The Best Plants for a Small Garden

Before installing any new plant or planting into your landscape, especially if you have a small garden, it’s crucial that you understand the requirements of each plant and the conditions they may encounter on a daily basis.

All plants have specific needs for sun, shade, water etc. but small gardens, because of the restricted design of their layout, will exacerbate these needs. If you place the wrong plant in the wrong environment or simply buy a plant without doing your homework, you are setting yourself up for a lot of unnecessary heartache.

When I think of some examples of small gardens, I envision the front and rear yards in a Townhouse community. Planting are usually crammed together in very small beds, the back yard is usually enclosed by a fence allowing for a small lawn, and the soil is usually very poor and void of organic matter, because it was pulled from below ground during construction.

Since the houses are also crammed together, the roof drains, along with every neighbors roof drain, empties directly into the yard. With each yard having a fence or a neighbors fence and so on, airflow into these areas is extremely limited, allowing for the moisture to persist and cause not only major problems for the plants but also the siding on the home. Sound familiar?

Because of the potential problems mentioned above, it is imperative that you take some time to observe your garden at different times of the day and read up on the plants you like.

It’s important to know;

• when your plants will be in the sun or shade during the day; morning sun is a cooler sun and a great spot for partial shade to shade loving plants; afternoon sun is a hot sun and plants here must be able to withstand intense heat

• what your soil is made of- clay, loam (good organic mix) or sand – Clay soil stays wet longer and requires much less watering. Clay soil is the main culprit in the sickly, yellow leafed plantings that you see in the many commercial landscapes, the plants are simply drowning – Loam or Sandy soils, drain quicker and require more water and weekly monitoring

• if you have wet areas or any drainage issues- where do your roof gutters drain; shady areas will remain wet longer and require less watering

• if you have large trees shading beds, they will block rain from reaching the ground; plants here will need more water.

• plants installed under a tree, in the root zone, will need more water and fertilizer as the tree will absorb most of it.

• if you have wind issues… fences can decrease or increase wind and possibly dry out plants

Once you understand the different situations your garden may present over time, you can begin choosing the plants that will flourish with you over the years. Strive for a low maintenance gardening experience by installing plants that mature slow and fill in over time.

Adding shrubs like a Butterfly Bush, Spirea or Knock Out Rose not only increase seasonal color but also help keep your landscape manageable because you cut back or rejuvenate these shrubs every spring, reducing their size. Many perennials and ornamental grasses will have the same effect

By choosing plants that are low maintenance (slow growers, require less water and fertilizer, little to no disease or insect problems, rejuvenate or cut back every year), 95% of your yearly gardening is completed during your spring cleanup.

With that thought in mind, I recommend shrubs and perennials not to exceed 4-5 feet tall/ 3-4 feet wide and trees no taller than 15 feet. I also like to avoid any quick growing plants that involve maintenance pruning during the season.

The plantings below are mostly insect and disease free, require very little moisture once established and need very little maintenance during the year. All will bring years of enjoyment to you and your garden when placed in the environment mentioned.

Plants for full sun – afternoon sun or hot sun;

• Knockout Rose

• Barberry Crimson Pygmy

• Boxwood Winter Gem

• Butterfly Bush

• Dwarf Burford Holly

• Hoogendorn Holly

• Nandina Varieties

• Repanden Yew

• Lavender

• Liriope varieties

• Calamagrastis Ornamental Grasses

• Pennesetum Ornamental Grasses

• Itea

• Hydrangea Panniculata or Oakleaf

• Sedum varieties

• Clethra- very fragrant

• Coreopsis Zagreb

• Cone Flower-Echinacea varieties

• Perennial Geranium varieties

Plants for morning sun and afternoon shade or cooler sun

• Acuba varieties

• Astilbe varieties

• Caryopteris- Blue Mist Shrub

• Dwarf Burford Holly

• Hydrangea (Macro Phylla)

• Lilac- Meyer Palbin- fragrant

• Repanden Yew

• Variegated Liriope

• Hosta Varieties- some fragrant

• Gumpo Azalea

• Ajuga

• Heuchera varieties

• Nandina varieties

• Heleborus varieties

This is a great list to start from with many evergreen and flowering varieties.

Knowledge is flowers!