Having decided how you want your new garden to function and feel and then analyzed your site conditions, you’re ready to start choosing what to plant.
Tip: With ease of care in mind, my best advice is to remember to look to nature. There’s no troop of gardeners busily amending soil to optimize forest or meadow growth, right? In nature, plants that are well-adapted to existing site conditions show up and thrive.
Keeping the above principle in mind, in this post, I’m going to use my new garden as an example. I’ll walk you through the plant-choosing process I use myself. Then you can adapt the steps to fit your own situation.
Let’s get started! 😊
Be Where You Are
I’ve talked in more depth about this in other posts. So for now, suffice it to say that the absolute easiest-care garden (assuming you don’t want to hire someone to do everything for you) is one in which plants are chosen with relationships in mind.
This means relationships between the plants and:
- Your house and any outbuildings
- The neighborhood (as well as with the people who live there)
- The region in which you live
- Animals that will utilize the plants for food and/or shelter
- Time and the other plants in the garden/landscape
In part one of this series, I shared my goals for my new garden and also went into more detail on what some of those relationships entail.
In part two, I took you through the process I use for analyzing site conditions. My new garden site has the following conditions:
- I’m in USDA Hardiness Zone 6b
- The soil is acidic sandy loam and is well-drained
- Because of the shadow cast by the house, the new site is shaded until between 9 and 10 o’clock in the morning. After that, it’s in direct sunlight until at least 5pm. Thus, it’s in full sun.
- The new garden is within easy reach of the garden hose. I plan to install a soaker hose to give the babies supplemental irrigation as needed during their first two growing seasons.
I’m going to add perennials to the former lawn area where the new garden will be planted.
Given my interest in ecology, it’s important to me to concentrate on plants that are native to my ecoregion (and thus have longstanding relationships with the wildlife that lives here). In particular, I’ll be making choices with butterflies and native bees in mind with this garden.
Because they have such a great filter, one of the native plant sites I really enjoy is Prairie Moon Nursery. Choose ‘Seeds’ or ‘Plants’ from the top menu and then, in the left hand sidebar, you can start entering specifics as far as sun exposure, soil moisture, plant height, and so forth.
As you choose filters, the number of species will decrease, but that’s actually a good thing because it makes it simpler to comb through the results.
I chose the following filters:
- Full sun
- Zone 6
- Medium-Dry soil moisture
- Up to 4 feet tall
- Advantage: Pollinators
- Highly recommended for home landscaping
That brought up 107 possibilities – not too overwhelming to scroll through and choose top contenders.
I then compared my top contenders against the Pollinator-Friendly Plant List for my state. This is a great resource compiled by the Xerces Society. You can find their region-specific plant lists here.
Wait until you have an hour or so to browse without interruption or pressure. Pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea or whatever your beverage of choice is.
Then just play with the filters, scroll through the results, read more about the plants that catch your eye, check range maps, and so forth.
Most important, have fun!
My Final Choices
The plants I ended up deciding upon after comparing the results of the two resources I mentioned above (and double-checking range maps) were:
- Foxglove penstemon (Penstemon digitalis) – late spring bloom – beloved by bumblebees, plus acts as a host plant to 10 species of butterflies and moths where I live, including the beautiful buckeye butterfly
- Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) – early-to-mid summer bloom – I’m confident enough that the plants already in the meadow garden will hold their own to feel okay adding common milkweed into the mix; we’ll see if I’m right! – milkweeds are the only host plant for monarch butterflies
- Slender mountain mint (Pycnanthemum tenufolium) – early-to-mid summer bloom – bees and butterflies flock to these flowers
- Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – mid summer bloom – This one is native to the Midwest, not to my region, but so many butterflies love the flowers that I’m including it anyway. (Plus, while it may not be native where I live, it’s not invasive.)
- Black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) – mid-to-late summer bloom – supports 15 species of butterflies and moths in my area
- Showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) – autumn bloom – host plant for 125 species of butterflies and moths where I live
- Calico aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum) – autumn bloom – caterpillar host plant for 10 species of butterflies and moths in my area
- Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) – native grass that turns a beautiful, warm russet color in autumn
The ‘Madame Lemoine’ lilac already onsite will become a more prominent element as it grows over time. I don’t want to spend much money to get the available space “flowered up,” knowing as I do that some perennials will eventually be crowded out,
That’s one of the reasons I’m planning to grow most of my new plants from seed. The other is that, for the budget-challenged, I want to demonstrate that while seeds require some patience, they’re not difficult. 😊
In my next post in this series, I’ll be talking about site prep. Fall can be an ideal (and labor-saving) time to do this. Plus, many native seeds need to go through a period of cold exposure before they’ll germinate, so fall is an ideal time to get the seeds sown.
Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you!
What did you think of the filter features on Prairie Moon’s website? Did you have fun playing with it?