How to Pick Landscape Plants


One of the first considerations of a new homeowner, or an owner of a new home, is what their landscape will look like. Municipal watering regulations and the emphasis on water features and native plants make this more challenging. Your choices will be the first impression your neighbors and visitors have of you; don't make them casually.

Step 1

Take stock of what you have. Make a scale drawing of your property, including existing buildings and plants. If your property is brand new, sketch in "hardscape" features like sheds, ponds and other structures that will be part of the picture.

Step 2

Establish areas for functions, such as for entertaining and play, as well as for appearance. Children need places to play with tough turf and sturdy plantings---and open areas for soccer or softball practice. Consider a more formal landscape with specimen plantings if you have no children or large dogs.

Step 3

Observe your neighborhood to see what plants are thriving in your area and to get other ideas. Other possible sources of information are an arboretum or a state university agricultural extension, if they are nearby. Both know what plants are native, what plants grow well and what plants to avoid.

Step 4

Most landscapes need a few trees for shade and background, some shrubs to back or mask features, and specimens for accents. Investigate the use of ground covers, especially for hills and around water features. They will conserve water and save the effort of mowing. Finally, choose the right kind of lawn grass for your USDA hardiness zone and for the light conditions in your yard.

Step 5

Choose more than one type of plant for each space on your landscape; use pictures to see how plants will look together. Plants in the same area should be compatible---they have the same needs for water, soil type and fertilizer. Narrow your choices until you have plants that establish areas, share care requirements and reflect your preferences.

Tips and Warnings

  • The most carefully chosen plants will not thrive in poor topsoil. Get a soil test report from a university extension service and follow its recommendations before planting. Avoid choosing too many different types of plants. Limit your choice of large trees to a few compatible varieties. Plant shrubs and perennials in groups of three or more.

Things You'll Need

  • Plot of your lot (to scale)
  • Pencils
  • Scaled rulers


  • University of Wisconsin Extension Midwest Landscape Plants
  • Landscape Plants for Shady Areas
  • Landscape Plant Selector (use 1 or 2 criteria for best results)

Who Can Help

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Map
  • Selecting Landscape Plants; Shade Trees
Keywords: pick, landscape, plants, choosing, homeowners

About this Author

Laura Reynolds began writing professionally in 1974. She has worked as author and editor in nonfiction, professional journals and newspapers. Reynolds has also served in numerous appointed and elected local offices. She holds a Bachelor of Science in education from Northern Illinois University.