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Plant Selection

Coming soon: Plant Elements of Design, A Plant Selection Program

Plant selection is a very important step in the Landscape Design Sequence. The process of plant selection begins in the Draft Design stage and is finished in the Completed Landscape Design.

Elements of Design are the characteristics we use in the selection of plants.  Choosing the right plant for the right place and purpose adds greatly to the sustainability of a landscape.

Plant Elements of Design: A Plant Selection Program

The Plant Elements of Design program was developed to support the landscape design process by providing designers and architects the opportunity to select plants with specific characteristics. Plants are chosen based on plant type, height, width, texture, seasonal interest, and other characteristics.

This program is useful as a reference for nurseries, garden centers, educators, landscape contractors, grounds managers and maintenance firms. While the Plant Elements of Design program is intended primarily for plant selection, it may also be used, to a limited extent, for plant identification and site evaluation.

Plant Elements of Design was developed for use in Minnesota and the North Central United States. All perennial plants in the database are considered hardy in USDA zone 4. Adjoining zones are also indicated.

Plants are divided into two sections: "Woody" and "Herbaceous" plants. The "Woody" plant section includes deciduous and evergreen shrubs, trees and groundcovers. The "Herbaceous" plant section includes perennials, annuals, wildflowers, bulbs, ferns, and ornamental grasses.

The information provided for each plant is based on the knowledge and experience of University of Minnesota specialists and industry professionals.

Searching for plants

First decide if the plant you are searching for is woody or herbaceous. Click on the appropriate choice in the upper right of the program screen.

When using this program, click on the "Search" tab and use the pull-down boxes to indicate specific criteria for which to search. The more categories entered, the more narrowed the results will be. For example, if you search for a plant that is 4-5 feet wide, you will get a large number of matches. If you search for a plant that is 4-5 feet wide, has spring seasonal interest, and is disease resistant, the number of matches will be significantly reduced. If you add yet another criteria, such as food for wildlife, the number of matches will be reduced to just a few or no matches.

From a design standpoint, most searches will be done first by plant type, then by height and width, then by texture, and then by other criteria, such as seasonal interest. For herbaceous plants, flower color will also be important search criteria.

Searches for plants can be based on the following characteristics:

Plant Type: This includes such choices as "Evergreen Tree" or "Deciduous Shrub" for woody plants, or "Hardy Perennial" or "Fern" for herbaceous plants. Use the pull-down arrows in the search mode to see the available plant types.

Plant Height, Plant Width: For woody plants, these categories indicate the expected mature size of the plant when informally pruned. An unpruned plant could get larger, and most plants could be kept smaller with more intensive pruning.

The width indicated for herbaceous perennials refers to the width of a well-established plant, usually 3-4 years old. Herbaceous perennials need division at different ages, depending on the species, and therefore the width can vary greatly. The widths in this program, however, can be used for spacing purposes during the design process.

Texture: Texture refers to the visual fineness or coarseness of the foliage and branches. Use the pull-down arrows in the search mode to see available choices.

Form: This describes the overall shape of the plant, such as upright or spreading. Use the pull-down arrows in the search mode to see available plant forms.

Seasonal Interest: This category refers to the season, such as spring or fall, when the plant has exceptional seasonal interest. Use the pull-down arrows in the search mode to see available choices.

Flower Color: This category is included only in the "Herbaceous" plant section. If the blossoms on a plant have more than one color, such as a blue and white iris, the plant will be listed under a search for either color. Use the pull-down arrows in the search mode to see available choices.

Other Seasonal Interest: For herbaceous plants only, this category provides information about seasonal interest other than flower color, such as foliage color.

Seasonal Interest Specifics: This category is included only in the "Woody" plant section. It provides information about a plant's seasonal interest, such as flowers or fall foliage color.

Use: Most plants can be used in a variety of ways. This category lists up to three of the best uses for each plant. Use the pull-down arrows in the search mode to see available choices.

Growth: The speed of growth relative to other plants of its type, such as slow, medium or fast, is indicated in this category. Use the pull-down arrows in the search mode to see available choices.

Diseases, Insects: While most plants are susceptible to insects or diseases if conditions are right or the plant is stressed, insect or diseases are noted in this program only if the particular plant is highly susceptible or resistant to specific pests. Use the pull-down arrows in the search mode to see available choices.

Light: This category indicates the best light conditions for each plant. In general, "Partial Sun" means at least 6 hours of sunlight each day. Use the pull-down arrows in the search mode to see available choices.

Hardiness Zones: USDA hardiness zones for each plant are listed. All perennial plants are hardy to USDA zone 4 without protection, unless otherwise noted. Use the pull-down arrows in the search mode to see available choices.

Soil: Most plants can survive in a wide range of soil conditions, when given proper care and maintenance. This category lists soil conditions for which plants are especially adapted. Use the pull-down arrows in the search mode to see available choices.

Name searches

You can also search for a plant based on its name. Entering the word "maple" in the name section while in "Woody" plants, then clicking on the "Search" button, will give you a listing of all maples in the database.

When purchasing plants selected through this program, it's important to use the scientific names to insure getting the correct plants since common names can vary greatly.

Search results

The results from your search will be listed on the right side of the screen. Simply highlight a plant of interest to display specific information about that plant. Clicking on the "Pictures" tab will display available slides, up to three slides for woody plants or two for herbaceous plants.

Printing search results

If you are using the CD version of this program, once you have chosen a plant, you can send the information either directly to your printer or to an Excel spreadsheet. The "Printer" option will print all information and slides for the selected plant on one sheet. The "Print to Excel" feature can be used to generate a list of plants with different characteristics. By clicking "Print to Excel," the highlighted plant will be added to a spreadsheet. You can then conduct more searches for plants with different criteria, printing each one to the same Excel spreadsheet, thereby creating a plant list. When you have completed all of your searches and quit the program, it will ask you to name the spreadsheet where it will save all of your selected plants. You can then open that spreadsheet and, using Excel methods, customize your spreadsheet as desired by deleting columns, adding titles, etc. For landscape designers, this customized spreadsheet can be printed and applied as a legend directly to the landscape design.

If you are using the web version of this program, you can print data for individual plants using your web browser.

If you have the CD version of the Plant Elements of Design program, you can customize it by adding plants or changing information as necessary. Plant Elements of Design makes this process easy and fast. Updates of the Plant Elements of Design CD will be available periodically as new plants are released.

The information given in this publication is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by University of Minnesota Extension is implied.

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