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Become a Smarter Gardener in 2019: Pick plants that will THRIVE, not just survive!

Pulmonaria 'Trevi Fountain' needs
shade to grow well

Today is a lovely, early spring day in central Minnesota and I am thinking about my garden--what I want to keep, what I want to change and what I want to plant. With winter a recent memory, Minnesota gardeners are more than ready to invest in plants at this time of year and get back out in the garden.

Let's visit three key points to choosing plants that will THRIVE and not simply survive.

Match plant needs to site conditions

1. Choose plants with growing needs that match the kind of soil and amount of light you have available.

  • Avoid plants that need rich, moist soil if you have sandy soil. 
  • Blooming plants that require full sun (8+ hours of sunlight per day) will not bloom as well in shadier conditions. 
Most plant tags are written by the grower and provide the basic growing conditions for the plant, so it's important to read a plant tag before you buy the plant and determine if you can honestly give this plant the growing conditions it needs to thrive. If you are not sure, ask the staff at the garden center / nursery / farmers' market stand / plant sale.

Another resource from Extension is our plant database of about 2800 woody and herbaceous plants. Enter your site conditions, click search and see what what you get:
Plant Elements of Design

Give plants enough space

Space plants like red cabbage
based on mature size.

2. Space plants according to mature size. Along with growing conditions, the plant tag will also give
you the mature height and spread / width of the plant.

Believe it. Plants that are planted too closely together - easy to do when plants are small - show a decrease in bloom due to a lack of light on the mid to lower branches. The form is also compromised, and pest issues can be more prevalent thanks to less light and airflow through the branches / stems.

When planting, use a tape measure to locate plants on-center according to their mature width. In other words, the distance from the center of one plant to the center of another plant of the same kind should equal the mature width of the plant.

Take the extra step for pollinators

3. Pollinators and other beneficial insects and animals need plants for food and habitat. Quality nectar and pollen, free of pesticides, is critical for pollinator health and ultimately human health.

Animals like bats require plants that attract insects (Become a smarter gardener in 2019: Grow plants for bats) and birds consume insects as well as feed on seed heads of plants that have finished flowering.

Joe Pye weed, cardinal flower and grasses
provide food and habitat for insects.

When you are contemplating the look of a plant for your landscape, go one step further and also choose one these important pollinators and animals would also like. Plants for Minnesota Bees, Grow landscapes for bees and other pollinators

Read more from Extension on Lawns and Landscaping

Author: Julie Weisenhorn, Extension Educator - Horticulture

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