Picking perfect plants means knowing the space


Brian Hallett in the main greenhouse at Halletts' Florist and Greenhouse, Adams. Photo by Justin Sorensen.

Look out any window and it’s hard to believe another gardening season has begun in Northern New York. We believe that no matter how our garden turned out last year this will be the year to have the garden of our dreams. As you head to your favorite local garden center, farmers market or road-side stand, think about the amount of sunlight that your intended planting site receives. This is the single most important factor to consider when choosing flowering annual or perennial plants.

If full sun-loving species are planted in shade, the results are usually spindly, unhealthy plants that provide few blooms and color. In many cases they eventually starve and die due to insufficient sunlight. On the other hand, if shade-loving plants are placed in full sun, they often become stunted with small, thickened, burned leaves and produce few flowers.

Matching plants with their light requirement is so important because the amount of light that an area receives is either permanent or is the most difficult condition to change in the landscape. If determined by a soil test, we can make changes in the soil texture by adding amendments. The fertility level can be changed by adding or withholding nutrients and the soil moisture can be adjusted to some degree by watering practices.

Changing the amount of light on the other hand, generally requires major and sometimes impractical procedures such as tree planting or removal and the addition or removal of other shading structures, such as your neighbor’s house.

I would encourage you to start your adventure in plant selection at a local garden center. Local garden centers are owned and operated by “plant people” who know what grows well in your area and will be able to help you select plants for your planting site or containers. Many local garden centers will help you create a list of plants for your site and even draw you a planting map at no charge. As you choose flowering annuals and perennials for the spring and summer, look at and consider many different species including vines, as well as tall and low-growing annuals and perennials.

There were two major considerations each time that a desired plant species is found: What is the mature size and does it need full sunlight or shade? I have found knowing the mature size of a plant is necessary when choosing a plant that will remain in scale with the container, window box and landscape surroundings.

Each year my plant selection adventure (which is more fun when I bring along a gardening friend) reaffirms my belief that it is much easier to select annuals, perennials and vines for a sunny area than to select for a shady one. With a few exceptions, the most colorful plants generally require lots of light and the list of shade-loving or shade-tolerant plants is much shorter.

Always ask your local garden center about each plant’s light requirement and size at maturity before making a purchase. When present, plant tags may provide this information, but it’s good to ask a local gardener what their experience with a plant has been. Some plants to consider for shady spots in the landscape include clematis, hops and black-eyed Susan vine which can be grown as vines. Some ground covers for use under low light conditions are English ivy, hosta, periwinkle and crepe myrtle.

Areas that receive partial shade, roughly defined as filtered sunlight or sun for half of the day, allow for the successful use of many other flowering plants. These include begonias, coleus, dusty miller, impatiens, vinca, blue sage, daisy, daylily, phlox and verbena.

Every gardener spends some time looking for something new. Plants that surprise are the new varieties of both coleus and begonias. The new coleus will grow in conditions of full sun to full shade. Some varieties trail and others will grow from 12 inches to 22 inches tall. My favorite begonias are the dragon wing or angel wing begonias. These begonias are wind tolerant and will grow in full sun to full shade.

So, embrace the short growing season we enjoy in the north country and get the biggest bang for your buck by spending some time matching the light requirements of the plants you purchase to your site.

Brian Hallett is an art teacher at South Jefferson Central School in Adams and his family owns Halletts’ Florist and Greenhouse in Adams, which has been in business for nearly 30 years.