How to Select Planting Materials


There are always too many plants in the garden center, no matter how large your landscaping budget. Given the finite size of most of yards, the task of selecting planting materials requires a little knowledge and considerable restraint. Every fall there's just one more perennial or one more flowering shrub that is desired. Learn to limit your choices to plant materials that will enhance your landscape and gardens. Follow these simple steps to choose sustainable plant materials---easy-care plants that will thrive in your yard.

Step 1

Find a garden center or nursery where there is a wide selection of plants and where the plant materials look green and vibrant. Avoid places where everything is in bloom---much of it has been "forced" and will not perform well when transplanted. Ask lots of questions until you find someone who knows his or her business and stock and seems to always have time to talk to you.

Step 2

Look for native, non-invasive plants. Some non-native plants just won't flourish; others will self-seed or expand exponentially and will require repeated division or seedling removal. Some plants, like purple loosestrife, an old-fashioned garden favorite, have actually been outlawed because they literally choke out native plants. Select native trees, shrubs and flowers. They will make better neighbors and will have a better survival rate and longer life span in your landscape.

Step 3

Select planting materials that help keep water in your yard. Use ground cover and thick-rooted plants such as day lilies on slopes to help hold soil and limit runoff. Shop for plants such as willows to retain water in low areas to keep rainwater in your soil for your plants' use instead of allowing water and topsoil to wash into the storm sewers and waterways.

Step 4

Opt for more low- than high-maintenance plant materials. By all means, plant that persimmon tree (as long as it will thrive in your growing zone), but resolve to clean up after it. Although non-native, plants suited to the local soil and growing conditions will need less fertilizer, water, pruning and other general cultural care. Select evergreens---they require almost no maintenance. Every year, replace a few more annual plants with long-lived perennials divided from your collection or traded with neighbors.

Step 5

Balance textures and shapes in your landscape, and select varieties that provide interest for each season of the year. Choose plant materials according to their mature size, not their size in the nursery. That pretty little red maple may grow to 60 feet, but the Japanese maple next to it will grow only a few feet taller than it is now.

Tips and Warnings

  • Never harvest wild plant materials from either public or private land, and make sure your nursery hasn't either. Many species are endangered because people remove them from their native habitat and move them to conditions where they cannot survive. Trillium and jack-in-the-pulpit, for example, are two wild plants that may soon only exist in the hybrid forms sold by breeders. Plant trees far enough away from buildings, utilities and water systems to avoid costly repairs--and the sadness of having to remove them in 10 years.

Things You'll Need

  • Landscape plan
  • Plant lists
  • Soil test kit


  • Natural Resources Conservation Service

Who Can Help

  • The Landscape Design Site
  • National Gardening Association
Keywords: selecting plants, planting materials, garden center, landscaping

About this Author

Chicago native Laura Reynolds has been writing for 40 years. She attended American University (D.C.), Northern Illinois University and University of Illinois Chicago and has a B.S. in communications (theater). Originally a secondary school communications and history teacher, she's written one book and edited several others. She has 30 years of experience as a local official, including service as a municipal judge.