MASTER GARDENER — Garden “Pizzazz” plant selection creates “wow” factor

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, March 15, 2023

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Don’t be afraid to fill gaps in beds with plants, flowers and objects — the most beautiful flower bed ideas, borders and pots are teaming with color and plants of multiple heights and varying structure.

The past two weeks I’ve been on a mission that started with the mundane but necessary task of scrutinizing each flower and vegetable bed, thoroughly weeding rogue plants and removing the roots where possible.

Another layer was added, and yes, this is the second top-dressing for each bed in as many weeks. Our growing season is long and we as gardeners must ensure soil structure is enhanced, enabling plants the best chance for survival during the arduous Texas summer months.

To this end, this gardener again added another two-inch layer of cured livestock manure, followed by three inches of garden soil, and using a garden spade and pitchfork, turned the amendments into the soil.

Initially, gardening requires a considerable amount of ‘sweat equity’ before the first plant is placed into the ground, and for this seasoned gardener it’s pure enjoyment (at least during the spring months), don’t even think about asking me to demonstrate the same level of enthusiasm during the summer months, it’s simply not there, and I’m certain to mutter something (not quite audible but certainly snide).

We are going to discuss plant selection, which is a critical aspect and one of many important steps to creating a garden design or transforming an outdoor living area effectively.

Choosing the best plants for a garden space depends on numerous factors. Let’s begin with the size of the area and knowing the exact amount of space to fill with plants, as well as understanding the intended areas characteristics, like soil type, determining the aesthetic to create.

The exciting elements to consider are plant structure, color, habit, growth, texture, while determining the planting plan. Adding vibrant, colorful, blooming plants can brighten porch?

Are pops of color needed to brighten a shady area or perhaps use monochromatic shades to create a serene meditation seating area for reflection? Need to diminish the impact of an existing structure? Use the following to assist you in making plant selections.

Accurately Measure

This step is the most important step, and planting decisions must be based upon actual measurements, without guessing the amount of area available.

Plants need space to grow and are not going to perform well if interplanted too closely, so be realistic with garden plant ideas. On a sheet of paper, roughly sketch the planting area dimensions, then accurately measure the area.

Gardeners, this simple step provides you with the ability to develop a plant spacing plan, since all plants need optimal room for growth.

The same process can be used to create container garden plans or adding potted plants to patios and porches. Add circles on the diagram to designate plant locations with accurate measurements between containers as well as container dimensions.

The diagram provides the gardener with a visual representation of how plants or containers fill up the space. Once you understand the area available for planting, you will have a better idea of what can be achieved in your planting scheme using flower beds, shrubs, trees and borders.

Soil Type

We all know Southeast TX does not have the greatest soil type, mostly clay, this doesn’t have to be a limiting factor when planning a new garden area. Many plants grow in our soil which has a pH range between 5.5 and 7.0.

For maximum nutrient availability, most plants need to be grown in pH range of 6.0 to 7.0, except for acid loving plants, like blueberries, azaleas, hydrangeas, which require acidic soil.

Knowledge of the soil’s pH is needed before planting plants! I highly recommend soil analysis if planting or creating a new garden area which is not a raised bed. Gather a few soil samples for analysis and provide them with the nearest county extension office which will provide guidance on where to submit samples for analysis.

The cost of soil analysis is minimal, usually less than $20 with results arriving by email in about 7-10 days.

Sun, Shade & “hot zones”

There are varying degrees of shade such as, heavy, partial, light, or dapple. For example, shade beneath a weeping willow tree is dappled, where heavy shade is provided by a large structure, house, or tree with a dense canopy (think Live Oak).

Many plants for shade grow well in light or partial shade, such as hydrangea, and viburnum, and even some rose varieties. Plants for heavy shade are a bit more challenging, and not likely to have colorful blooms but will add texture, such as: Hosta, bleeding heart, vinca, and ferns to provide a lush “green background” enhancing the visual appeal of more colorful plants by contrasting with vibrant blooming plants.

Just as important as knowing the type of shade is knowing the number of hours direct sunlight, including the dreaded ‘hot zones’ locations. Hot zones are areas thar receive full sun from morning, throughout the entire day without shade during the day (8 to 12 hours).

Gardens benefiting from full sun have vast, almost limitless choices of plants! In Southeast Texas (Zone 9a & 9b), summers are long and temperatures extreme, well above 90℉ for many months.

It is imperative plant selections for full sun locations can take the heat and thrive, especially in hot zones, as these areas require plants which can endure the heat yet flourish despite it. Once established, drought tolerant plants like Lantana, Black-eyed Susan, Purple coneflower, Salvia, Gulf-coast muhly grass, Vitex, Plumbago, Firebush, Esperanza, are a few which will thrive.

Encourage pollinators

Encourage pollinators, birds, bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, and other animals and insects as each are needed in our gardens! Incorporate bird feeders, baths, nesting boxes, toad, and butterfly houses into patio, porch, garden and outdoor space plans for added amusement while providing habitats for pollinators.

Design a unique space integrating garden art which appeals to you made of metal, stone or wood. Large planters in bold colors are statements that draw attention and why not add water features, including basins that attract feathered and winged guests.

Include unusual or geometric shapes and obelisks to elevate uncommon elements, and by all means repurpose broken and worn objects, staging them with plants spilling over their boundaries for increased garden dimension and to pique visitor interest!

Experiment and have fun, it’s your garden space so make reflect your personality! Don’t be afraid to fill gaps in beds with plants, flowers, and other objects, found or new– the most beautiful flower bed ideas, borders and pots are teaming with color and plants of multiple heights and varying structure and texture.

Mass planting areas

Dramatic visual impact can be easily obtained by planting bulbs, annuals or perennials in groups of 5 or more. Using odd-numbered multiples of plants, an ‘island’ of color is created. Utilize plants of varying heights, bloom or foliage color, and texture to increase the aesthetic. Maximize mass plantings visual appeal with separation, creating borders and boundaries between plantings which outline the plants.

Low maintenance

Gardeners, we really can have it all in our gardens but this to occur planning is required! Determine how much time you have available to maintain the planting area, since it required considerable time, energy, and money to create it.

Be realistic since time must be dedicated to maintaining the area, to keep it looking its best. Understanding time constraints, and availability for maintenance is a critically important determining plant selection. Fortunately, there are many low maintenance plants, as most trees, shrubs, and grasses require little, or no maintenance.

Each can provide height, and structure, while increasing “curb appeal.” Topiaries are another way to reduce garden maintenance, often only requiring a light trim annually.

Selecting native or drought tolerant plants, reduce watering frequency during the dog days of summer, so gardeners can ‘conveniently’ forget to water or choose not too!

To have all your gardening questions answered or for more detailed information, email Texas Certified Master Gardener John Green of Orange County Master Gardeners at or contact the Orange County Master Gardeners Helpline 409-882-7010 or visit /, Facebook: Orange County Texas Master Gardeners Association or email