Flowering Bushes · Flowers · Garden Design · Gardening

Seven Important Questions to Ask When Choosing Plants for Your Garden.

How do you decide which plants are right for your garden, choose the best one that will thrive and you will love them.

It is not always an easy decision to make and I have learned to consider the following 7 questions when buying plants or sowing seeds in my garden. Here I have prepared the list for you and I believe you might find it helpful as well. I know that sometimes we just try a plant because we like it, somebody has recommended it to us or we got it for free. This approach might occasionally work, but it is always a good idea to ask yourself the following 7 questions.

"BloomStruck" hydrangea from the Endless Summer series (Hydrangea macrophylla), which I have purchased in the summer of 2016. This kind blooms in a variety of colours. it is doing well from the East side of my house.
“BloomStruck” hydrangea from the Endless Summer series (Hydrangea macrophylla), which I have purchased in the summer of 2016. This kind blooms in a variety of colours. It is doing well from the East side of our house.

1.Why do you like this plant and what will be its purpose in your garden? 

Would you like to add  it to your garden to bring more beauty, to create additional shade or perhaps as a food source – like vegetables, fruit, nuts bushes or trees etc. There are also plants which can be grown for medicinal purposes, to be used as spices, to bring beautiful smell to your garden and even to be used to produce essential oils. Some plants can fulfill more than one purpose and be not only a source of food, but also beautiful and smell nice as well.  For example many flowers not only look amazing, but also smell very nice and can be a source of essential oils, like for example some roses, a few varieties of jasmine, lavender etc.

Calendula flowers in my garden
Calendula flowers in our garden.

There are also many flowers which are edible like for example nasturtium, camomile, calendula, roses, borage, violets, dandelion, clover, rosemary  etc.  Many trees and shrubs will not only look beautiful, but also provide food and shade, for example fruit and nut trees, various berry-bushes, some pine trees. There are also many plants which can support beneficial insects and provide food for other animals.

Also when you buy flowering plants it is very important to consider their blooming period – when and for how long they will bloom. Many plants bloom only for a short time in a specific part of the year, other bloom most of the time or for a very long period. Some bloom, stop and then bloom again (like some reblooming roses). So if you buy a plant because of their flowers, make sure they bloom long enough to be worth placing them in your garden. Also try to coordinate their blooming periods by placing close by flowers blooming at a different time of the year, so you will have flowering plants there for most of the time. Keep in mind the height of the flowers and grow taller plants in the back of the border. If you love the plants because of their decorative leaves, how long they will last and do they change colour over time?

A beautiful tropical Gloriosa lily flower growing in my garden. It is definitely an annual in my growing zone, but if I take its tubers out for the winter and properly store them, I can plant them next year. Some plant are poisonous, like this one, but it is also used for sometimes for medicinal purposes. Particularly dangerous are its tubers and when eaten can be deadly.
A beautiful tropical Gloriosa lily flower growing in our garden. It is definitely an annual in our growing zone, but if I take its tubers out for the winter and properly store them, I can plant them next year. Some plant are poisonous, like this one, but it is also used for some medicinal purposes. Particularly dangerous are its tubers and when eaten they can be deadly.

2. Is this plant suitable for your growing regions – so called “hardiness zone” and if not, can you still grow it as an annual? 

For example you might like some flowers, trees or bushes, but they will just not be able to survive the cold winter or dry, hot climate in your area.  Many plants will not be able to stand freezing temperatures, and unless you will take them home or to a greenhouse, they will just freeze to death. On the other hand, if you take a plant, which likes a moderate or cold climate and place it in a very hot and dry area, or tropical hot and humid climate, it will not be happy there and most likely it will not survive for too long.  Then you can still consider growing some plants not suitable for your zone as annuals or houseplants, which relates to the next question.

Dahlia flowers in my garden, 2016. They bloomed throughout the summer till the late fall. The tubers have to be taken out for the winter or they would freeze. If store properly, they can be replanted next year.
Dahlia flowers in our garden, 2016. They bloomed throughout the summer till the late fall. The tubers have to be taken out for the winter or they would freeze. If stored properly, they can be replanted next year.

3. Is this plant a perennial or an annual?

This is one of the basic questions we should ask when considering a plant for our garden. We want to know if once we start growing it we can expect it to live for many years or just for one growing season.  Some plants have natural yearly cycle and then just die and can be regrown from seeds, like for example many vegetables, grains or beans.  Other plants naturally live for many years and there are also plants which are biennial – having just 2 year cycle like for example burdock.  To make things a bit more complicated, some perennials can live for a very long time and others for just a few years, but in the meantime they often produce new plants from seeds, tubers, bulbs, roots etc.

A beautiful Geranium blooming in my garden. This variety will not survive in my growing zone and can be just treated as annual or taken back home during cold season You can also take cutting and plant it in pots and then bring them out when there is no more danger of frost.
A beautiful geranium blooming in our garden. This variety will not survive in our growing zone and can be just treated as an annual or taken back home during cold season.  You can also take cuttings and plant them in pots and then bring them out when there is no more danger of frost.

Do not worry if you are not sure if the plant is a perennial or annual. Most of the plants in the stores actually have labels and you can just find out if this plant is a perennial or annual in your area by reading it.  Also usually plants in nurseries are divided into perennials and annuals, so you will immediately have the answer to this question. However, once you will investigate further, you will discover, that as I have mentioned in the previous question, a plant could be a perennial in one area, but an annual in a colder climate.  For example many flowers, which grow from bulbs or tubers, like tuberous begonias, gladiolas, dahlias, calla lilies, can naturally grow as perennials in some warmer zones, but need to be lifted to be protected  from freezing in colder areas. Here is your choice. Do you love the plants so much that you would dig them up, store in a suitable place to replant them next year, or you would rather treat them as annuals and let them die, then buy the new one to replace them next year, if you wish.

 

Here is more shady spot in my garden where I have small jasmine tree (the kind witch is perennial in my zone), as well as hostas, which don't like too much sun. There is also pink astible, which is Ok in a shade and a ground covering periwinkle in front of jasmine, which is perennial from zone 4-9 and its leaves stay green even during the winter in my garden. It is very low maintenance plant and even has nice, blue flowers during part of the year.
Here is more shady spot in our garden where I have small jasmine tree (the kind which is perennial in our zone), as well as hostas, which don’t like too much sun. There is also pink astible, which is Ok in a shade and a ground covering periwinkle in front of jasmine, a perennial from zone 4-9 and its leaves stay green even during the winter in our garden. It is very low maintenance plant and it even has nice, blue flowers during part of the year.

4. Is it suitable for a very sunny location, prefers partial shade, or even grows best in the shade?

Many plants have very specific lighting requirements and will not grow well or even die when placed in the wrong location. For example most of the roses need to have at least 6 hours of direct sunlight to grow and bloom well.  On the other hand hostas and ferns prefer shade and hydrogenas needs some good light but too strong and too much  light can burn the leaves. They also do not like dry soil.

Here again, when you read the labels attached to plants, which are most of the time correct, you will quickly find out what lighting condition this plant prefers. Then ask yourself, am I looking for a plant for a sunny or more shady spot in my garden?  All plants require some light, so you can not grow them in the dark. You can always ask in the store for help in choosing plants, or even research the plants you like before you buy them, which I think is a very good practice.

The flowering hostas and blue delphinium in a shady spot in our garden, 2016. This is not the best place for delphinium since it likes more sun. Even in this more shady spot it was blooming beautifully last year.
The flowering hostas and blue delphinium in a shady spot in our garden, 2016. This is not the best place for delphinium since it likes more sun. Even in this more shady spot it was blooming beautifully last year.

5. What kind of soil and how much water this plants requires?

This is more tricky, but very important question. I am referring here to so called PH level of the soil, which tells you if something is more acidic, alkaline or perhaps neutral. The PH around 7 is considered neutral, below it is more acidic and above it alkaline.  Some plants are quite forgiving regarding the PH level and if the soil is a little big more acidic or alkaline than what they like, they will still be fine, but other plant will just not grow well if the PH is not suitable, like for example blueberries, azaleas and rhododendrons.

Some of my favorite shrubs – colourful blooming hydrangeas varieties,  can even show you if your soil is more alkaline or acidic by changing the colour of their flowers – they become more pink in alkaline soil and blue or purple in more acidic soil.  You can even change the colour of their  flowers if you wish by the addition of special soil amendments – make sure you change PH very gradually or you can harm your plant.

My William Morris rose bred by David Austin, blooms in my garden in 2016. With roses you have to make sure they get at least 6 hours of light, do not over-water them and avoid soggy soil.
My William Morris rose bred by David Austin, blooms in our garden in 2016. With roses you have to make sure they get at least 6 hours of sunlight, do not over-water them and avoid soggy soil.

Also consider if the plant likes dry or more wet soil and how often you will need to water it. This is very important question to ask, especially if you soil is very dry, there is very little rain and this plant likes a lot of water. Will you be able and willing to water it often enough, or if not, can somebody else do it for you, or maybe you can install an automatic watering system.  On the other hand, if your soil is very wet, soggy and it rains very often, but this plant like to be seldom water and soil which is not too wet, then this might be not the best plant for your garden.

Try to find out if the plant prefers heavier clay soil,  lighter more humus rich soil, or perhaps really dry, more sand based soil.  Many plants benefit from humus in the soils, which consists of decaying, organic matter, which improves soils structure, water retention and helps to aerate it. You can increase the humus in your soil buy adding organic material like compost.  Anyway, you can ask these questions when buying a plant or research them before planting. Many plants benefit from the additions to some compost to the soil.

Daylilies flowering in front of our house. Daylilies are very easy going flowers and they can be grown in a variety of soil and light conditions. They come in a variety of shapes and some are even reblooming.
Daylilies flowering in front of our house. Daylilies are very easy going flowers and they can be grown in a variety of soil and light conditions. They come in many shapes and some are even reblooming.

6. Do you have a suitable place for it and how well it will compose with other plants you already have, when fully grown? 

This is one of the most important questions to ask if you want this plant to grow well in your garden and if you would like to be happy with how it looks there. Find out what is the mature size of the plant and how long it will approximately take it to grow the maturity. Then consider if you have enough space to keep it, or maybe it will take over too big area and it might be crowding other plant, or blocking their light. Some plants grow very quickly, other take very long time to mature, so keep it in mind.  Here again you can look at the label and sometimes you will find such information right there, or you can ask at the nursery, or just research it before you buy. Try to imagine the plant at its mature size and if the colours of the flowers or leaves will not clash with what you already have there. Will you still like it?  Should it be planted in the back or in the front of other plants you already have?

Lemon balm in my garden is spreading fast. I am not sure I can call it invasive, but it certainly seems to likes two sunny spots it has in our garden. It was blooming for the whole summer and into the late fall.
Lemon balm in our garden is spreading fast. I am not sure if I can call it invasive, but it certainly seems to likes two sunny spots it has in our yard. It was blooming for the whole summer and into the late fall in 2016.

7. Could this plant become invasive and how it multiplies?

This is a very important question to ask since some plants can be quite invasive. Some spread quickly via roots, like for example many species from the mint family, other can multiply via seeds.  There are still some ways to control them. For example you can put the plants which can spread quickly via roots in a container and then put it in the ground. This should help at least for a while. Also you can just remove mature flower and seed pods to stop the plants from dropping seeds.

Here below I have summarized for you all the questions as a list, so you can print them, or keep them as a reference in your phone.

  1. Why do you like this plant and what will be its purpose in your garden?  Also remember here to ask when it is flowering, for how long, what is the colour of the flowers (if you don’t know it already).
  2. Is this plant suitable for your growing regions – so called “hardiness zone” and if not, can you still grow it as an annual?
  3. Is this plant a perennial or an annual?
  4. Is it suitable for a very sunny location, prefers partial shade, or even grows best in the shade?
  5. What kind of soil and how much water this plants requires?
  6. Do you have a suitable place for it and how well it will compose with other plants you already have, when fully grown?
  7. Could this plant become invasive and how it multiplies?

The Gallery – photographs from this article.

Here  you can see all the pictures from this article. All photographs and this article are copyrighted by me, Renata Ratajczyk and can not be used without further permission. Please contact me for more information. Thank you.

Please share this article if you like it and comment on the blog.

If you like this article, please share it with your friends. What other questions do you like to ask when buying plants or starting them from seeds in your garden? I look forward to your comments. Thank you.

Other articles you might also like.

  1. The Memorial Day Rose – the Queen of My Garden.
  2. How to Grow Buddleia – Butterfly Bush – Easy-Going Perennial Shrub.
  3. Little Blue Flower -My Late Autumn Joy -Rocky Diamond.
  4. How I Have Started My First Garden – Part 1.
  5. Are All Weeds Bad – Burdock in Our Garden – I have Started My First Garden – Part 2.

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