Consider your backyard's layout before you put a single plant in the ground.

By Caitlin Brown
March 24, 2021
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woman watering plants before planting
Credit: sturti / Getty Images

If you take the time to carefully consider your garden's layout before putting down any roots, your blooms are sure to thrive. While there are several factors to consider when planting—whether you are revamping your space or starting from scratch—mapping out the exact whereabouts of each variety ensures they receive optimal sun, shade, and protection from the elements. If visualizing the layout feels tricky, gardening expert Molly E. Williams suggests putting it down on paper. "When I'm starting to garden in a new space, I always draw it out. Get out there, take some measurements, and make some observations," she shares. Here, she walks us through exactly what you need to consider during the planning process.

Consider how your plants will be exposed to the elements. 

Even beginners will know that plants require light and water to thrive, but you may not know that some plants actually prefer shade over sunshine. Williams suggests noting the direction at which the sun hits your garden to ensure this aligns with the appropriate amount of sunlight for your beds. You should also mark the amount of exposure your beds will have to harsh elements, like frost or strong winds; you may need to provide shelter or covering for your perennial plants come winter.

Take note of the location of your water source. 

An often overlooked detail? The distance from your beds to your water source. "Will you have to drag the hose all the way around your house to water, or is it in a more convenient location? What are the non-movable obstacles that you might have to work around (fences or concrete barriers, for example) and how will you do that?" asks Williams. Plants that need less water are better placed further away from the hose's reach; those that require daily waterings should be planted closer.

Choose a mix of annuals and perennial plants.

Once you've assessed the condition of your garden and have an understanding of which plants will thrive there, it's time to hone in on the details: Start by selecting which types of flowers you'd like to plant. Most gardens feature a mix of both perennials and annuals; perennials bloom for a shorter period of time, but come back year after year, while annuals blossom for most of the season, but only the once. Williams suggests beginning with the former. "Many gardeners set the 'bones' of their garden with perennials, and then fill in each year with different annuals for a fresh take," she shares.

Think about height. 

While it may seem like enough to simply focus on obvious attributes like color, Williams encourages utilizing plants that have varied heights and sizes when mapping out your garden. Much like styling a bookshelf, arranging a bouquet, or creating a tablescape for a dinner party, including variety in height and shape ultimately creates a more interesting final design. Overall, Williams suggests having fun and allowing yourself to get creative. "Think of your garden as a blank canvas. Play around with the idea of different sized plants and how they can work for your vision." 

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