Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Selecting New Plants: How to keep from going crazy at the garden center.

Rare is the season when I don’t find myself considering making changes to my landscape. Sometimes it is out of necessity – Mother Nature or the neighborhood pests have a hand (or teeth!) in it. Other times, I may want to change just a plant or two to give my landscape a fresh look. So, off I go to my neighborhood garden center, looking for something to fit a specific spot. Sound familiar?

But wait! Before you grab your keys, you might want to take some time to consider some key elements. You need to know the correct plant size to fill the space. You also need to know how much sunlight the space receives on a daily basis. You also want to be aware of the existing plant colors – foliage and blossoms – to make sure your new plant will complement the existing landscape.

When deciding what size of plant you need to fill a space, it can be helpful to use objects to help visualize what the landscape will look like after the plant is installed and as it matures. Any object will work, so get creative. Items such as a trash can, cardboard box, or empty pot will all do the trick. Tobias likes to use a mouse, ground squirrel, or fish, but those would be for a very small spot. Once you find an object that has the right size, take those measurements with you to the garden center.

How much sun does the plant need? Light requirements are usually listed as full sun, part sun, part shade, or full shade. Their general guidelines are:
* Full sun: At least 6 hours of direct sunlight.
* Part sun: 3-6 hours of sun.
* Part shade: 3-6 hours of shade. These plants will require shade in the afternoon to protect from the intense late day sun.
* Full shade: Less than 3 hours of direct sunlight with dappled shade the rest of the day. This is Tobias’ favorite. Keep in mind that full shade does not mean zero sun exposure. There aren’t many plants that can survive in complete darkness.

Once you have the information about size and light, start reading plant tags. You’ll find the tags have a wealth of information about the specific plant. Most will not only give you the size and light requirements, but will also provide planting instructions and include a picture of the plant so you’ll have an idea of what to expect once it matures.

A cautionary tale: Some information on plant labels may be slightly misleading because the labels are not made specifically for Nebraska. For example, a rhododendron may be listed as full sun because in certain climates it needs full sun, but in Nebraska it needs afternoon shade to protect it from the intense Midwest summer sun. If you have any questions on sun requirements, a garden center employee should be able to help.

Don’t hesitate to forego a plant once in awhile. While you’re at the garden center, take a look around at the garden art. Sculptures, chimes, metal art and the like can add a great deal to a space. Perhaps a trip to the hard goods yard is in order. There you’ll find boulders of all shapes and sizes, many of which can easily be transformed into a bubbling water feature. If you love the hunt and are patient, you might search for a beautiful old bench at antique stores or estate sales.

There are lots of ways to fill in a landscape bed. We hope you enjoy exploring the options throughout the seasons.

Happy shopping!

Rachael and Tobias

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