How to Cultivate Ornamental Plants


An ornamental plant is any grass, tree, shrub or flower grown for its appearance alone. Although an ornamental plant such as a Bradford pear or crab apple may produce fruit, the tree is not grown for its fruit, but rather for its flowering and foliage. Many ornamental plants are bred specifically to maximize foliage and minimize fruiting. The key to enhancing an ornamental plant's beauty is in careful establishment and care of the plant.

Step 1

Determine the conditions that your location provides before selecting an ornamental plant. A shady area beneath a stand of trees may be the perfect location for low-growing ornamentals, such as hostas, or undercanopy trees, such as dogwoods, while an open, sunny location in your yard may be good for growing ornamental grass, such as pampas grass, or trees from dwarf crabapple to Bradford pear to Japanese maples.

Step 2

Take soil samples in your location by digging a quart of soil from up to 10 spots in your location. Mix these soil samples in a bucket and pick out debris, such as grass, rocks or sticks. Spread the soil out over a newspaper in a warm, well-ventilated area to dry. Scoop 1 cup of soil into a sandwich bag and take the soil to a soil laboratory for testing. Your test results should be completed in approximately three weeks and should indicate the soil structure and pH of your soil.

Step 3

Select soil amendments to improve your planting bed based on the soil test results. Almost all soil will be improved by mixing peat moss, compost and manure into the soil. Organic soil amendments will aerate and improve drainage in clay soil and will retain water in sandy soils. Additionally, lime will raise the pH of acidic soils with a low pH rating, and sulfur will lower the pH of alkaline soils with a high pH rating. An application of gypsum will help to break up clay soils.

Step 4

Break up ground carefully beneath trees with a garden fork to avoid damaging the trees' root structure. Use a rototiller to break up the soil in open ground to a depth of 12 inches. Spread a 4-inch layer of soil amendments over the soil. Apply the amendments at a rate recommended by the soil test. Dig the amendments into the soil with a rake or garden fork.

Step 5

Dig a hole for your ornamental plant that is twice as wide as the plant's root ball. Pull the plant free of its container or burlap covering and lightly score the edges of the root ball to allow new roots to develop in the soil. Place the root ball of the plant into the hole and fill around the edges of the root ball with the excavated soil. Do not plant ornamental plants deeper than the soil line of the root ball.

Step 6

Pat the soil to loosen air pockets and fill in the depression with more soil. Check your ornamental plant daily and water so that the soil remains as damp as a wrung-out sponge for up to two weeks while the roots become established. Gradually taper off water so that the ornamental plant will develop a strong root system. Only water your plants after that during drought seasons when the ornamental plants cannot get sufficient water from rainfall.

Step 7

Prune ornamental trees and shrubs with pruning shears in fall or spring when the shrub is dormant. Prune the plants so that they develop a pleasing shape. Remove all branches that are weak, diseased or broken by cutting them back to where the branches meet healthy, strong wood. Remove branches that rub one another, grow too closely together, sprout from the central branch at a weak angle or cross through the center of the tree or shrub canopy.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Bucket
  • Newspaper
  • Sandwich bag
  • Peat moss
  • Compost
  • Manure
  • Lime
  • Sulfur
  • Gypsum
  • Garden fork
  • Rototiller
  • Garden hose
  • Pruning shears


  • Ohio University Extension: Selection, Care and Use of the Ornamental Crabapple
  • The Alabama Cooperative Extension System: Correct Installation and Establishment of Ornamental Plants
  • The Alabama Cooperative Extension System: Pruning Ornamental Plants

Who Can Help

  • Ohio University Extension: Ornamental Plants
Keywords: pruning ornamental trees, planting ornamental shrubs, landcaping the yard

About this Author

Tracy S. Morris has been a freelance writer since 2000. She has published two novels and numerous online articles. Her work has appeared in national magazines and newspapers, including "Ferrets," "CatFancy," "Lexington Herald Leader" and "The Tulsa World."