Narrowing Down Your Plant Choices

illustration of plants
You've decided where to place your new planting bed, what size it should be and now you face the ominous task of choosing the plants that go inside it. There are thousands of plants. How do you whittle them down?  The first thing I do is create a possible list of plants, then sit down and draw my ideas on paper.  

To create my list I use a series of filters to help funnel down plant choices. Some of my favorites are below.  Before you start, surround yourself with some fabulous plant books, nursery catalogs or pop up an online plant database on your laptop. 


1.  Planting zone | In the US check out this map to see what zone you're in. Those in other countries, please share in the comments what you use to identify your zone.

2. Cultural needs | Do you need to focus on plants that like shade, sun, dry or wet conditions?  Do you have special soils? Is your spot exposed to intense winter winds or salty air?

3. Types of Plants | Do you prefer annuals, perennials, shrubs or a mix?

4. Color | Though color is the most fleeting, it is a quick way to narrow down your plant choices. Be careful to not exclude plants like evergreens though! They may not have the specific color you're looking for, but add wonderful structure in a neutral way.

5. Form and Texture | These are more consistent than color, but not as easy to sort through.  Once your list gets smaller, make sure you have a good variety of forms and texture.  

6. Theme |  Do you have a theme for your planting bed?  Is it a lemonade garden that will only include yellows and icy whites, plus plants that have a lemony-citrus name? Maybe a polka-dot garden that requires plants with round flowers?

7. Size | Do your plants need to be shorter than 24" or perhaps you want taller plants to hide a secret area?

Do you have other filters to help narrow down your choices?

ADDITIONS FROM READERS: Plants that deer don't eat!

Once you start to use these filters, your list should narrow down dramatically to one that is much easier to work from for your final design.  If you find your list too short, go back and adjust. I can have anywhere from 15 to 50 plants on my list depending on the size of my area. It's okay to not use all the plants on your final list!  It's just a resource from which to pull options.

Enjoy creating your dreamy plant lists!


Would you like to learn some great tips on garden design + landscape graphics? Subscribe to my free newsletter: THE PENCIL CASE. Trust me, it will be lots of fun. I'll even let you take a peek at past issues here.
Let's do this!