Updated: Oct 11, 2021
I am just as passionate about landscape design and plants as I am houseplants! Landscape plants were my first love, and within a year or so of working at the garden center, I was able to understand design, environment, and plant material. All that learning allowed me to create landscapes for customers and advise about appropriate plants. I am currently living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and my hardiness zone is 5a. The plants I will be talk about are specific to my area, but plants do extend into several hardiness zones. Make sure to do your research for each plant and check your own hardiness zone.
The different plant types...
Trees: These are medium to extra large landscape plants that can have many functions, such as privacy screening, wildlife, shading, food or even just a focal point. You can buy them from a big box store or a local garden center (bareroot, potted or balled and burlapped - AKA B&B). It all depends on your budget, the impact you want up front, and sometimes your capabilities to move the plant material.
Shrubs: These are medium to large landscape plants, mostly used for curb appeal, wildlife or privacy screening. Most of the time you would be buying these potted, or balled and burlapped, from anywhere that sells plants.
Perennials: These are typically smaller growing plants that die back all the way in winter. There usually isn't a stem or branch where leaves or flowers grow off. They use the energy their roots saved through winter to push up new, larger growth every spring. Overall, perennials grow a bit smaller so these are used for curb appeal, fillers, accents, wildlife and sometimes privacy screenings.
Annuals: Annuals are small, typically flowering, plants that people love to add to their landscape for constant color through the season, or to fill planters along their property. Around here, garden centers start selling these in April but with the chance of frost into May, sometimes its best not to plant until mid May. If these are left outside when it gets cold, they will die back and not come back the following year. There are lots of annuals you can bring inside in winter and they will come back in spring!
Tropicals: These are a perfect example of annuals that rebloom if you bring them inside in winter! We also commonly call tropical plants, houseplants. But these are a wonderful way to spruce up your home inside AND outside! You can plant these in your landscape or in planters; but in order for them to survive the winter, you need to bring them inside.
Bulbs: In spring and fall you typically see these for sale which means that is about the time you plant the bulbs that are available! If you plant in spring, those bulbs with come up for summer and if you plant in fall, those bulbs with come up in spring! There are perennial bulbs like Daffodils, Tulips, Allium, Hyacinth, and Crocus that will bloom in spring, and then die back and bloom again next spring. There are also annual bulbs such as Elephant Ears, Dahlias, Gladiolus, and Calla Lily's that will bloom every spring and summer but need to be brought inside for winter for survival.
How to choose?
Privacy Screening- Most of the customers that came into the garden center either didn't want to see their neighbors, or didn't want their neighbors to see them. You could be blocking noise or just a view you don't want to see anymore. Consider whether or not you want year-round screening or just screening in spring/summer.
Wildlife- If you are trying to encourage animals to develop their habitat in your yard, doing research on what is native, or attracts certain wildlife, can help with this.
Shading- You can reduce your air conditioning costs naturally. For example, if your giant window in your living room is on the south side of your house, you can plant a tree on that side of the house to block the direct sunlight.
Food- This is pretty self-explanatory. More than likely you would be creating a garden, or planting fruit trees or shrubs.
Curb Appeal- Not only would you be adding value to your home, you could choose plants that cater exactly to your style. Whether you like monochromatic colors or wild colors everywhere, you can choose plants
Environmental- Are you planting near the road where salt may affect your plants in winter? Are you planting along a concrete or asphalt driveway or patio that is significantly warmer in summer and could possibly damage certain plants? Do you have a lot of deer that come into your yard that could eat your new plant material? Do you have animals that like to graze on your plants? Does your yard have a significant slope? Will you be mulching or using stone around your plants at all? What type of soil do you have (clay, loamy, sandy, rocky, etc)? These are all questions you need to consider when planning your landscape that may alter your plant choices.
To get a good understanding of your sunlight, you need to understand your cardinal directions. As long as you know where the sun rises and sets in proportion to your house, you're good! That is the first component to choosing any plant material. You also need to consider the size of the existing plant material, or eventual size, along with building structures (whether it is your house, shed, garage, or your neighbor's structures).
Moisture: Some plant material can handle drought tolerant conditions, but if you try to plant it in a high moisture area, it won't survive. Checking your yard after it rains to see where moisture sits can give you a good idea of what kind of plant material to focus on. You also need to consider accessibility to a hose or supplemental moisture until the plants get established. Within the first year of planting, you may need to water consistently, versus only occasionally the second year.
What you like: Just go for it! You know what you like so now is the time to make the fun decisions! What are your favorite colors? What kind of flowers do you love? Do you like unique foliage colors? Do you want year round interest with evergreens? Do you have a uniform style or do you like an asymmetrical design? Do you want to landscape everywhere or do you want a simple design? Do you need low maintenance plant material?
PLANTS PLANTS PLANTS
Plant material innovations are CONSTANTLY changing so I will only be listing a few varieties. This DOES NOT include even a fraction of what is available out there! To hear a bit more on each plant, listen to the corresponding podcast!
***Remember plant innovations and discoveries change constantly. One year, something may be great but the next year, horticulturists could discover a disease or pest that kills the tree off. Do your research and talk to your local garden center before getting your heart set on something. Some varieties I list below were discovered from plant breeders who create new, exciting, and hardy plants. Some companies like Bailey Nurseries and Proven Winners are growers that spearhead innovation. They aren't the only ones though!***
SHADE TREES (Deciduous)
Maple (Autumn Blaze, Redpointe, October Glory, Fall Fiesta Sugar, Green Mountain Sugar)
Linden (Greenspire, Sterling Silver)
Oak (Northern Red Oak, White, Swamp White, Chinkapin, Bur)
Birch (River, Whitespire, River Frost)
Elm (Accolade, Frontier, Valley Forge)
Kentucky Coffee Tree
Autumn Gold Ginkgo
Shawnee Brave Bald Cypress
Niobe Weeping Willow
ORNAMENTAL (FLOWERING) TREES (Deciduous)
Magnolia (Merrill, Royal Star Magnolia, Jane Magnolia, Saucer)
Crabapple (Louisa Weeping, Royal Raindrops, Sargent, Adirondak, Coralburst)
Cleveland Select Pear
Flame Amur Maple
Fort McNair Horsechestnut
Ivory Silk Lilac Tree
Cornelian Cherry Dogwood
Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry
Common Witch Hazel
Hydrangea Tree (Quick Fire, Pee Gee, Pinky Winky, etc)
Seven- Son Flower Tree
Dwarf Korean Lilac Tree
Kousa Dogwood (semi hardy)
Japanese Maple (semi hardy)
FRUITING TREES (Deciduous)
Apple (Honeycrisp, Honey Gold, McIntosh, Red Delicious)
Plum (Mount Royal, Stanley)
Pear (Luscious, Summercrisp)
Cherry (Evan Bali, Northstar)
Spruce (Black Hills, Norway, Serbian, Fat Albert, Weeping Norway)
Pine (Vanderwolf Limber, Austrian, Eastern White)
Arborvitae (Green Giant, Dark Green, Techny, Holmstrup, DeGroot Spire)
Juniper (Blue Point, Skyrocket)
FOLIAGE FOCUSED (Deciduous)- most of these do bloom but they are mostly purchased for their unique foliage.
Barberry (Crimson Pygmy, Golden, Orange Rocket)
Dwarf Burning Bush
Chokeberry (Red, Black)
Cotoneaster (Cranberry, Hesse, Peking)
Dogwood (Bailey's, Bergeson Compact, Arctic Fire, Ivory Halo, Yellow Twig, Grey)
Elderberry (Black Lace, Lemony Lace)
Euonymus (Emerald Gaiety, Emerald N' Gold)
Honeysuckle (Kodiak Black, Kodiak Red, Dwarf Bush)
Ninebark (Diablo, Summer Wine, Little Devil, Coppertina, Amber Jubilee)
Smokebush (Royal Purple, Winecraft, Velveteeny)
Sumac (Tiger Eye, Gro-low, Staghorn)
FOLIAGE FOCUSED (Evergreen)
Arborvitae (Mr. Bowling Ball, Fire Chief, Woodward)
Boxwood (Green Gem, Chicagoland, Green Velvet, Green Mountain)
Holly (China Girl, China Boy, Blue Prince, Blue Princess, Blue Twins)
Juniper (Blue Sargent, Green Sargent, Sea Green, Hughes, Calgary Carpet, Kalley's)
Birds Nest Spruce
Yew (Dark Green, Capitata, Taunton, Hicks)
Azalea (Karen, Lemon Lights, Orchid Lights)- broadleaf evergreen
Rhododendron (PJM)- broadleaf evergreen
Forsythia (Kumson, Bronx, New Hampshire)
Weigela (Wine & Roses, Midnight Wine, Sonic Bloom, Red Prince, My Monet)
Lilac (Dwarf Korean, Miss Kim, Red Pixie, Bloomerang, Charles Joly, Sensation)
Viburnum (Arrowwood, Koreanspice, Mohican, Blue Muffin, Little Ditty)
Deutzia (Cherry Blossom, Nikko, Chardonnay Pearls)
Spirea (Goldflame, Magic Carpet, Anthony Waterer, Shirobana, Renaissance)
Summersweet (Ruby Spice, Hummingbird, Sixteen Candles)
Sweetspire (Little Henry's, Henry's Garnet)
Rose of Sharon (Blue Chiffon, White Chiffon, Hawaii, Tahiti)
Rose (Knock- Out, Drift, At Last, Oso Easy, Nearly Wild, Carefree Wonder, Purple Pavement)
Hydrangea (Quick Fire, Vanilla Strawberry, Bobo, Limelight, Tuff Stuff, Endless Summer, Annabelle, Oakleaf, Climbing)
Spring Interest (Ajuga, Creeping Phlox, Iris, Peonies, Lupine, Dianthus, Baptisia, Penstemon, Bleeding Heart, Poppy, Geum, Amsonia)
Summer Interest (Coneflower, Coreopsis, Allium, Astilbe, Daylily, Geranium, Blanket Flower, Daisy, Garden Phlox, Liatris, Catmint, Bee Balm, Butterfly Weed, Salvia, Cardinal Flower, Campanula, Hibiscus, Clematis, Bell Flower, Veronica, Agastache, Lavender, Yarrow)
Fall Interest (Coneflower, Russian Sage, Ligularia, Astilbe, Aster, Black Eyed Susan, Ornamental Grasses, Sedum, Clematis, Anemone)
Foliage Focused (Hosta, Coral Bell, Fern, Lady's Mantle, Ornamental Grasses, Pachysandra, Vinca
Alyssum, Angelonia, Begonia, Calibrachoa, Celosia, Chrysanthemum, Cleome, Coleus, Cosmos, Creeping Jenny, Dahlia, Dianthus, Dichondra, Dusty Miller, Geranium, Gerber Daisy, Impatiens, Lobelia, Marigolds, Nasturtium, Ornamental Kale, Ornamental Grasses, Pansies, Petunias, Portulaca, Salvia, Stock, Sunflowers, Sweet Peas, Sweet Potato Vine, Black Eyed Susan Vine, Verbenas, Vinca, Viola, Zinnia
As you know, this list is EXTENSIVE so here are the most common tropicals that are used within a landscape design, or planters, in the summer...
Bougainvillea, Canna Lily, Cordyline, Dipladenia, Elephant Ear, Hibiscus, Lantana, Mandevilla, Palm
Plant in spring for summer blooming: Begonia, Caladium, Calla Lily, Dahlia, Elephant Ear, Gladiolus
Plant in fall for spring blooming: Allium, Crocus, Daffodil, Hyacinths, Iris, Oriental Lily, Peonies, Tulip
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Lots of people I talked to when I worked at the garden center had a hard time remembering what was perennial versus annual. Just remember...ANNUALS you plant ANNUALLY!
Always written with extreme plant passion!