The 10 Garden Catalog Rules

Most of us hate rules, myself included…so why does the title of this article contain the word “rules”?  Actually, they’re not so much “rules” per se, but guidelines to help make the most of the garden catalog perusing experience and application for better outdoor living in the landscape.   

One.  Need a landscape sketch.  It’s super important to start with a visual representation of the landscape; where the house, buildings, driveway, pasture, fences, etc are located, so that existing plantings can be evaluated and new ones considered.

Two.  Where are the “holes”?  A list of needs, otherwise referred to as holes, is a good identifier.  They could be actual gaps in the landscape or places where trees/shrubs/fruits are dying and need to be replaced.

Three.  USDA Hardiness Zones 4 and 5.  In Nebraska, we’re in zones 4 (north and west) and 5 (east and southeast).  Before you get too excited about the description, be sure to note the hardiness zone.  If it is zone 6 or greater, move on to another potential plant.

Four.  Plants with built in disease resistance.  Resistance to diseases such as apple scab, fireblight and rust are great features of a particular species or cultivar.  Big money savings and reduced pesticide applications are the benefits of disease resistance.

Five.  Size and Shape.  How big will the plant grow?  How wide?  The eventual size and shape of a plant makes a big difference and will determine if it is sustainable in a landscape.  Stuffing a medium to large plant into a small space usually means frustration and repeated pruning efforts.

Six.  Location, Location, Location.  Sun and shade, wind and soil – these are the important considerations.  Hostas, bergenia and pachysandra belong in the shade; putting them in the full sun is only going to lead to disappointment.

Seven.  Consider Views.  Especially in winter, a landscape is viewed from inside the house.  Be sure to look from the inside out when making plant selections.

Eight.  Color in all seasons.  Dovetailed on the views rule, looking at only brown stems and grass can get kinda boring in February.  Fortunately, all types of plants with winter interest are available.  Winter features include colorful bark, persistent fruit, evergreen leaves and stems that sway in the wind.

Nine.  Need accent plants AND neutral plants.  Both attention getters and plants that fill in the gaps are needed in a landscape.  If you fill the spaces with plants that all scream  for attention, your eye doesn’t know where to go first, leading to an overwhelming feeling and dissatisfaction.  Choose wisely.

Ten.   Try one new plant.  Hundreds of plants are introduced each year.  Feel free to experiment with something that looks fun and attractive.   If you are leery of a specific plant, look for the AAS (All America Selection) or PW (Proven Winner) logo.  It’s a good place to start.

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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