Successful, well-designed and attractive landscapes include beds with layers of plants and a variety of shapes, textures and colors. Strategically placed anchor plants, evergreen foundation shrubs, medium-size perennials and small border plants all work together to create a pretty palette.
But many gardeners ask, “How do I know which plants to put where? How do I select the correct size for my space?”
Plants grow, and some of them grow a lot once they’re out of that tiny pot you bought and nestled in your lovely garden. Planting too close together creates more work later as you struggle to prune all the time or are forced to remove plants to allow enough space for them all to thrive. Believe nursery tags and nursery staff, and follow the guidelines in your research.
The plants in the front of your layered bed will be ground covers or border plants. For most gardens, these plants typically don’t get much bigger than about 18 inches tall. There are, of course, exceptions, depending on the overall scope and proportion of the landscape, whether it’s a very small space or a sizable piece of property.
The true test is how they will look in comparison to the next line or area of plants behind them in the bed. Border plants should provide a contrast in size between layers and should look good together, combining different colors, textures and shapes.
When picking border plants, the first order of business is to determine the amount of sun or shade that your border gets. When the sun is at different points in the sky in the winter, it’s not a true reflection of how plants will fare when heat-stressed. I try to consider conditions in the worst of summer because those days are so intense.
The terms full sun, full shade, part sun and part shade are associated with specific amounts. Full sun means a site gets at least six full hours of sun most days. But here in Central Texas, some plants labeled full sun may still struggle if that’s all blistering afternoon sun. Do your research to determine if there are any limits on tolerance that might apply.
Full shade doesn’t mean no sun at all. Labels calling for full shade conditions refer to less than three hours of sunlight each day, and filtered light the remainder of the day. In the Austin area, those three hours simply cannot fully expose plants in the heat of the day. A little dappled morning light and good afternoon shade is a much better guide for us.
Part sun and part shade are sometimes used to mean similar conditions, with slight adjustments leaning in either direction. Generally, these designations refer to between three and six hours of exposure on most days. Part sun means plants will need the minimum sun requirements to set flowers and bloom. Part shade also means protecting your plants from the intense afternoon sun, allowing them some sun at other times. As always, discussing your situation with nursery staff can provide more detailed information.
Some beautiful border plants for Central Texas include:
Agave (some varieties)
Bat face cuphea
Four nerve daisy
Dwarf Mexican petunia
Sedge (some varieties)
Yuccas (some varieties)
Border plants don't have to be planted in a straight line. You also can cluster plants in sections according to size, color or texture. Place them in drifts in front of the next section of larger plants based on which ones look best together.
Many annuals also make excellent border plants, adding color and interest at specific times throughout the year and allowing you to change out your look with the seasons.