How to Choose and Care for Outdoor Plants
Pick Your Perfect Plants
When choosing outdoor plants, you’ll want to consider location, both where your plants will grow – in your yard, garden or on your patio or balcony – and what types of plants thrive in your region. The USDA’s planting zone map can help you find your zone. You can then determine whether a particular plant is likely to do well in your area. Another factor to consider is a plant’s sun requirements (see our handy chart below). Lastly, if you have pets or children, check to ensure the plants you’re interested in are safe to have around.
The Right Plant for the Right Place
Another factor to consider is whether your plants will live in a container or the ground. If you don’t have a yard, containers can be a great way to maximize planting space on a patio or balcony. Wherever you’re planting, you’ll want to know the approximate size of your plants at maturity so you can give them enough space to grow in the garden or in appropriately-sized containers. Even towering plants like striking Pampas Grass can do well in planters that are large enough.
Here are a few tips about plant placement:
- Consider placing your plants where you’ll see them most often, so you can enjoy them and be reminded to care for them.
- You might want to choose a spot near a water source or within reach of a hose, so you won’t have to haul water too far.
Mix It Up!
Whether you’re growing your outdoor plants in a container or a garden bed, you’ll want to consider planting a variety of sizes, colors and textures. In a garden bed, the tallest plants generally go in the back, with medium-sized plants in the middle, and the shortest plants out front, so you can see everything at once (like theater seating). Choose plants with a variety of leaf sizes, hues and shapes to add interest. Think about what will thrive during different seasons. You may want plants that peak at different times of the year so there’s almost always something in bloom. Consider purchasing a few plants that keep their leaves all year or with leaves that turn brilliant colors in the fall. You can select a color scheme when choosing plants or go eclectic and just plant a mix of what you love.
Set the Stage
If you’re planting directly in the ground, begin by ensuring your topsoil is adequate. You may need to add a layer or break up the existing soil to ‘aerate’ it. Then, add 2-3 inches of nutrient-rich compost to your garden bed. You’ll need to work it into the top 6 to 8 inches of soil with a spade, hand tiller or other cultivating tool, ideally when the soil is moist and not especially wet or dry. These steps ensure that you’re not only improving the quality of the soil, but you are also creating space for the seeds/roots to grow. Earthworms will help loosen the soil, too! You don’t even have to ask. If you’re planting in a container, choose a potting-soil mix to achieve the increased drainage needed for container gardening.
Time to Plant!
Wait until after the danger of frost has passed in your area before popping your plants in their new homes. Although the exact date of the last spring frost isn’t always easy to pinpoint, you can use this guide to get an idea. When it’s time to plant, dig a hole deep enough to fit your plant with its roots hanging down (or check the instructions your plant came with). Push up on the bottom of the container your plant came in to remove it. If the roots have balled up at the bottom of the original container, use your fingers to gently untangle them a bit. Then place the plant in the hole and pat the soil around and on top of the roots.
To Mulch or Not to Mulch
You can prevent weeds from cropping up and help keep the soil moist by adding a layer of mulch on top of your soil. You can buy commercial mulches for a polished look or use leaves, straw, hay, pine needles or dry grass clippings. You can also add a layer of small pebbles or sand on top to keep these in place.
A Few Words About Watering
Of course, we all know plants need water, and that you’ll most likely have to help them out with that more in the warmer months.
Here are our top six tips on the “fine art” of watering.
- It’s better to water less often and more thoroughly than to water more often and less thoroughly. Consider watering a lot a few times a week rather than watering a little every day.
- Water in the mornings if possible, so your plants have extra time to soak in the moisture before any evaporates in the sun.
- Try to get the water into the soil and to not get too much on the leaves, especially if you are watering at night, as water lingering on leaves for too long can cause bacteria and fungi to grow.
- Do your best to water your plants evenly on all sides and ensure that water is penetrating the soil, especially if you have mulch. If you don’t water enough, the water may just sit on the surface and not reach the roots. You can check to see if water has sunk in enough by sticking your finger into the soil, pulling back a little and taking a peek.
- Give it time. Water takes a few moments to sink in. Water a bit, then wait for the water to penetrate the soil before watering more. This will help ensure the water reaches the roots and doesn’t run off the soil without sinking in.
- Lastly, you’ll want to avoid overwatering. Roots need air and can drown in too much water.
We hope these tips will help you enjoy the many benefits of owning and caring for plants. Have fun and good luck! You’ve got this.