Plant This! Not That!

Planting with a plan

As the frigid winter winds pass and the unpredictable temperature swings of spring force people indoors, many gardeners daydream about improving their native plant projects in the upcoming growing season. Reflection on last year’s successes and failures leads to ideas and ambitions for 2022.  

But before ordering native plants from HeartLands Conservancy’s 2022 Online Native Plant Sale, it is time to plan.

As the native plant landscaping movement has grown in the region, many people have begun incorporating native plants into existing landscaping.  Often, native plants serve as replacements to horticultural varieties or are placed in open spaces in existing landscaping. Over time, the spacing, location, and size of plants could draw negative attention to your native plant project.  By creating a plan, a native plant enthusiast can become an amateur landscape designer and maximize the aesthetic and wildlife value of a native plant project.

Step 1. Gather supplies. Printer paper, graph paper, a pencil, a tape measure, and a ruler are all you need to create your project plan.

Step 2. Measuring the size of the garden bed.

Step 2.  Sketch your garden. Measure the size of your garden bed and sketch it on paper. Identify plants within the garden bed and draw them on the paper with their proximity to the edge of the garden bed and other plants. Label as many plants as possible, and don’t be afraid to have too many measurements on the sketch.

Step 3. Transfer your sketch to the graph paper.  Create a scale on graph paper appropriate to the size of your garden bed. For example, two squares on the graph paper can equal one foot in real life. Draw the garden bed first. Then, use your measurements and scale to draw the plants in the garden bed. Online resources can be used to find the spread (i.e., the surface area that a plant occupies) of most native plants.

Step 4.  Analyze the design. Looking at the example for this article, the homeowner may want to fill the space between the front and back rows or add an early-blooming yellow flower to the bed. The most central wild quinine could be moved to the gap between the rows to create a triangular cluster of plants and open space for another plant. Similarly, purple coneflowers could be added between the two rows next to the existing purple coneflower. The rose bush could also be moved to another bed, and then the planting would be exclusively native plants.  Any and every idea can be explored before a shovel ever hits the dirt.

Next Level  Professional landscape designers use this same process to design and plan projects. However, the professionals have access to expensive software to create formal designs. These conceptual plans are then used to install or improve native plant projects.  

The 2022 Online Native Plant Sale brochure is an excellent resource for your existing plants and plants purchased in 2022. The brochure groups plants by light and moisture requirements to help the amateur landscape designer install plants correctly. Further, plant height and spread and bloom color and period are provided. The amateur landscaping designer can use this resource to create a continuum of blooms throughout the growing season. Putting in work on the front end will always pay off in the long run. Mistakes will still be made, but having a plan on paper will help the amateur landscape designer continue to improve native plant landscaping projects.