Planning for Plants

When many of our plants died over winter I was frustrated and ready to give up. I don’t have a green thumb and planning out where plants go is just not my thing. So in desperation, I called my mom for a plant intervention. She had some great tips to get me through the plant planning phase, and I will share them below.

Tip #1: Take pictures

The first thing my mom says is “go take pictures of your yard from different angles and print them out”. I thought the purpose was to take the printed images to the garden center for help, but she had a much better plan in mind. Once the pictures were printed, I was instructed to get a plastic sheet protector and some dry erase markers. Her plan was so simple and brilliant! With the picture placed in the sleeve, she created a white board version of our back yard to plan from! We talked through what was needed in various areas; where we needed evergreens, where we wanted color, and what level of coverage we wanted in various areas. We also noted which areas got full sun, and which got some shade (although our backyard is mostly full sun). The beauty of this process is that it can be easily repeated until you come up with a plan (we are still working to finalize ours).

Take a picture of your garden, place in a sheet protector, then use dry erase markers to plan your plants

Tip #2: Choosing plants

Once you know the basic look you are going for, you must determine what plants will get you there. We live in the high desert, and my mom happened to have a reference book filled with pictures of the plants that do well here (along with all the information you want or need to know about each of them). We were able to flip through the book, look at pictures, and pick out plants matching what we had sketched out. When picking out plants, pay attention to growth rate, estimated size, high/low temperature, and sun exposure guidelines. Last year we picked out some evergreen trees that are projected to get 30’-60’ tall, but they only grow 1”-2” per year, so it will many years before they could pose a potential problem. You also may be restricted by what you can buy at your local nurseries, so come up with some alternatives in case you can’t source your first choice. If you don’t have a guidebook, look online, or let the specialists at the nursery give you some suggestions (don’t forget to take your pictures to the nursery with you).

Tip #3: Placing plants

Once you buy the plants you want, place them in your garden where you think they should go. Move them around until they feel right, and make sure to look at your garden from several angles. Do not leave your plants above ground like this on a hot day because you will dry out the pots and cook the roots. If you are still unsure about placement, try planting your plants in their pots. This gives you a great feel for the final look, and it is still easy to move plants around if you want to change something. This also protects the plants from drying out quickly (just don’t forget to water them), and removes the height difference of the pot when visualizing. Once you end up with a placement you like, simply lift the plant out of the hole, remove the pot and with the hole already there, you are ready to plant.

Tip #4: Extra plants

If you end up with a plant that just doesn’t fit in, most nurseries have generous return policies typically ranging from 50%-100% refunds on returned plants (verify the policy when you purchase your plants). The big name hardware stores offer 100% refunds; however, they cannot sell returned plants because of possible soil contamination, so they get trashed. I did not know this policy the first time I returned plants, so I now try to buy only what I need and I only return plants if they truly don’t have a home in my yard or if they die (see Sometimes Plants Die).

I hope my mom’s advice helps you as much as it helped me! Feel free to leave your comments or questions in the comment section below.


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