be able to eliminate all plants that will not grow in these conditions. So my list would include Artemesia, Lantana, or Gulf Coast Muhly. I would not consider Astilbe, Coral Bells or Ferns as these plants need shade, water and rich organic soils. By using plants that are native or have adapted to your area, you will spend less time and money on making plants grow that are suited for these condition.
2. Plant Colors. There are two basic color pallets: warm and cool. Warm colors are red, orange, yellow and green. Cool colors are blue, gray, purple and pink. Not all these colors are always one or the other as sometimes they will fit into both categories depending on the color tones. But let's not make this too complicated. Basically, when choosing plant colors there are several things to consider. First is what is the plant going to be next to. If you have a red brick home, don't use a plant that has red or orange flowers or leaves. It is best to use plants with contrasting colors. Up against a red brick home I would use something with a variegated leaf color, a gray green plant or a plant that has white blooms.
3. Plant Characteristics. Plants have many different characteristics such as: are they evergreen (keep their leaves year around) or are they deciduous (lose their leaves in the winter months)?. Do they grow fast or slow? The general rule is the longer the life span of the plant/tree, the slower growing they will be. A Live Oak Tree is considered slow growing so they can live for hundreds of years. In contrast, most shrubs grow at a moderate rate and can live 10 years or more. The next characteristic to consider is plant height and width. This information will determine how many plants you will need. And not just the total plants but how many of each plant. If you have a bed that is 3' wide and 8' long and your plant gets 3' wide than you know you will need 4 plants for the length of the bed.
4. Plant configuration. All the '"PC's" are important but after plant compatibility, I thinks plant configuration ranks second. The reason is that you must know how tall your plants will be at maturity. Once you know how tall the plant will get, you can began to arrange your plants in a stairstep configuration. Basically, it's tallest to shortest. Usually the tallest plants will be next to your house or fence, and then you begin to add plants that are shorter in front. If you have more than two rows of plants, make sure you buy plants with a variety of height difference. The very back row plants may grow to 5' and the next row may grow to 3' and the front row may only get to 1.5'. This will give you a good stairstep configuration. Most plants are labeled with an average height and width. Remember to consider this as you choose.
Using the basic "PCs" or plant considerations will help with your landscape design. As always I want you to enjoy your beautiful gardens. Correct plant choice and placement will go a long way towards that goal.