Gardening 101

Tips on Plant Selection

Not only is this time of year associated with that all American pastime–leaf raking–it is also the best time of the year to buy and plant shrubs, trees, vines, groundcovers, perennials, and bulbs.

Bloom color is still the driving force when we go on a buying spree at our favorite garden center, but we can also look to form, fragrance, fruit, and foliage as just a few of the other reasons we choose the plants we do.

Plant selection should not be based solely on what it looks like in bloom. Okay, so it has a sexy flower; but what is it going to do for you the rest of the year when it isn’t in all its glory?

Plants are also the most important element in the design and development of outdoor spaces and rooms. Large evergreen plants make a great hedge or garden wall. Small deciduous trees with their branches pruned up provide “human scaled” ceilings for our gardens. Evergreen groundcovers define our floors and direct us from room to garden room.

Plants are most admired for their aesthetic quality and a wide array of specimen plants should dot the landscape just as paintings, accessories, and objects of art fill our homes. The dissectum Japanese maple for example is one of the most sought after “living sculpture” plants available for use in the landscape. It is rarely afforded anything less than a primary position of importance in the garden.

Questions relating to a plant’s mature size, desired sun exposure, the ability to handle drought, and ease of maintenance should all be answered up front followed by bloom color and time, fragrance, berries, and does it attract birds. Search out those plants that shine year round and use those plants that provide a new element of interest with each change of season.

Those overgrown “boxwoods” located in the front yard are probably Japanese hollies, but either plant can be pruned or transplanted if desired. Transplant in the fall with minimal pruning or leave them in place and heavily prune in late winter. If the plants look like big green meatballs with a thin layer of small leaves around the outside of the plant, why not clear them out and begin anew? But if they were a gift from dear Aunt Sally, be sure to dig as large a root ball as you can pull across the ground on a tarp and transplant on a cool cloudy day.

A mixed foundation planting of small trees, evergreen and deciduous shrubs, variegated, berried, and fragrant plants coupled with some of the gems waiting for you at your local garden center gives you the opportunity to show off your home and garden every single day of the year.

Hoyt Bangs, a Raleigh native and landscape designer is owner of WaterWise Garden Design. You may reach him at

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