Spacing plants

The mature size of a plant is very important to consider when creating your plan. If plants mature at 5 feet wide, it is not advisable to locate them 3 feet apart (also called 3 feet "center to center" or "on center") just so they will look nice and full after planting! When locating several groupings of different plant species within a bed, avoid placing the masses of plants too close to each other. Instead, leave some room for a transition between plant species. Draw your planting sym­bol to represent each plant’s mature size and resist placing them too closely. As you locate plant symbols, remember to leave enough space for maintenance and access to utilities, such as water spigots and utility meters.

3. Locating plants on the plan

Deciding the first plant to locate on your plan may seem like a challenge. You may feel like an artist pondering a blank canvas, wondering where to begin. However, think of the landscape plan as a series of logical steps, and locate the most important elements first. First, place on your plan the plants with the greatest impact or importance. These may be focal points, trees, or accent plants. You can think of them as the stars of your show, with all the other plants becoming their supporting cast.

Focal points

Focal points are plants with dramatic qualities that com­mand attention and draw the eye, such as a specimen tree. They can also be landscape features, such as a bench or foun­tain. They can be informal or formal, depending on where

they are and their relationship to other elements. The effect of your focal point may be dictat­ed by its relationship with sur­rounding trees, especially where there are many trees.

Because the eye is drawn to focal points, you will need to consider the views that sur­round it. For example, atten­tion will be drawn to an unat­tractive view that is near or beyond the focal point. Consider the angles from which the focal point will be viewed. Will it be the first thing you see when approach­ing the house? Is it a main view from a window? Perhaps it will be a surprise feature when turning the corner of a pathway. A focal point can be an individual plant, or it can be part of a triangle, with the viewer on one corner, provid­ing balance to other elements in the landscape. For example, a focal point may be located to provide balance for the mass of a large, mature tree that is a dominant element in the landscape.


When locating trees, consid­er the function they will serve. You may have a brand new lot with no trees at all and need canopy trees for shade. Or, if an undesirable view needs to be blocked, you may need to use trees that are evergreen, to provide screening in all sea­sons. Large trees, especially evergreen trees, will visually and physically dominate your residence if they are located too close to the structure, mak­ing it appear crowded and small. Choose trees that will not grow too large for your property or interfere with utili­ties. Trees located too close to your residence, especially ever­green trees, will dominate and

Accent plants

Accent plants serve as secondary focal points, with one or more providing a strong color, form, or texture (Figure 32). A focal point or specimen tree is a dominant element in the land­scape, while accent plants can be repeated in several places and provide unity to the landscape.

Filler plants

Once you have located your trees, focal points, and accent plants, and provided plants of various heights to frame them, fill in the areas around them. The placement of future plants will go more quickly after you have developed a portion of your landscape. Repeating certain combinations of shrubs and groundcovers in several areas within the design will unify the landscape.