Right Plant, Right Place

One of the many light bulbs that went off in my head when I became a Master Gardener was the concept of right plant, right place. When I began to speak and write about adaptive gardening, I knew I needed to include it. After all, we strive to save time, money, and energy, right? Using the concept of right plant, right place is a huge factor for lowering maintenance because if you choose the right plant and put it in the right place, you won’t have to move it or replace it if is unhappy.

Here are some things to consider and steps to take as you live by the right plant, right place mantra:

  • A good rule of thumb is to know how big a plant will be in three years. Many of us have made the mistake of falling in love with a plant and putting it in the garden, only to watch it grow past its expected size and start bullying surrounding plants, or simply reach the limits of its space and start to look unhappy. You’ll know it’s time to transplant these behemoths to another part of your garden or to say good-bye to them.
  • Progressively replace plants that require more water and more care, with those that require less. Replace perennials, which need more maintenance, with low maintenance, long-blooming flowering shrubs. Choose easy to grow plants that tolerate frost or high temperatures, are disease-free, and don’t require a lot of maintenance.
  • Start a collection of easy-to-care-for succulents. They will make pups (baby plants!), and your collection will grow from there.
  • If you have a certain plant you absolutely love, but it doesn’t look as good as it once did, give it a good pruning and see how it responds. If it still looks unhappy, if it’s tired or leggy or has outgrown its space, it may be time to replace it.
  • Look for pest and disease-resistant plants that don’t require frequent pruning to look their best.
  • If you love roses, great! Go for it! But recognize when you’re ready to surrender. Roses in my garden get black spot pretty bad, and last year I had to de-leaf and spray horticultural oil three times over the spring and summer to get rid of the disease. For the first time as a gardener, I’m considering replacing some of my roses, which will be hard to do because I fell in love with gardening in my grandfather’s rose garden. But three times, really? I don’t want that much work!
  • Buy plants in the smallest pot possible because this is how they grow: the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap!
  • Embrace hydro zoning and other forms of strategic grouping. Hydrozoning means grouping together plants with similar water needs and also the same soil and sun exposure needs. If the plants you’re putting in are designed to attract pollinators, it’s a good idea to plant at least three of a particular species together, so pollinators can see the flowers and “tell their friends” there are enough to make it worth a trip!

Gardening is all about change, about hanging on and letting go. At a certain stage, the gardener must look at every plant and ask the hard questions:

  • Do I have the time and energy to give this plant what it needs?
  • If not, do I love it enough to give it what it needs?
  • Should I give it away or toss it?