Choosing the Best Plant

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
One of the most common questions horticulturists hear is “what is the best plant for _____location? Alas, if only it were that easy. The short answer is it depends. Since that answer is frustrating to most and of little value, here are a few ways to determine how to begin choosing plants for specific sites.

For the novice, a good place to start is finding plants growing in similar environmental conditions to your own site. Explore the area and see what appeals to you in the landscape. Public gardens such as the Botanic Garden at OSU are great places to do this.

Once you begin to narrow down what appeals to you, its time to think about the function of the plant. What is its purpose in the landscape? For example, if the plant’s primary role is to provide privacy, you probably want an evergreen so it will be an effective screen year around.

Next, consider environmental factors critical to plant growth such as the light availability (sun vs. shade), moisture requirements and plant hardiness zone rating (7).

In general, landscape plants are fairly tolerant of some variation in light conditions although most perform best under a narrower range. It should be noted that Oklahoma summers are sunny and intense so 6-7 hours of direct sunlight will usually be adequate for “full sun” plants. For landscape plantings adjacent to buildings, observance of which side a building a healthy plant is growing on can offer a good hint on its preferred growing conditions. Plants that excel on the south and west sides of buildings are going to tend to do well in hot sunny conditions. Plants prospering on the north or east side of buildings will help indicate their ability to tolerate, or even prosper, in shade.

Searching for plants that thrive in your soil conditions is also important. For Payne County residents, shallow soils high in clay are those most limiting to healthy landscape plant growth. On the other extreme are the sandy soils adjacent to the Cimarron River near Perkins. While we can make some accommodation to modify soil, simply selecting a plant that prefers the existing soil is a much more effective option.

For more information on this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at
keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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