Consider Mature Size When Installing Plants

Have you ever seen a huge Norway Spruce overwhelming a small hundred year old home or shrubs planted too close to a building? Many times, mature plant size is not considered in the design process.  Plants will be out of proportion to the size of the building or entryway.

Sometimes, a homeowner or builder will plant too many plants of immature size to make the building look ‘presentable’ immediately. Proper plant placement, keeping mature size in mind, is especially important …

Using Accent Plants to Create Emphasis


Potted plants accent and draw attention to this porch entryway.
Photo credit: Lori L. Statteri Flickr CC BY 2.0


Clipped trees and shrub provides formal focal points or points of rest for the eye in this mixed perennial bed.
Photo credit: La Citta Vita Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Accent plants can be used to draw attention to a particular feature or features in the landscape such as an entryway, stairs, water, seating, statuary or even other plants. They should contrast …

Plant Size Impacts on Sun and Shade


Brown, scorched leaves on shade loving Hostas
Photo credit: Susan Buffler


Shrub rose “leaning” toward the light.
Photo source: Susan Buffler











Plants in the landscape are constantly growing, changing, and dying. Larger plants will eventually shade out sun loving plants beneath them. Be prepared to replace sun loving plants with more shade tolerant plants when needed.

Large trees will have the biggest impact, followed by medium and small trees, and large shrubs. Conversely, if a large tree is removed, consider …

Landscapes: Natural Plant Succession Considerations


New growth following a forest fire.
Photo credit: Susan Buffler Flickr CC BY-NC- ND 2.0


The constant disturbance of mowing keepd the lawn from entering the succession process. 
Photo credit: pennstatelive Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Natural Plant Succession

Plant communities grow and change over time through a natural process called succession.  These patterns occur gradually over long periods of time. When a landscape is disturbed in some way, a general process of plant recolonization occurs.

The first plants to grow …

Designing Around Drainage Areas


The use of depressions planted with appropriate species allow water to slowly infiltrate the soil. Photo credit: Facility Records / MSU Physical Plant Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0









Designing around drainage areas can be challenging. Drainage areas are any area where water naturally flows downhill and collects in a basin or catchment area.

Drainage areas can be small areas in a home landscape or they can be the size of a watershed that drains an entire region.

Drainage areas can also …

Elements and Principles of Design for a Water Wise Landscape


A row of street trees can act as a plane to help define the edge of a path. This could also be considered a line in the landscape especially if seen from above.
Photo credit: Jose P Isern Comas Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


the spiral wall used in this small eating space acts as both a line and a plane. The wall acts as a low plane that creates a sense of enclosure or volume. The spiral line creates a

Creating a Practical Pleasing Outdoor Space


Example of a bubble (functional) diagram showing relationships and rough sizes of the spaces

Image credit: rumbold ayers landscape designers

A practical and pleasing outdoor space is one that satisfies user needs, is aesthetically pleasing, and is relatively easy to maintain.  The space can be a small, quiet, private space, or one that provides expansive views.

1. Satisfies user needs 

Once site inventory, analysis, and family needs are identified, the types, shapes, and sizes of spaces needed can be determined.  …

Microclimates in Water-Wise Landscapes

What is a microclimate?

Microclimates in landscapes are small localized areas that differ in temperature, precipitation, and wind protection from the greater surrounding area.  Structures, topographic features, and plant orientation can create microclimates.  They can be naturally occurring or intentionally designed.   

Examples of Existing Features that can Create Microclimates

  • Topographic depressions – influence temperature, water and snow retention, and wind
  •  Hills and berms influence temperature, snow melt, and wind
  •  Slopes influence runoff and temperature depending on orientation to the sun

Using Sustainable Hardscape Materials

Sustainable hardscape materials are those materials that are produced in a way that is least damaging to the environment and allow water to penetrate into the ground.

Some hardscapes are more sustainable than others. Some materials may be less sustainable to produce but can be used in a sustainable fashion in the landscape. These include permeable asphalt, permeable concrete, and recycled concrete.  Recycled rubber mulches are not recommended.

Permeable Hardscape

Permeability, or the ability for water to penetrate into the …

Proper Plant Placement

Proper plant placement in the landscape can ensure a healthy low maintenance garden. Common plant placement problems include:

  • Planting too close together
  • Planting too close to a building or other structure
  • Planting plants with different water needs together 

Also, in areas prone to forest or wildfires, proper plant placement is critical to saving life and property.

Proper Spacing

Overplanting is a common problem in the garden. Too many plants planted too close together will eventually cause crowding and may increase …