An ornamental plant is one used primarily for decorative purposes but isn't a food or fuel source. This includes house plants, perennials, annuals and shrubs. Some ornamentals, such as fruiting shrubs, may provide privacy or food and shelter for wildlife. Vegetables, while beautiful, aren't considered ornamentals because they are used as food.
Most ornamental plants grow slowly from seed, so many gardeners prefer those from reputable nurseries or garden centers instead. Avid gardeners, though, may start plants from seed indoors in trays. When plants reach 6 inches tall they can be transplanted to an outdoor garden. Ornamental plants can also be transplanted in the same way. Some ornamentals, such as daylilies, salvia and coneflowers, transplant easily and even benefit from occasionally being divided. Others, such as hosta and clematis, are difficult to transplant. Propagating ornamental plants from root cuttings involves taking a cutting from a healthy stem and dipping it in a root hormone. The root cutting is then placed in sand or a sterile growing medium. Soon, it develops roots and can be planted elsewhere.
Hundreds of ornamental plants exist for every gardening situation. Flowering vines, such as honeysuckle, clematis and trumpet vine, climb fences, trellises and even trees. Shrubs grow more quickly than trees and provide privacy and beauty to any landscape. Long-lived perennial flowers grow slowly but provide years of low-maintenance care once they are established. Annual flowers live one season and must be replaced, but they are fast-growing and inexpensive.
Caring for plants is simple if you know what they require. All plants have some basic needs: sunlight, water and food, but the amounts vary depending on the variety. Plants native to an area, such as wildflowers or native shrubs, usually require no additional fertilizer or water and are adaptable and good at surviving. Others, such as roses, require regular watering and fertilizing to thrive. Additionally, most plants prefer between full and partial sun, although a few, such as hosta and astilbe, can survive in full shade.
Ornamental plants all start as seeds or are propogated from cuttings, then develop a strong root system and mature leaves. Many bear flowers are spread through underground rhizomes or runners. Generally, ornamental plants die back during the winter, although some, such as rhododendron, conifers and boxwood, are evergreen. Plants grow at varying rates, depending on the type, as well as the amount of sunlight, water and food they receive. Most begin growing in early to mid-spring and stop growing after the first frost in the fall.
Ornamental plants beautify the landscape, providing pleasure to people and shelter to birds and wildlife. Ornamental plants, such as ground covers, prevent soil erosion, while hedges and shrubs minimize noise pollution and create visual boundaries. Ornamental plants also make oxygen and help keep temperatures cool.