Woody Plants for Landscapes

The proper selection and placement of woody plants such as trees, shrubs, and groundcovers are the key components in designing a beautiful landscape. Woody plants are not only for beautification, but they can also provide living walls for privacy, shaded canopies, and attractive groundcovers.

Plant Hardiness

Your selection of plants should take into account the hardiness of the woody plant, which means the plant withstanding the weather conditions in your area required for the plant to thrive and grow. Can the plant survive the climate conditions you live in? In my area, the Midwest, that means I have to check to see if the plant is adaptable to cold winters, hot summers, fluctuations in temperature, extreme humidity levels, moisture cycles, and so on.

Check Out: USDA Hardiness Zones

Try Using Microclimates

Microclimates are small landscape areas within larger ones that differ in climate due to environmental conditions such as the slope of the land, the position of the sun, or objects located nearby. For example, a building wall on a slope facing the south side may provide enough heat to plant a woody plant that normally would not thrive in your zone. I once went on an herbal retreat to the Ozarks and there was a huge Rosemary bush growing near a building facing the south. There was a small overhang from the roof of the building, that helped protect the bush and I was told the bush was 10 years old. These environmental conditions enabled the bush, which normally would not survive in this zone, to withstand the sometimes very harsh winters and to thrive.

Soil Conditions

Soil conditions play a major part in producing healthy plants, which is why it is important to have your soil analyzed for its pH content. You can do this by use of soil testing kits or by sending soil samples to a laboratory to be tested. Heavily clayed and drought-prone soils will need additives in order to produce well-drained soil. If you have these types of soils, be sure to select plants that will adapt and grow in these conditions.

Check Out: How to Heal Urban Soil


When planning your landscape design choose woody plants that compliment the area all year long. This may difficult to some new gardeners doing their landscaping in the spring, as they will be looking at and possibly swayed by shrubs that are currently blooming. Ask the nursery owners if they have pictures of the shrub from the summer or fall seasons or look them up on the Internet.

Try to choose woody plants with extended blooming periods for summer and fall seasons, and those with interesting bark texture, or ones that produce fruits or seed pods for winter.

Check Out: Fragrant Winter Shrubs

Woody Plant Shapes and Size

Shapes and sizes of woody plants need to be considered for you landscape area. That 12-inch Japanese maple may look great right now next to the corner of your home, but what will it look like in 10 years!

Check Out: How to Use Bark for Winter Interest

Often woody plants are planted too close together or too close to buildings, causing the plants to die or structural damage to the buildings. In addition, planting woody plants next to buildings could prevent them from growing as they were intended, in that they may grow crooked or bent. Your landscape should include a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors to bring beauty to the area year round.

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