Choosing Plants for your Garden

Do you ever walk into your local hardware or garden store, see all the amazing plants and colorful flowers, and feel completely overwhelmed and leave with nothing? Or, walk out with $100 in flowers that don’t actually make sense for your garden? I hope your answer is yes, because I’ve done both of these several times before (including last weekend). I always get overwhelmed when choosing plants for my garden because I either get distracted by pretty flowers, or I get bogged down in the details. Is this good for sunny spots? Shady spots? What about 30% sun/70% shade? Will this grow tall enough, wide enough, big enough? Does this need a lot of care, or can I plant it and forget?

Answer these Questions BEFORE You Go Shopping

All these questions are important to answer before choosing plants for your garden, not while you’re walking around the store.

Where am I planting?

For me, the best place to start is to decide which garden bed I’m choosing plants for and create a shopping list for each bed.

For example, my garden by the shed is mostly shady and I rarely get back there to weed or water. I also need flowers that will provide some color to that back space. So, I need plants that are shade tolerant, colorful, and require little care.

shady spot in our backyard
My shady spot that needs some color

On the other hand, my front yard is mostly sunny. And, since I walk by it several times a day, I’m much more likely to fertilize and weed around them, so they can be plants that are a little more needy.

Early spring in our front yard
The front yard on a dreary and depressing March day

Knowing what each bed needs before you head to the store will help you narrow things down tremendously.

How Many Plants Do I Need?

This is where I struggle the most–how many plants do I need to buy? I’m not the best at spatial planning (and I’m not about to measure each bed because I’m just not that detailed focused). So, I just make a rough estimate.

If you look on the tag of each plant, it’ll tell you how tall and how wide they tend to grow. This’ll give you a good idea of how much space they’ll eventually take up and how much distance you should leave between plants. This is especially important for perennials that will come back year after year, because you want to make sure they have room to grow for the future.

You can certainly plan out your garden with graph paper and measurements (and if you’re investing a ton of money into a lot of bushes and trees and perennials, you probably want to do that). But for my annual flower purchases, I just go by the old guesstimate method. I make sure to buy something that is well in stock at the store, so if I have to go back 2 hours later to get some more, there’s more left to buy 🙂 Or, I buy a little more than I probably need, and I just find other homes for the extra (other parts of the garden or pots for the porch).

Are you Looking for Annuals or Perennials?

Do you want plants that will come back every year (perennials), or are you ok planting new plants and flowers every year (annuals)? Most of the flowers at your local hardware store are annuals, so you’ll need to replant them every year. So, if you don’t want to put a lot of effort (or money) into your garden every year, focus on finding perennials that will keep growing every year. If you like a little gardening, or like a lot of flowers, annuals should be on your shopping list.

I think a healthy mix of both make for a great garden. My perennials, like my hostas, azaleas, forsythia, and butterfly bushes, are great staples for gardens. They act as anchors for my garden, adding height and greenery every year. Some of them bloom for a few weeks a year and add some color then. But, I like a lot of color in my garden (and like to change it up every year), so I add other annuals every year to round it out.

What’s your Budget for Choosing Plants?

For any project, you should always have a budget when walking in the door. That is equally important when choosing plants. It’s real easy to get wrapped up in the store when you see all these pretty flowers in some different shapes and colors, and then you get to the register and you’ve spent $300 on things that weren’t on your list (not that I’m speaking from experience or anything).

My Favorite Plants & Flowers

Ok, so I gave you some tips and tricks for choosing plants for your garden. Now, here are a few of my favorite plants and bushes, perfect for new gardeners. They’re easy to find at most garden or hardware stores in the Spring and easy to care for (aka hard to kill).

Pansies

Pansies are some of my favorite flowers. They are very hardy, so you can plant them in early Spring and if it’s not too hot or sunny, can live through the entire Summer or Fall. I planted these in our front gardens when we moved into our house in August, and they lived through the next summer–it was amazing!

They come in lots of colors to mix and match, grow to 3-4 times their original size, and require little care once they’re established. So, basically, the perfect flower for a lazy gardener like me 🙂

Impatiens

Impatiens are my absolute favorite shady flower. They’re annuals, so you have to plant them every year. But, they come in tons of different colors, thrive in shady conditions, and spread in size, from a single flower to one about 6 inches by 6 inches.

impatiens
Impatiens waiting to be planted in our backyard. It’s super shady here, so these are perfect, as they bloom all summer and they’ll spread 6-12 inches.

These are my go-to for the back of my backyard by my shed, because of all the shade from the old trees behind our yard. And, they add a great pop of color to this shady spot.

Vincas

Vincas are a great option for sunny spots. If I can’t find pansies for my front garden, I buy vincas. They come in a wide variety of pinks and purples and whites. And, they grow and spread throughout the summer!

newly planted vincas
I use vincas in our front yard, since it’s super sunny and they’re so low maintenance!

Vincas are very low maintenance. I typically water them twice a week for the first two or three weeks to help them get established in their new home, then once a week if it doesn’t rain or the leaves look like they’re wilting.

Forsythia Bushes

forsythia bush in bloom

Now to dive into two of my favorite perennials. First, forsythia bushes. Forsythia bushes can act as a living wall, if you need some separation between your neighbors, or want to hide something ugly in your yard. They bloom these pretty yellow flowers in the Spring for a few weeks, and then have nice green leaves for the rest of the summer.

Good news: they grow rapidly, so they’ll be several feet taller by the end of your first summer. Bad news: the grow rapidly, so they do require some pruning (aka cutting back the branches) to both help them maintain the shape you want them to and help them remain healthy.

I pruned my new forsythia that was still shorter than I wanted it only twice a year, just enough to cut a few stragglers off and help get it to the shape I wanted it. My bigger bushes get pruned about 3 times a year (late Spring, Summer, Fall). I’m happy with how tall they are, so I prune them just to maintain their height and shape.

Azalea Bushes

azalea bush in bloom

If you’re looking for a flowering perennial or a flowering bush, azaleas are great options. In the Spring, they have beautiful, bright blooms that stick around for a few weeks, and then the bush remains a pretty green throughout the summer and fall. These come in shades of pinks, reds, purples, and whites.

They require watering 1-2 times per week, until well established, but after a season, I typically don’t have to water them at all unless it’s verrrrry hot or very dry. And, the only other care I give them is some pruning in the fall to make sure they’re the right shape and size for my garden.

Need More Lawn & Garden Projects?

Check out my other posts on common lawn and garden projects:

Any Other Suggestions?

Do you have any other favorite plants that are hardy, low effort, and great beginner gardens? Or, any other tips for choosing plants for your garden? Post in the comments below!

~Lauren

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