Improper plant selection is a common poor landscape practice that, cumulatively, impacts the environment adversely. Improper plant selection requires homeowners to put money into resources in order to adapt the environment to the needs of the plant. Not only does it put a strain on the environment, but it puts a strain on the wallet. Most gardeners are aware of this, but feel they have no other option. However, there are plenty of viable alternatives that can be had, and this article will discuss how to select plants for the location while still getting the desired qualities sought in the improperly placed plant.
There are several examples of improperly placed plants. Impatiens provide a splash of color in part shade, but require water and are unfit for arid regions. Upright flowering vinca provides a similar color splash but loves arid conditions. Arborvitae grown as a specimen grow into a columnar shape attractive in the landscape; they are susceptible to deer damage and require protection whereas a juniper that grows in the same shape doesn’t. These are just a few examples of how a similar plant can provide the flower, shape, or color sought from the improper plant without requiring resources that place a strain on the wallet or environment.
Most gardeners visualize what type of plant they want to place in a situation, and make their choice based on what color, shape, texture, and size the plant will get to. They go to the garden center and it is hit and miss as some plants lack detailed labels and many garden center employees are not very knowledgeable on recommendations for alternative plants. Nature, on the other hand, selects plants based on their ability to adapt to the conditions of the location. Nature employs a combination of compatibility and natural selection; plants reproduce profusely and any seed that matches the conditions it needs to survive grows, with the strongest plants eventually crowding out those that remain. Ideally, gardeners employ the best of both, find plants that meet or come close to the qualities they desire, and plant them in locations that are for the most part in line with what the plant prefers, or they don’t buy the plant.
The first step is to assess the areas that you desire plants for. Pay attention to how much sun each area receives. Take note of if the area is wet, moist but well-drained, or dry. What is the pH of soils in the region? Is it exposed to road salt? What plants have done well or poorly in the past, and why? What animals, insects, or diseases are often a problem? The answers to these questions will determine the specific aspects that the plants are seeking.
Now, select plants that are compatible to the conditions, and seek them. Call garden centers or show up and window shop until you find plants that are both suitable for the location and desirable for what you seek in appearance, or use mail/internet order companies and take pot luck that the plants will be of good quality. Some small or locally owned garden centers may be willing to buy in the plant you want, especially if you explain to them why you want it and how it is a viable alternative to common plants many are familiar with, but like different conditions. Native plants often have a better chance of adapting than plants native elsewhere, but their preferences have to match up with the conditions of the location. Eastern white pine, for example, is native to New England, but it hates swampy areas and so you never see it growing in a floodplain or a marsh.
Plants that have requirements and preferences that match the conditions of their location need considerably less water, fertilizer, soil amendments, protection, and care. They use less natural resources, allowing them to be allocated elsewhere. They place less of a strain on the environment, helping to keep it sustainable for the future. And last but not least, the homeowner saves money by not having to buy resources with which to alter the conditions of the yard to sustain a misplaced plant.