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Module 2: What Are The Different Plant Types?

Most gardens have various plant types, including perennials, annuals, shrubs, and trees. You can properly care for them if you know the various types and how they grow. In addition, they each contribute a unique element to the garden, ensuring it remains attractive throughout the year.

In this section of our Beginners Gardening Course, you will learn about the different plant types to properly select and are for them.

Garden design principles
Mix of plant types in a garden in perfect harmony

Lesson Objectives

In this lesson, you will learn:

  • What the different plant types are
  • Why a variety of plant types should be used in a garden
  • The difference between a deciduous and evergreen plant

Annuals

Annual plants are plants that complete their life cycle within a single year. This means that they grow from seed, develop into a mature plant, produce flowers, and eventually die, all within a 12-month period. Unlike perennial plants that can live for many years, annuals complete their entire life cycle in a single growing season.

In the summer, annual plants produce bright, eye-catching flowers that can add a lot of colour and interest to a garden. They also produce seeds that can be collected and used to grow new plants the following year.

There are two types of annual plants: hardy and half-hardy. Hardy annuals can withstand cold temperatures and can be sown outdoors in the spring, usually in March or April, or in the autumn, in September. This means they can be planted directly in the ground without the need for indoor seed.

Examples include Marigolds, Petunias, and Zinnias. Annuals are great for adding colour to your garden or containers, but they must be replanted yearly. They can grow in various conditions, but most prefer full sun and well-draining soil.

On the other hand, half-hardy annuals cannot withstand cold temperatures and should be started indoors in the spring before being planted outdoors in May or June after the danger of frost has passed. This extra protection will help ensure that the plants have a chance to grow and thrive before the cold weather sets in.

Biennials

A biennial plant is a type of plant that has a two-year life cycle. During the first year, the plant grows leaves, stems, and roots but does not produce any flowers or fruit. Instead, it stores energy in its roots or stems for the second year. In the second year, the plant uses the stored energy to grow flowers, and produce seeds, then dies.

This means that if you plant a biennial plant in your garden this year, it will grow foliage but won’t bloom until the next year. So, you will need to wait for two growing seasons before you can enjoy the flowers or fruits from that plant.

Perennials

Perennials live for at least three years. They are referred to as “herbaceous perennials” on occasion. In the summer, they may bloom for several months. Two kinds exist:

Hardy perennials can live through the winter and are planted year-round. When they seem to “disappear” in the winter, don’t be alarmed; this is a way for them to survive the cold. Their foliage returns, but the rootstock remains underground dormant. In the spring, new shoots then appear.

Examples include Hostas, Daylilies, and Peonies. Perennials are an excellent investment for your garden since they come back year after year, but they may take a few years to become established. They can grow in various conditions, but most prefer well-draining soil and some shade.

Half-hardy perennials must be brought indoors in the winter because they cannot withstand the cold. Growing this kind of plant in a pot makes it easier to move it around. Alternatively, you could annually plant new plants.

Shrubs

Hydrangea shrub

Shrubs, like roses, hydrangeas and lavender, have woody branches and no trunk. They can be deciduous, which means they shed their leaves in the winter; evergreen, which means they keep their leaves all year long; or semi-evergreen, which means they keep their leaves even in mild winters. Shrubs provide flowers, attractive foliage, vibrant autumn leaves, or berries, add structure, and can last many years. When cut into pleasing shapes, evergreen varieties can be used as topiary.

Examples include Azaleas, Boxwoods, and Hydrangeas. Shrubs are great for adding structure to your garden and providing privacy, but they can take a few years to become established. They can grow in various conditions, but most prefer well-draining soil and some sun.

Tasks:

Try to identify any shrubs and perennials in your garden or another one near you. Try to visit some local gardens and identify any shrubs or perennials that you like the look of.

Trees

Small trees infront of house

Compared to shrubs, trees have a trunk and are larger. They can be evergreen or deciduous. You can plant a tree in any garden, no matter how small; it will change colour throughout the year and serve as a high-rise wildlife home.

Examples include Oak, Maple, and Pine trees. Trees are great for providing shade and shelter for wildlife, but they can take a long time to grow. They can grow in various conditions, but most prefer well-draining soil and some sun.

Climbers

Wisteria climbing up side of house

Climbers require support in the form of a trellis, arch, fence, or wall as they ascend. They are especially useful in small gardens because they occupy little space. Use them to cover fences and walls and around seating areas like a pergola.

Examples include clematis, ivy, and wisteria. Climbing plants are great for adding vertical interest to your garden or covering unsightly walls or fences, but they may need some support to climb. They can grow in various conditions, but most prefer well-draining soil and some sun.

Bulbs

Gardener Planting Bulbs

There are numerous types of bulbs, including true bulbs, corms, tubers, and rhizomes, which are underground storage organs. Summer-flowering bulbs are planted in the spring, whereas spring bulbs are planted in the fall. Daffodils, tulips, and dahlias are just a few of this group’s many well-known garden plants.

Examples include daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths. Bulbs are great for adding colour to your garden in the spring but must be planted in the fall. They can grow in various conditions, but most prefer well-draining soil and some sun.

Bedding Plants

Bedding Plants – Primroses

For a brief period of time, bedding plants are planted in pots, window boxes, flower borders, or bed borders. Bedding plants can be shrubs or bulbs, half-hardy annuals, or tender perennials used to add colour to flower beds or containers.

Examples include Impatiens, Begonias, and Geraniums. Bedding plants are great for adding instant colour to your garden but need regular watering and fertilizing. They can grow in various conditions, but most prefer well-draining soil and some sun.

Alpines

Alpine Plants

Alpines are low-growing, highly collectable plants that produce exquisitely small flowers in various vivid colours. Many of them are extremely hardy because they come from mountainous regions. Growing them is simple as long as you give them compost that drains well. They thrive in containers, where a small collection can provide an all-year-round cheerful display. Alpines are ideal for a collection of containers on a patio, doorstep, or breezy balcony if you have limited space.

Alpines include bulbs, shrubs, and herbaceous perennials. Most alpines thrive in rock gardens, raised beds, and containers because they prefer dry, sunny environments. They prefer a grit or gravel mulch applied to the soil’s surface to prevent their foliage from resting on damp ground. Established plants thrive in cold, exposed locations or during brief drought spells.

Examples include Saxifrage, Alpine Aster, and Arctic Poppy. Alpines are great for adding a unique and exciting look to your garden, but they need well-draining soil and some sun. They are also cold-hardy and can tolerate freezing temperatures.

Aquatic Plants

Plants are essential to any pond because they bring it to life, add colour and interest, conceal the liner, and entice wildlife of all kinds. These other daring and beautiful plants can make your pond the main attraction of your garden, whether in the water or around the damp edges. As a result of their need for a particular depth of water, many aquatic plants will struggle if placed outside of their natural habitat. Additionally, some dislike flowing water.

Cacti & Succulents

Image of Cacti Plants

Cacti and succulents are attractive houseplants that are simple to grow and require little upkeep due to their drought tolerance. In sunny, well-drained conditions, a few can also be grown outdoors. Promptly accessible in extraordinary variety, these frequently economical plants are entrancing and exceptionally collectable. Succulents and cacti are easily identified by their fleshy stems and leaves containing water storage. They come in a huge variety of colours, shapes, and forms. Some are covered in spines, others are smooth or furry, some are gently rounded, and others are angular and sculptural. Some of them are covered in spines. They usually like high temperatures, dry air, low moisture, and good drainage. However, some do thrive in humid conditions and semi-shade. An excess of water may slow or halt their growth or cause rot.

Examples include Prickly Pear, Saguaro, and Barrel Cactus. Cacti are great for adding a desert look to your garden but need well-draining soil and lots of sunlight. They can also tolerate drought and hot temperatures.

Ferns

Ferns are lush plants with leaves that come in various shapes, sizes, and textures. Evergreen and deciduous varieties and ferns prefer moist soil or dry soil, like under trees. Ferns are non-flowering plants that reproduce by spores. They typically have fronds that unfurl from a centre and can range in size from a few inches to several feet.

Examples include lady fern, ostrich fern, and maidenhair fern. Ferns are great for adding texture and a lush, tropical look to your garden, but they need a moist environment and some shade. They can grow in various soil types, but most prefer well-draining soil.

Grasses

Grasses, and grass-like rushes and sedges, make a magnificent addition to any garden. True grasses like bamboo and ornamental grasses generally prefer sunny, well-drained locations. Despite belonging to a different botanical family, sedges and rushes have leaves similar to grasses. They prefer damper conditions to grasses; some will happily grow in the shade. Grasses are herbaceous plants with long, narrow leaves that grow in clumps or as a lawn. They can be used for ornamental purposes or erosion control.

Examples include blue fescue, switchgrass, and bamboo. Grasses are great for adding texture and movement to your garden but may need regular easy maintenance. They can grow in various conditions, but most prefer well-draining soil and full sun.

Heathers

Heather in a clay pot

Heathers are compact, colourful garden plants. Most are easygoing, drought-tolerant, and low-maintenance plants requiring acidic soil. They produce a bounty of small blossoms across different seasons, which are important nectar hotspots for honey bees, particularly in winter.

Heathers are low-growing shrubs with evergreen foliage and small, colourful flowers that bloom in the spring or summer. They are typically used as a ground cover or in rock gardens.

Examples include Lingonberry, Wintergreen, and heather. Heathers are great for adding colour and texture to your garden, but they need well-draining soil and some sun. They also prefer acidic soil.

Hedges

Hedges are wildlife-friendly, beautiful, and adaptable living screens, edgings, or borders that enhance a garden. Depending on your preference, they can be formal or informal, large or small. Pick the hedging plants that complement your garden’s aesthetic. They will remain in good shape with annual maintenance.

Hedges are plants that are grown close together and pruned to form a barrier or boundary. They can be made from various plants, including shrubs, trees, or grasses.

Examples include Boxwood, Privet, and Yew. Hedges are great for adding privacy and structure to your garden, but they need regular pruning to maintain their shape. They can grow in various conditions, but most prefer well-draining soil and some sun.

Deciduous vs Evergreen

The leaves of deciduous plants fall off in the winter and reappear in the spring. They make a great, long-lasting part of the garden and are a great way to celebrate the changing of the seasons with flowers, fruits, new leaves, and appropriate colours.

Evergreen plants have leaves that stay on throughout the year, providing structure, colour, and interest. They look great as a backdrop for border plants, as a hedge, or on their own.

Below, Belle, a horticultural student and intern at Gardening Express, explains the difference between deciduous and evergreen plants.

Why use a mix of plants in your garden?

“An important part of designing a garden is putting plants together well. By taking into account various characteristics like plant type, size, and habit; shape of the leaf; colour of the flower and season of interest: a coordinated and harmonious planting scheme is possible.”

Says Chris Bonnett, a gardening expert for The Express Newspaper

Activity: Consider how your garden currently mixes different plant types. Identify what plant types you currently have. What plant types would you like to add or remove from the garden?

Coming Next

That’s it for today. Hopefully, you have more of an understanding of the different plant types and how to mix them in your garden. Keep referring to this page if you ever need to understand and identify a plant type.

Further Reading

Updated on March 14, 2024

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