Searchable plant database? How do you find out what's available?

thane(z8 Bellevue, WA)May 16, 2006

Hi there. I'm a newbie who's trying to decide on some plants to fill an area in the front of my house.

I have consulted some landscape design books, and I know the following steps to approaching this problem:

Figure out your zone

Figure out how much sunlight the area gets

Figure out the soil type and pH

Decide how big you want the plant to get

My question is: What does one do next when deciding on what to use in a given situation? I'm thinking there must be some kind of searchable database on the web that will let you do an advanced search that shows only:

evergreen shrubs, hardy in zone 8, that like acidic soil, that don't get over 3' tall

Does such a database exist? If not, what do you use?

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Local nurseries are probably your best bet. Many will have plants arranged by mature size and by sun/shade preferences and other distinguishing characteristics. Better nurseries (NOT HD, Lowes, Walmart, Fred Meyer, etc) will typically have a rather experienced and knowledgeable sales staff that can answer further questions.

One of the drawbacks of a "universal" data base is that not all zone 8 climates are the same (i.e. Texas, Georgia and Washington), sun conditions in our far northerly zone 8 are rather different than in others, and data bases also tend to be rather static and due to potential size, almost impossible to maintain with regards to new cultivars or local availability and more regional issues such as disease or pest problems.

The best data base is one that you cultivate or construct yourself, but that can take many years of gardening experience and a thorough knowledge of the plants. In lieu of that, ask a local expert :-)

    Bookmark   May 18, 2006 at 11:12AM
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meldy_nva(z6b VA)

But before you go shopping, I think there should be one more "figure out" on your list: Figure out what YOU want!

That means knowing not only all those other figure-outs, but deciding what does and does not appeal to you - formal or casual? lots of annuals or lots of perennials? mostly flowers or all evergreens or great expanses of lawn or fresh vegs or fruit trees or maybe bonsai? is lots of pruning okay or would it better be if the landscape were mostly self-maintaining? Most of us have a general idea of what we like - however, this is *your* landscape so please yourself first - but going through a stack of garden magazines or driving around and just looking at what other folks have done can help clarify your preferences.

And self-honesty is supremely important: how much time and effort will you *really* spend each week? Does your idea of a great Saturday mean going boating all day- or pulling weeds all morning followed by hauling mulch for several hours- or laying back in the hammock? The less time you have available in combination with the less effort you may want to expend on the garden means that you need to choose both plants and a planting style that appeals to you esthetically but doesn't require a many hours of labors every week. OTOH, if you adore roses and would rather train canes than relax in a lounge chair, then you can plan your landscape around roses (or whatever the magic plant may be).

Knowing what you do -or don't- want will be a big help in narrowing the planting choices to a manageable number, and the rest of "landscaping" is mostly following a few sensible rules (those first figure-outs you listed); setting reasonable and realistic goals; listening to others who have done the same thing [who may or may not be experts, but you can learn lots from somebody else's experience]; and then accepting that both gardens and gardeners change as time passes.

Oh yes, and 2 things about hardscape: always make a comfortable weatherproof chair your first purchase, and remember that it's easier to put the path where the wheelbarrow needs to go than it is to fix the lawn after dragging the mulch across the grass because there wasn't a path.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2006 at 2:03PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

BRILLIANT...gardengal and meldy! Great answers.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2006 at 2:25PM
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thane(z8 Bellevue, WA)

Thanks for the thoughtful and informative replies, gardengal and meldy.

For any other newbies following this topic, I found the Oregon State University gardening page to be a great resource. I'm guessing it's focused on the PNW region, but someone from Wisconsin told me about it, so I think its information is useful for other areas too.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2006 at 2:34PM
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