Home Gardening Ornamental Plants: Adding Elegance and Charm to Your Landscape

Ornamental Plants: Adding Elegance and Charm to Your Landscape

by Michael Blount

A beautiful landscape full of vibrant colors, textures, and forms can truly transform an outdoor space. Ornamental plants are essential for creating an aesthetically pleasing and welcoming environment. This article will provide an in-depth look at how to effectively incorporate ornamental plants into your landscape design.

A thoughtfully designed landscape goes a long way in improving curb appeal and creating an inviting space for relaxing, entertaining, or simply enjoying nature. Ornamental plants are a key component of landscape design, adding visual interest, elegance, and charm. From dazzling flowers and majestic trees to vibrant foliage and sculptural grasses, ornamental plants enhance aesthetics and functionality.

This article will explore the world of ornamental plants, providing key information on how to choose the right varieties for your unique landscape and properly care for them. We’ll cover the benefits of ornamentals, tips for selection and design, and maintenance techniques. By the end, you’ll have the knowledge to effectively incorporate ornamentals into your outdoor space, creating a landscape brimming with beauty. A well-designed landscape using ornamentals can increase property value, provide privacy, and bring you joy for years to come.

Understanding Ornamental Plants

Before diving into design and planting, it’s important to build a foundation of knowledge on ornamental plants.

What Are Ornamental Plants?

Ornamental plants are those grown for decorative purposes in gardens and landscapes. They are chosen for qualities like interesting foliage, flowers, fruit, bark, or shape. The key difference between ornamental and utilitarian plants is that ornamentals serve an aesthetic rather than practical function. Though they may produce edible fruits or flowers, they are not grown with yield in mind. The objective is to create a visually appealing display.

Types of Ornamental Plants

There are many varieties of ornamental plants, offering endless options for visual interest.

Flowers: Flowering ornamentals are some of the most popular choices and provide stunning blooms for many seasons. Some examples include:

  • Annuals – Marigolds, petunias, zinnias
  • Bulbs – Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths
  • Perennials – Irises, peonies, coneflowers, orchids
  • Tropical Plants – Hibiscus, mandevilla, bougainvillea

Shrubs: Flowering shrubs like hydrangeas and azaleas add multi-season color and fullness. Evergreen shrubs like boxwoods and hollies lend year-round structure.

Trees: Ornamental trees display interest through flowers, foliage, bark textures, or shapes. Dogwoods, Japanese maples, magnolias, and cherry blossoms are prime examples.

Groundcovers: Perennials like ivy, phlox, sedum, and grasses make excellent groundcovers, adding diversity and landscape coverage.

Grasses: Ornamental grasses provide unique textures and motion. Some varieties include fountain grass, maiden grass, and pampas grass.

Succulents and Cacti: For arid climates, succulents like agave and aloe along with prickly pear or barrel cacti add rugged beauty.

Ferns: Delicate ferns offer lacy, soft textures and work well in shaded areas.

Vines: Climbing vines lend vertical interest along fences or arbors. Options include clematis, wisteria, trumpet vine, and jasmine.

Benefits of Ornamental Plants

Incorporating ornamentals into your landscape offers many advantages:

  • Enhanced beauty: Ornamentals provide diverse colors, shapes, and textures to create an aesthetically pleasing space.
  • Curb appeal: An attractive landscape and colorful flowering plants increase home value and make an impressive first impression.
  • Personal enjoyment: Ornamentals uplift your mood with natural beauty right outside your door.
  • Seasonal interest: Strategic plant choices allow some interest in every season, even winter.
  • Wildlife habitat: Many pollinators are attracted to flowering ornamentals. Plants, trees, and shrubs provide food and shelter for birds.
  • Privacy: Carefully arranged trees, hedges, trellises and arbors create secluded spaces within your landscape.
  • Climate moderation: Strategically placed plants help cool your yard and house in summer and block cold winds in winter, lowering energy costs.

Choosing the Right Ornamental Plants

Selecting the right ornamental plants for your landscape will create a cohesive, lush, and healthy space that thrives. Consider the following factors when making your plant choices:

Climate and Growing Zone

Select plants suited for your hardiness zone and microclimates within your yard. Consider heat, humidity, average rainfall and seasonal temperature changes. For example, tropical plants won’t survive winter in northern zones.

Sunlight Requirements

Determine sun exposure in all areas of your landscape. Choose plants appropriately suited for full sun, part sun, or full shade depending on placement.

Mature Size

Look at expected height and spread at maturity to allow enough room for plants to reach full growth without overcrowding.

Growth Habit

Choose plants with a shape and form that suits the desired area. For example, weeping trees for poolside areas or compact, neat shrubs near walkways and entries.

Color and Texture

For visual unity, build your landscape around a color and texture scheme. Repetition of colors, shapes and foliage effects creates cohesion.

Flowering Seasons

Select plants that bloom at different times to maintain floral interest in spring, summer and fall.

Combining Plants

Match plants with similar growing requirements and choose complementary characteristics to create an appealing, low-maintenance combination.

Here are some excellent ornamental plants for different landscape situations:

Shade Gardens: Hostas, astilbes, coral bells, oakleaf hydrangea, azaleas, impatiens, coleus

Sunny Borders and Beds: Petunias, marigolds, zinnias, roses, salvias, verbena, blanket flowers, Russian sage

Hedges and Screens: Boxwoods, hollies, arborvitae, privet, forsythia

Poolside Planting: Weeping willows, grasses, elephant ears, cannas, dwarf palms, hibiscus

Walkways and Entries: Hydrangeas, flowering shrubs, knockout roses, Japanese maples, ornamental grasses, agapanthus

Water Gardens: Water lilies, lotus, papyrus, pickerel weed, corkscrew rush, parrot’s feather

Drought-tolerant Gardens: Sedums, agave, aloe, yucca, red-hot poker, lavender, ornamental grasses

Designing Your Landscape with Ornamental Plants

Carefully arranging your chosen ornamental plants allows you to create an aesthetically pleasing, cohesive landscape. Thoughtful design enhances the innate beauty of your plants.

Importance of Landscape Design

A landscape design unifies the elements of your yard into a flowing, functional, and visually appealing space. Key aspects include:

  • Provides structure and organization
  • Creates emphasis and directs focus
  • Maximizes visual impact
  • Ties space together through repetition and flow
  • Provides comfort through strategic placement
  • Enhances architecture of home and hardscapes

Basic Principles of Landscape Design

Incorporating basic design principles creates a polished landscape:

  • Unity and repetition: Repeat colors, plant groupings, or hardscape elements
  • Contrast: Combine plants with varying textures, sizes, leaf shapes
  • Balance: Distribute plants evenly and arrange heights/shapes in balance
  • Focal points: Draw the eye to specimens like statues or water features
  • Line and curve: Use lines and curves in beds, walkways, and borders
  • Scale and proportion: Use plants of appropriate size for the space

Arranging Ornamental Plants

Some techniques for arranging ornamentals in your beds and borders:

Layers: Create vertical layers from tall trees to low ground covers.

Groupings: Group at least 3 plants of the same variety together for impact.

Thrillers, fillers and spillers: Combine upright thriller plants, filler plants for fullness and low spillers.

Repetition: Repeat colors, textures or plant groupings to tie space together.

Focal points: Highlight focal points like garden art or seating areas with ornamental plantings.

Edge plants: Use low hedges, grasses or flowers to define edges of beds and walkways.

Maintaining Your Ornamental Plants

Getting your ornamentals established with proper care will ensure they thrive for years of beauty. Follow these maintenance tips:


  • Dig holes twice the width of the root ball. Set plants at same level they were growing in the nursery.
  • Gently loosen circling roots before backfilling with native soil. Water thoroughly after planting.
  • Apply 2-4 inches of mulch around plants to retain moisture and suppress weeds. Avoid piling mulch against stems.


  • Provide 1 inch of water per week from rain or irrigation. More may be needed for sandy soils.
  • Consider drip irrigation or soaker hoses to target plant roots. Water early in the day to reduce disease.


  • Deadhead spent flowers to encourage reblooming. Pinch back leggy annuals to encourage bushy growth.
  • Prune spring-flowering shrubs like forsythia after blooming. Prune summer-flowering plants in early spring.
  • Prune deciduous trees and shrubs in late winter to shape and remove dead wood. Avoid heavy pruning of new growth.

Pest and Disease Prevention

  • Maintain plant health with proper sunlight, soil, water and nutrients to withstand disease.
  • Remove diseased plant matter promptly to prevent spreading.
  • Identify insect pests like aphids early and use organic methods or insecticidal soaps.
  • Avoid excessive nitrogen fertilizer to reduce mildew susceptibility.

Seasonal Care

  • Prepare beds for winter by clearing debris and applying fresh mulch after first frost.
  • Cut back perennials and ornamental grasses in late fall. Leave some seed heads for winter interest.
  • Water evergreens during winter dry spells when ground isn’t frozen.
  • Fertilize plants in early spring as new growth emerges using compost or balanced organic fertilizer.


Ornamental plants provide endless options for creating a landscape abundant in beauty. By choosing varieties suited to your climate and design needs, you can craft a welcoming outdoor environment with year-round curb appeal and personal enjoyment. Use basic design principles to artfully arrange your ornamentals for a cohesive look. Caring for your plants properly, especially while establishing the landscape, will ensure they thrive and grace your landscape for years to come.

Fill your outdoor space with elegant, charming ornamental plants. Let your landscape become an extension of your unique style and a soothing space your family and guests will relish. The investment of time and care will bring you joy for seasons to come.

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