Once you own a landscape, outdoor plants become important as an expression of your personality as well as a form of recreation and a way to prevent erosion. You don't think much about outdoor plants until you become responsible for a yard full of them. When you start making that landscape yours, choosing plants for your outdoor landscape requires some information about their specific characteristics.
Most houseplants are simply tropical forest plants that have adapted to most typical indoor humidity and low light conditions. We eat the fruit and seeds of some outdoor plants like wheat, corn and apples and the roots and foliage of others like potatoes, carrots, spinach and lettuce.
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower plant data base lists eight basic types of plant according to the way they grow: ferns, vines, grasses, succulents, trees, shrubs, sub-shrubs and herbs. Each type of plant is then sorted by the type of soil and amount of light, or exposure, it needs to grow properly. Answers to these questions give information as to where you should place your outdoor plants.
Plants are perennials, biennials or annuals. Perennials live three or more years, often setting out stolons or rhizomes that form new plants or forming bulbs around the mother bulb or along the plant's stalk. Biennials live for two years, growing foliage in the first season and flowering and setting seed the second. Annuals grow, flower and set seed within one season; many plants like geraniums that are used as annuals are actually tender perennials that will grow for many years in warmer areas.
Foliage may be deciduous, evergreen or semi-evergreen. Maple, oak and other deciduous trees turn brilliant colors when they enter a dormant period that they need to begin new growth. Evergreens maintain their foliage through dormancy, and semi-evergreens maintain most foliage for most of the year. Some sedges and ferns are semi-evergreen, and new daylily hybrids bred for Southern gardens also sport foliage nearly rear-round.
Angiosperms are the largest class of plants; they flower and produce seed. The type, size and coloration of flowers attract certain insects that act as pollinators for the flowers. Some hybrids must be hand-pollinated because they have strayed too far from the colors that attract their natural pollinators. Flowers may be large and colorful like peonies or insignificant like those on herbs. Some flowerings produce fruit that encases the seeds, like apples and tomatoes.
Native plants grow in areas where they adapted to soil, weather conditions and temperatures long ago. They make the most successful garden residents. Other plants must be "hardy" to survive maximum and minimum temperatures and growing season length. The U.S. Department of Agriculture divides regions into plant hardiness zones--areas that are similar in climate--to help gardeners and farmers choose plants that will thrive in their area.