How to Choose Plants for a Garden


Choosing the right plants for your garden is a must. If you select plants that do not grow well in your specific area with the soil that you have, your garden will not thrive and quite possibly fail all together. Before going to the nursery to buy the prettiest flowers on display, evaluate several variables in your garden that will help guide you to the best plants for your area. Then, design your garden to scale (with proper plant spacing) on paper prior to purchasing your plants to know how many to buy for the different garden areas.

Step 1

Calculate how much sun the different areas of your garden receive to help you select the right plants to grow in those areas. More than six hours of direct sunlight is considered full sun. Partial sunny areas get between four and six hours of sunlight. Partial shady areas get between two and four hours of sunlight. Shady areas receive no more than two hours of direct sunlight.

Step 2

Determine your USDA planting zone to help you know which plants will survive your winters. Go to the Arbor Day Foundation website and search for your zone using your ZIP code.

Step 3

Decide which kind of plants you want to grow in your garden. Perennials and annuals are the two major types, and many gardens intermix the two in the same garden. Perennials grow back every year under the proper conditions and typically need pruning to thrive. Annuals have only one life cycle and will grow only one year. They need to be discarded each year, usually in the fall.

Step 4

Conduct a percolation test to determine how well your soil drains water. Dig a hole that is 18 to 24 inches deep and at least 6 inches wide. Fill it with water and let it sit overnight. The next day, fill the hole back up with water about 2 inches from the top. Take measurements with a ruler to determine how many inches of water drain every hour for a couple of hours. Add the numbers together and divide by the number of measurements to determine how fast, in inches, the water drains each hour. Soil that drains less one-half inch per hour does not drain water well. Soil that drains one-half to 1 inch per hour drains water moderately well. Soil that drains more than 1 inch of water per hour drains water well.

Step 5

Choose plants that will grow well in your garden. For example, if the sunny area of your garden drains water well, choose plants such as daylilies, geraniums and purple coneflowers. Also, choose plants that complement each other for group plantings. For example, grow groups of blooming flowers near groups of plants grown for their foliage. Plant tall groups of flowers between groups of smaller plants. Plant spring-blooming plants near summer- and fall-blooming plants.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Water


  • University of Illinois Extension: Site Assement- Sunlight
  • Bartlett Tree Research Laboratories: Soil Drainage

Who Can Help

  • Arbor Day Foundation: USDA Planting Zone Finder
Keywords: choose plant garden, design garden, purchasing flowers garden

About this Author

Melissa Lewis has been a professional writer since 2005. Her work has appeared in various online publications. A former elementary classroom teacher and media specialist, Lewis is also a script writer, with a movie script, "Homecoming," she co-wrote currently in production. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology.