Wendy's WanderingsWendy Wilber

May 13, 2021

Make a Plant Plan Before Shopping

Spring is in full swing for us Florida gardeners. Once again I find myself walking around a garden center with a wagon filled with plants. These retailers have my number — they load the front of the nursery with lots of colorful annuals, edible plants, and a few things I haven't seen before and I can't grab a cart fast enough. Before I know it I have more plants than could possibly fit in the yard, let alone my car. Luckily for you gentle reader, you have more restraint than I do.

Spring fever, that compulsion to purchase lots of plants, is a real condition and it can make a mess of your landscape. Buying plants without a landscaping plan on paper is a common mistake and our yards suffer for it. When out shopping, you are pretty sure you have the right plant, but do you have the right place?

You might say, "I don't know where I am going to put this beauty, but this plant is coming home with me!" Scattering plants without a plan doesn't only look scattered, it can reduce the sustainability of your Florida-Friendly yard. It is important to understand your site for plant selection. Keep in mind the sun exposure, the soil type, and where your utilities are. When selecting plants for your landscape you should consider their ultimate height and how far they will spread. Also consider a plant's drought tolerance and sun needs. Think about texture, form, and color when picking out your plants.

Too often gardeners will just keep planting plants in a spot, hoping that they will grow in and make sense, but in a few years they have a mishmash that needs to be reworked. Even the simplest of landscape plans will save you time, energy, and money because the plants you will install will fit with the site and have a purpose. Follow UF/IFAS professor Dr. Gail Hansen's instructions in her article, "Landscape Design: Ten Important Things to Consider" and put a plan on paper. She suggests thinking of the function the plant will perform in the landscape; for example, whether it will be a focal point, attract pollinators, or serve as a privacy screen. When you actually consider what this plant is going to do for you and your landscape, your design starts making more sense.

Dr. Hansen also stresses grouping plants with similar water needs together, so ringing a drought-tolerant palm with thirsty begonias may look nice, but it could be a waste of irrigation water. Better to group your xeric plants in a bed and plant the thirsty beauties together closer to the house for the most impact. These lessons make complete sense when we learn them, but our good judgement can be clouded by spring fever and all the pretty flowers. Bring your landscaping plan with you to the garden center and you'll have a reminder of the "quality over quantity" look you're going for. Put down the off-season annuals and slowly back away. Stay strong, Florida gardeners!

-- Wendy Wilber

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