Plant selection may be the fun part of gardening, but you need to choose well to avoid later disappointment
1. Location counts
It’s important to choose plants that will do well in your climate and soil. Get an idea of what grows in your district by observing what is sold in your local nursery or garden centre and what is thriving in neighbours’ gardens. While it is always possible to experiment and give something a try, be ready for disappointment. Such plants will often only last a season or a year before succumbing to heat or cold or disease, usually caused by the unsuitable climate.
2. Consider climate
Avoid plants that are frost-tender if cold is likely to be a problem. If you really want to try a plant, give it the best chance you can by placing it in your warmest spot, perhaps against a north-facing wall, or perhaps try it in a pot in a sheltered spot. Conversely, if you live in the tropics, or even in a temperate, humid climate, watch out for plants that prefer a cool climate. Climate considerations will vary plant to plant, for instance warm conditions are ideal when growing frangipani trees.
3. Sun and shade
Choose plants that are suitable for the spot you’re going to put them in. If the label on a plant says it requires full sun, don’t plant it in shade and expect it to thrive. It may live, but it will probably become “leggy” and produce foliage at the expense of flowers. When a label says a plant requires full sun, that means the plant must receive sun for at least half of the day, even in winter. If you put a plant that needs shade in the full sun it will become scorched and most likely die. If the plant requires filtered or part shade it can be placed where it gets dappled light through trees. Full shade means the plant should be placed where it is constantly shaded by trees or buildings, summer and winter. Be wary about how much sun or shade a plant receives. When growing potatoes ensure enough soil covers the seeds so they do not become green and inedible.
4. Soil and wind
Check whether the plant will tolerate your soil type — does it require acid or alkaline soil, very sandy free-draining soil, or can it tolerate heavier soil? If you live on the coast and your garden is exposed to heavy salt-laden winds, be aware that there are many species that will not survive. Similarly, some plants won’t tolerate being splashed with chlorinated water so they shouldn’t be placed around swimming pools.
5. Avoid over-planting
Over-planting is a common mistake made by novice gardeners. It is essential to consider the eventual height and spread of plants. If you put too many small plants in a limited space without taking account of their mature size, they will become overcrowded, make the garden feel cluttered, spoil the intended design, deplete the soil of nutrients and become susceptible to pests and disease.
6. Seasonal planting
Use plants to provide year-round interest in your garden. So many of the most popular plants flower in the spring and garden centres look so inviting at that time of the year, it’s common to end up with a garden which looks lovely for a few weeks in spring but which hasn’t got much to say for itself for the rest of the year. Aim to achieve a succession of interest throughout the year, either within each garden bed or in different beds or different parts of the garden.
7. Go for quality
Choose only plants with a well-balanced shape, strong green leaves and no signs of pests or disease. Don’t choose plants whose pots are filled with weeds and check for dried-out stems or wilted leaves that would indicate under-watering, sun scorching or neglect. If it’s in a container, examine the roots. Are the roots poking out of the drainage holes or rising from the top of the pot? If necessary, remove it from the pot and see if the soil is overcrowded with roots or if the roots are spiralling around the outside of the soil ball. These signs indicate a pot-bound plant lacking in nutrients.