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It might happen on the first really nice day of spring, when you make that initial trip to the garden center after being cooped up all winter. Or it might be later, when you're stopping in at the nursery for fertilizer or a propane refill. There it is, as soon as you walk in the front entrance: a gorgeous flowering shrub covered with blooms and lush green foliage. It looks and smells so irresistible that you can't leave it behind. You just know there's a place for it in your garden, so you make the purchase and rush home to plant it.

You set it out in just the right spot (or the only spot you have left). Then you read the tag and discover that the "perfect" spot doesn't get enough sun for the plant. Or you realize that the shrub is going to get too big for the spot, or is the wrong color, or will block another plant. So now you're stuck putting a new shrub in a spot where it may not thrive, or won't fit well with your other plants.

I've done this myself, and I've learned a few simple rules that will help you avoid the problem of the wrong plant in the wrong spot.

  1. Know your garden. Before you head out to the nursery, do a survey of your planting beds. Where is it sunny, and where shady? Is it wet or dry, natural or ornamental? Where are the larger and smaller plants?
  2. Know your layout. A drawing of the garden will help determine where you need some color, or where you need to fill in. Take pictures of the garden year round, and either laminate them or put them in your garden notebook. Then take them with you to the garden center. Taking pictures every month is good; twice a month is twice as good, and weekly pictures are fantastic. This helps you coordinate new plants with ones that are already spent — especially if, like me, you can't remember what color those tulips were.
  3. Go prepared. Bring a good nursery catalog or plant book with you to the garden center. With your photos and reference material in hand, helpful staff available to answer questions, and the labels and signs on the plants, you should be able to get a good idea of what shape, size, color, cultural needs, and rate of growth is best for your garden.
  4. Don't rush. If you find something you like, don't be afraid to leave it there while you go home and take a final look. Come back and get it when you're sure.

Armed with these rules you should be able to put the right plant in the right place.