One of the most important aspects of landscape design is to choose the “right plant” for the “right spot”. This requires a thorough evaluation of the site and the environmental conditions which exist. The sun exposure, soil type, drainage, wind exposure and soil pH can all have a significant effect on the plants growing there. Choosing the best plant also requires a good knowledge of the plant; its mature size and the optimum growing conditions. Selecting plants that fit the site will result in a low maintenance landscape.
Ornamental plants are categorized by the mature size which the plant will obtain under good growing conditions. For example, a red maple tree, Acer rubrum, is known to grow to a mature height of sixty feet or more. The width of the mature red maple can be nearly fifty to sixty feet. This being the case, it doesn’t make sense to plant a red maple tree right next to a house or building. To do so creates a high maintenance chore of pruning to keep the plant within bounds. If a maple tree is the plant you desire, a much better choice would be to select another maple species which matures at a smaller size. Acer ginnala, the Amur maple, matures at fifteen to eighteen feet and is a wonderful ornamental plant. Acer palmatum, the Japanese maple, matures at fifteen to twenty five feet, and is a plant rich in color and form. The ‘Crimson Queen’ cultivar of Japanese maple matures at less than ten feet tall. The beauty of ornamental horticulture is that there are so many choices in finding a plant that fits a particular space.
Most plants have specific needs in terms of exposure to the sun. Plants are categorized as being full sun, partial sun, or shade loving plants. For lower maintenance, choose a plant that grows well under the existing exposure on your site.
Each ornamental cultivar will have specific requirements in regard to the optimum growing conditions for that plant. Some plants will not tolerate wet growing conditions, while others will grow well in wet soil. River birch trees and red maples are native to wet areas and will grow quite well when planted in a wet landscape area. Examples of ornamental shrubs which tolerate wet soils include, Inkberry Holly, American Arborvitae and Clethra. For lower maintenance, select a plant that matches the condition on your site.
It is always beneficial to know the fertility and pH of the soil before selecting a plant. Different plants may have a specific requirement of soil pH, meaning the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. Many plants require an acid soil. Examples of acid-loving plants are rhododendrons, azaleas and blueberries. Attempting to grow acid-loving plants in an alkaline soil creates a high maintenance landscape. For low maintenance landscapes, determine the pH of the soil (see my Soil Testing blog) and select plants that will grow well on your site.
You may be planting a high maintenance landscape if you are selecting plants that will not perform well under the environmental conditions specific to your site. To have a low maintenance landscape, examine the characteristics of your landscape area. Select plants that will be the appropriate size at maturity and grow well under your specific environmental conditions. An excellent resource for choosing plants for Louisville, KY can be found here.