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Perfecting the Art of Plant Combinations

Perfecting the Art of Plant Combinations

Perfecting the Art of Plant Combinations
Combination of Sirens' Song Dark Night Heuchera next to a green Tassel Fern.

Photos by Monrovia: Doreen Wynja

Choosing plant combinations is an art, and we're here to show you how to perfect it with gorgeous annual and perennial plant combination ideas for any kind of garden. The garden is one of the best places to tap into your creativity and inner artist. Below you'll find a few annual and perennial plant combination ideas to get you started. These ideas are sure to spark some creativity, but there's so much more to explore when it comes to making artful plant choices.

(Above) Sirens' Song™ Dark Night Heuchera is a star in practically any combo. Here, it's combined with the green of a Tassel Fern to provide rich, dramatic contrast. 

If you're looking for more combination ideas and lessons, sign up for our Grow Beautifully newsletter to get our upcoming "Shades of Beautiful" plant palette color guide delivered straight to your inbox (you can get last year's guide here). Or, take a deep dive into perfecting the art of the plant combo with our Perfect Plant Combos webinar recording. Get the guide and watch the webinar for a master's class in combining plants for maximum impact in any space. 

Top 10 Tips for Creating Beautiful Plant Combos

  1.  Use your cart at the garden center to play with color palettes. You're the artist and you're in charge of what you think looks great, experiment with combos and find what you like.
  2.  Mass multiples of the same plants in larger garden beds for a cohesive, more impactful effect. 
  3. Place matters! Make sure you're combining plants with similar light, water, and soil needs together. 
  4. Keep it simple in small borders and containers. For instance, use no more than 3 bloom colors OR 3 shades of one color family OR mix leaf sizes in the same color family.
  5. Use repetition and rhythm in larger landscapes.
  6. Remember foliage is a color; consider your green tones — are they "warm" or "cool"?
  7. Think in terms of height and layers. Keep mature plant heights in mind when layering your plant combinations. 
  8. Soften showy blooms with grasses and evergreens.
  9.  Use contrasting colors to create a lively "pop," or use tonal shades for a more soothing look. 
  10. Keep experimenting! Creativity in the garden never stops, and you're always bound to find something new that you love if you keep paying attention with curiosity. 

Lively Combination Ideas for Containers and Borders

Here are a few ideas of ways that you can pull three cheerful colors together (in the first two options) OR three shades of the same color (third option) to achieve a lively, welcoming display. These examples show ways that you can combine bright, "happy" colors, or colors that communicate joy, in containers or borders in your front porch or yard to welcome people to your home, and instantly put visitors in a good mood. 

Zones 4-9

SuperCal® Pink
Hybrid Petunia

A superior annual for color, blooms, and all-season performance, this hybrid petunia blooms from spring until the first hard frost and makes a great partner to other colorful blooms. Up to 14" tall, 18" wide. Annual

Evolution™ Embers™
Sparks Coneflower

Bright yellow flowers with showy green center cones bloom from late spring through fall. Perfect for combining in borders and containers. Up to 20" tall, 18" wide. Zones 4-9.

Emerald Blue
Creeping Phlox

Forms a dense mat of bright color in garden beds and looks great as a "spiller" in container combos, too! Plus, this creeping variety is more heat tolerant than garden phlox. Up to 6" tall. 3' wide. Zones 3-9.

Zones 7-10

Summerlasting™ Strawberry
Crape Myrtle

A beautiful dwarf variety that forms a beautiful backdrop for other colorful perennials. Dense blooms of bright pink smother this shrub for vibrant summer color. Up to 3' tall and wide. Zones 7-10.

Double Shot®
Jessamine

Two well-mannered varieties of jessamine are planted in the same pot to deliver spectacular bright-yellow flowers throughout most of the year. Twining stems reach 10-20'. Zones 7-9.

Photo by Hort Printers

EnduraScape™ Dark
Purple Verbena

Vibrant purple flowers on a reblooming variety that is hardy to zone 7 and is heat- and mildew-resistant. Up to 12" tall, 24" wide. Zones 7-10 (or grow as annual). 

Long-Blooming Annuals 

SunBelievable™ Brown
Eyed Girl Helianthus

Large, vibrant yellow flowers bloom on this heat-tolerant, non-invasive, seedless annual that produces over 1,000 flowers in one season, from spring until frost. Up to 32" tall, 40" wide. Annual. 

Bowles
Golden Sedge

Bright yellow leaves have a sunny color all season long. Add this perennial to an annual container planting to soften and fill it with bright, billowing color. Up to 2' tall, 3' wide. Zones 4-9.

Sunburst™
Spreading Lantana

Masses of golden yellow flowers bloom from spring until frost on this beautiful spreading lantana. A beautiful container specimen. Up to 3' tall, 8' wide. Annual.

Dark Meets Light Perennial Combination Ideas

These dark and dramatic plant combinations were inspired by the "Dark Meets Light" garden trend that you can learn about in the Garden Trends webinar. These beautiful perennial combinations are also great examples of the "height matters" and "foliage is a color" tips above. They combine plants with deep, dark foliage and contrast them against light blooms or a cool-tone groundcover.  These combinations utilize a taller back layer, mid-sized middle layer, and short groundcover to achieve a balanced look that allows you to fully enjoy what all the plants have to offer.

Zones 4-9

Little Joker®
Ninebark

A low-maintenance shrub that offers a high visual impact. Deep burgundy stems are covered in mildew-resistant, dark-burgundy purple leaves on a densely branched dwarf form. Pale pink flowers pop against dark foliage in spring and summer. Up to 4' tall and wide. Zones 4-8. 

Krebs Desert Bloom
Hens and Chicks

The mesmerizing color and texture of this mounding succulent add dynamic interest wherever it's planted. Beautiful as a waterwise groundcover or in a container. Up to 8" tall, 12" wide. Zones 4-9.

Sirens' Song™
Dark Night Heuchera

The deep, dark purple-red foliage of this stunning heuchera is sun tolerant and lovely when combined with other dark-foliage plants or used as a contrast with bright foliage and blooms. Up to 18" tall, 15" wide. Zones 4-9. 

Zones 9-11

Purple
Fountain Grass

A favorite drought-tolerant grass for perennial and container planting in warm climes, with dense purple-maroon blades and rosy red plumes that look spectacular combined with bright blooms or other dark-foliaged plants. Up to 4' tall, 3' wide. Zones 8-11.

Mission to Mars
Mangave

A hybrid succulent with the structure of an Agave and the fast growth and exciting colors of a Manfreda. The dark color and distinct structure look great combined with the softness of ornamental grass. Up to 10" tall, 22" wide. Zones 9-10. 

Photo: Walter's Gardens

Blue
Chalksticks

Pair this low-growing, powdery blue-green succulent with the deep, dark foliage of plants like purple fountain grass or mangave for a gorgeous contrast. Up to 1' tall, 3' wide. Zones 10-11. 

Refreshing and Refined Perennial Combination Ideas

Simplified color palettes like this one convey an understated elegance that is hard to achieve with bright blooms in multiple colors. In these combinations, you'll find a white-flowering shrub that acts as the refined focal point, an evergreen shrub as the foundational structure, and a strappy, variegated foliage plant as the soft, luminescent groundcover. This green-and-white color palette never goes out of style, and always has an elevated elegance. 

Zones 5-9

Seaside Serenade® Cape
Lookout Hydrangea

Gorgeous as a foundation plant, massed, and combined with other classically beautiful shrubs, grasses, and perennials. Long-lasting blooms emerge pale green, turn white, and then blush as they age. Resists scorch and burn. Up to 3-1/2' tall, 3' wide. Zones 4-9. 

Green Tower®
Boxwood

Boxwood is well known for its use in hedges and screens, but it's also perfect for combining with other shrubs and perennials thanks to its evergreen structure. Up to 9' tall, 2' wide. Zones 5-9.

EverColor® Everest
Variegated Sedge

Add the mounding fountain of ribbon-like, white-striped foliage to bring brilliant texture to partially shaded gardens. Classically beautiful when planted en masse as a groundcover, and when combined with colorful flowers in a container. Up to 15" tall, 24" wide.  Zones 5-9. 

Zones 8-11

First Love
Gardenia (Grafted)

Large, fragrant flowers bloom on this superior grafted selection with rootstock that is nematode resistant, tolerates poor soils, and takes in more soil nutrients. An elegant choice for straightforward color palettes. Up to 8' tall, 6' wide. Zones 8-11.

Little Ollie®
Dwarf Olive

Dwarf, non-fruiting evergreen with a graceful dwarf habit and green leaves that have silvery-green undersides. Like the boxwood, it provides evergreen structure in the warm-zone garden. Up to 6' tall and wide. Zones 8-11.

Sun Stripe®
Agapanthus

Prized for its unique foliage that is exceptionally broad, and variegated with green and cream marbling and a wide, sot yellow margin. Up to 20" tall, 24" wide. Zones 8-11.