A website from UGA Cooperative Extension

by Pam Rentz, Fulton County Master Gardener Extension Volunteer

This article is part of Garden Buzz, a series from Appen Media and the North Fulton Master Gardeners, where rotating columnists explore horticulture topics like herbs, insects, and wildlife conservation. Find all Garden Buzz articles here.

Are you thinking about making changes to your garden this year? Now is the time to consider what plants to add (and what to remove). I view a great garden as a well thought-out play. The spotlight moves, and there’s always something going on to engage your interest. Watching the same scene, day in and day out, gets boring. So, just as there are key elements that make up a good play, there are tips to keep in mind to make your home landscape entertaining all year long.

Establish goals and roles

Whether you want your garden to provide your own farm-to-table vegetables, attract more birds and butterflies, or be a peaceful retreat where you can stop and smell the roses (or gardenias) at the end of the day, it helps to have a plan in mind. Improv can be entertaining, yet sometimes a performance is better if it follows a basic script. For example, if you would like to see butterflies, consider planting asters, anise hyssop, bee balm, Black-eyed Susan, Joe Pye weed (a.k.a. Swallowtail Delight), milkweed, coneflowers, sunflowers, and zinnias. In Georgia, milkweeds (Asclepias species) are host plants for Monarch caterpillars.

Year-round interest

Identify roles for your landscape plantings, keeping in mind any bloom times. Each season, new plants enter the spotlight. Camellias, daffodils, azaleas, dogwood trees, roses, hydrangeas, abelias, asters and our fall foliage call for oohs and aahs during different seasons. A supporting cast of reliable evergreen plantings adds structure and can also provide privacy. Foliage, branches, sizes, shapes, and textures all catch the eye. Blue, yellow, gray, reddish, jade are all intriguing shades of green. Remember, monocultures are not only unhealthy, but they’re also boring.

Ferns and coral bells (Heuchera) provide interesting textures and colors in the landscape. Image by the author.

Right plant in the right place

What role do you want a plant to play in your landscape, and what’s the best spot? Trees, shrubs and woody perennials are your key performers. When choosing plants such as trees and shrubs, keep in mind what their mature size will be. Consider scale, distance in relation to your house and location. On a hill, plants at the top play a different role than those at the bottom. Also, landscapes have both sunny and shady areas.  Morning sun is different than afternoon sun. Full sun is at least six hours of direct sunlight. Consider sun, soil, moisture level, spacing, and temperature when selecting plants. Make sure your plant’s needs match those conditions at the site you choose. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has updated the plant hardiness zone map in 2023, and it’s getting warmer.

Soil testing

To optimize your plantings, it’s helpful to know nutrient levels and soil pH. Don’t automatically assume you should simply add fertilizer. (Full disclosure: I killed a bed of beautiful dianthus by doing this.) Take soil samples from various spots in your landscape. For a small fee, soil tests for basic soil nutrients and minerals can be obtained at UGA Extension Fulton County. 

Do no harm

Invasive plant species are known to harm the environment. In Georgia, kudzu, English ivy, Chinese privet, and Nandina are among those plants considered invasive. For more information, Invasive Plants of the Southeast by the State Botanical Garden of Georgia and The Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance lists the top 20 invasive species.

Certify your yard through UGA’s Georgia Green Landscape Stewards program, and receive this yard sign!

Consult reliable resources

The University of Georgia Extension, the Georgia Native Plant Society, NCSU’s Plant Toolbox, and Doug Tallamy’s Homegrown National Park websites are a few helpful online resources. The Georgia Green Landscape Stewards certification program developed by UGA Extension offers excellent information to help residents and businesses adopt sustainable landscape management. Plus, if your landscape meets the scorecard metrics, you can gain “Certified Georgia Landscape” status. (And have the option to purchase this sign for your yard!)

Visit wonderful gardens

Years ago a friend introduced me to the Charleston Festival of Houses and Gardens where we embarked on our own walking tour. It was a chance to see “behind the iron gates” of those wonderful private and public gardens that opened my eyes to possibilities I would have never considered.  During April, the Historic Garden Week in Virginia features tours throughout the state. The Brandywine Valley in northern Delaware and southeastern Pennsylvania also has many wonderful and inspiring gardens, including Winterthur, Longwood Gardens, Nemours Estate, Mt. Cuba Center and more. Keep a journal of your garden visits and what works and what doesn’t in your own garden. You’ll be glad you did!

Finally, have fun and enjoy yourself as you grow! Ralph Waldo Emerson was a wise man: “Nature is not a place to visit, it is home.”

Happy Gardening!

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About the Author

This week’s guest Master Gardener “Garden Buzz” columnist is Pam Rentz. Pam lives in Roswell and has been a North Fulton Master Gardener since 2010. Along with a background in marketing communications for tech companies, she has a longtime passion for plants and our planet.