8 Criteria to Use When Choosing Plants for Your Garden
For most people, a home is the single largest investment of a lifetime. Therefore, it makes good sense to do everything possible to maintain its integrity and appearance.
The old saying “you can’t judge a book by its cover” does not ring true when it comes to your home. On the contrary, the appearance of a home speaks volumes about how it is cared for and hence its value. A well cared for home will last longer, has greater “curb appeal” and, all else being equal, will command a higher price when it comes time to sell.
Aside from a good paint job and a sharp looking roof, the element that has the single biggest impact on the curb appeal of a home is the landscaping. It can “make or break” a home’s appearance. However, the notion that trees and plants are “all about appearance” is a misnomer. In addition to adding beauty, trees can lower utility costs by providing much needed shade and strategically placed shrubs can offer enhanced privacy to boot.
When it comes to buying plants, the best place to begin is with a pencil and some drafting paper. It wouldn’t hurt to have a camera handy too. Before running off to you local garden center, draw a scale plan of your lot and where the home sits on the lot. Be sure to include its geographic orientation – which direction is north. Measure the entire perimeter of the house and transfer the measurements (to scale) to your drafting paper. Then, a coupe of measurements from the rear of the house to the rear property line and the same for one of the sides of the home will provide the information needed to place the home in the proper location on the lot in your drawing.
Next, include all existing permanent structures and hardscape such as storage sheds, garages, carports, decks, patios, paths, swimming pool and/or spa, trees, shrubs and other existing landscaping. Transfer this information to your drawing. Photograph all sides of your home in all directions. Now, armed with all of this information, you can march down to your garden center to meet with a nursery professional that will be prepared to provide you with suggestions on what should be planted at various locations throughout your yard.
Keep in mind that while you may want a beautiful row of camellia plants along the front of your home, if it is south facing, it is the least desirable (too hot) for camellias. Thus, working as a team, the challenge that you and your garden professional have is to choose trees and plants that appeal to you yet meet the following eight criteria:
- Climate: will the plants you want do well in your climate? Are they hardy enough to withstand both cold streaks and hot spells?
- Exposure: choose plants that will do well based on their exposure. Sun-loving plants do well in southern exposure; shade-loving plants thrive in northern exposure.
- Soil: the best look plants in the world won’t survive if the soil doesn’t contain the proper nutrients. Consider having the soil tested to determine what amendments may be needed. This may also affect the type of plants that are selected.
- Architecture: are the trees and shrubs compatible with the architecture of your home? Palm trees are an excellent choice for a southwestern look, but can detract from the beauty of an English Tudor.
- Care: do you enjoy spending lots of time working in the garden or do you envision spending most of your time admiring your garden cradled in a hammock sipping a mint julep? If low-maintenance is what you are looking for, make sure that your garden professional is “on the same page.”
- Water: unless you have your own well, water is likely a precious commodity where you live – you may even experience a drought from time to time. If such is the case, consider “drought-tolerant” material that has a diminished demand for water.
- Irrigation: as part of your design, be sure to include details on how your plants will be watered. The sprinklers that work best for turf may not be your best choice for shrubs. Also, consider a “drip” irrigation system for areas immediately adjacent to your home’s foundation to minimize the amount of water in this area, which could otherwise damage the foundation, basement, siding, etc.
- Plant Health: when it comes to actually picking plants, choose material that looks healthy – with good color and formation. Plants that have a good start are more likely to do well. Plants that are yellow, sparse, burned or barren can have a tough time surviving. Look for plants that are well branched and bushy with good color in a pot filled with soil to within one inch of the rim. Another important sign is a plant with only a few small roots emerging through the drain hole at the bottom. Lots of roots are the sign of a plant that is “root bound,” which can lead to “root rot” or transplant shock. Finally, a securely attached ID tag is usually a sign of good quality material and an added level of assurance that you are indeed getting the type of plant that you want.
The foregoing may sound like a lot of work, but will pay big dividends in the long run as you sit back and enjoy watching your garden grow and thrive, lending you many years of enjoyment and increased home value. Who could ask for anything more?
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