Foggy coastline, bay marshland, flat valley, and forested rolling hills characterize the San Francisco Peninsula, each terrain supporting varied plant types. So, how do you go about selecting plants that will not only look great in your new landscape but thrive? Kristen Meyer, landscape designer and Bay Scenery plant specialist, gives her tips on selecting plants to feature in your new outdoor living space.
Identify Your Microclimate
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) publishes a map of plant hardiness zones across the country. For example, Belmont, California’s zip code lands in zone 10, meaning the average annual extreme minimum temperature can reach 30(F). Plug this knowledge into Missouri Botanical Garden’s online plant finder to search for plants meant to live in your particular zone.
Plant Selection Factors
Along with hardiness zones, Meyer considers other factors when selecting plants for a new landscape.
Assess Planting Area – She figures out how large plants will be as they grow, selecting plants that will fit within the size of the planting area when they reach maturity.
Plant Aesthetics – What time of year the plants will be in bloom, the color of their foliage – leaves, bark, flowers, and their aromatic scent all are factored into the selection decision.
Natural Resources – The amount of sun, shade and water needed to support each plant type is assessed. Availability of these resources fluctuates from home to home. Your neighbor might be able to grow certain plants that your yard won’t be able to sustain.
To get an idea of current landscape design trends and plant selection, Kristen Meyer suggests taking note of the styles you like in your neighborhood and in gardening magazines. Some popular Peninsula landscaping trends include:
California Native – featuring naturally occurring local plants, dirt pathways
Drought Tolerant – gravel pathways, mulch ground cover, plants needing little water
Traditional – understated elegance, clean edges, evergreen, functional gathering place
Modern – hard edge, standout sculptural plant, horizontal board fencing
On a recent Peninsula hike, Meyer found in the park’s brochure that four different plant communities grew within the park boundaries. This large habitat diversity creates varied visual interest you can replicate at home. Kristen Meyer recommends selecting plants from the regional plant community as the base (at least 75%) of your landscape. The chances of plant survival increase and your landscape will become home to local birds and bees.
Like with any goal in life, you should develop an overall landscaping plan and tackle the changes you want to make in phases. Identify your landscape priority and start there. Are you going for curb appeal, a place for the kids to play outside, or just want to screen out the next door neighbors? Each landscaping phase will require selecting different sizes and types of plants and trees.
Following these tips will help you create the tranquil outdoor space you envision. By selecting the right plants, Meyer says, “I feel that landscape design improves everybody’s quality of life. It draws you outdoors. It makes people want to relax and slow down a bit. It invites butterflies and hummingbirds which make you pause and smile.”