Want a low-maintenance garden that's sure to last? Follow these pro plant-picking tips. 

By Tamara Kraus
Updated June 01, 2019
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When it comes to choosing plants we'll actually be able to maintain, most of us are making the same mistake: We pick out the plants we want before we consider the conditions in our backyard. Why is this a problem? If we're not sure what type of soil we have or we haven't analyzed how much sunlight the space gets, we could be choosing plants that have no shot of survival. Besides environmental conditions, being honest with ourselves about how often we're willing to water our plants and how much maintenance we have time to take on will also influence which plants we should buy.

To figure out how to select the perfect plants for your own outdoor space, whether it's a big backyard or a petite patio, we asked the plant experts at Costa Farms for the rules to follow when picking plants. As it turns out, considering these five factors before you head to the nursery can help you choose plants that are sure to thrive.

Christopher Testani

1
Check the Soil (And Choose the Right Potting Soil)

Before you head to the nursery, take a look at your soil. After a heavy rain (or if you leave a sprinkler running), does it dry out after a couple of days or stay wet for a while? Plants that like it on the dry side (like lavender) sulk when their roots stay wet. Plants that don’t like it dry will look wilted and fade away if they don’t get to drink enough. Knowing what the soil does is one piece of the puzzle—the other is having a realistic sense of how much you want to water.

When you're planting in ground, enriching your soil before planting can help your plants thrive in their new home. Look for Miracle-Gro Performance Organics In-Ground Soil, a high-performance organic option, which is specially blended with aged compost, and has been shown to grow double the amount of flowers, vegetables, and herbs, compared to unfed plants.

2
Consider the Sunlight in Your Yard

Any plants you pick will be easier to keep healthy and alive if they're adapted to thrive in the existing conditions at your home. Once you've checked whether the plant will survive in your hardiness zone, consider the sunlight your yard, patio, or deck receives. Is the spot sunny all day long, or just in the afternoon? Does it get morning light, but then is in full shade the rest of the day? Once you've observed the sunlight, choose plants that thrive in full sun, partial shade, or full shade.

If you accidentally place plants in the wrong spot, keeping them healthy will be an uphill battle. Putting shade-dwelling plants in a hot, sunny spot results in yellowing leaves that have brown, crispy edges. Placing sun-lovers beneath a tree prevents them from blooming. It also makes them grow tall and leggy and makes them more vulnerable to disease and pests.

3
Think About How Much Space You Have

Before buying, pay attention to the plants’ mature size and know how much space you have to fill. What looks like the perfect plant now might become a burden if it grows too big and you have to prune it back every month just to use the sidewalk or see out your windows.

4
Be Realist About How Much Time You Have

Some plants need more maintenance than others, so be honest about how much time you’re willing to spend taking care of them. For example, varieties like purple coneflower need deadheading to keep producing new flowers and to prevent a lot of seedlings. They grow fine without this kind of biweekly maintenance, but they don’t look as good and create more work later on when you have to pull dozens of baby plants that threaten to crowd out other plants.

5
Do Your Research Beforehand

The number of plants available at your local garden center can be dizzying. One thing that can help you stay focused is to come in with a list. If you don't have time to do extensive research on the plants you want ahead of time, at least jot down the traits that are important to you. For example, you could list something like purple-flowering perennials that attract butterflies and have fragrant flowers.