Plant’s life is incredibly diverse and that makes identification complicated. If you are landscaping your backyard you only need to know a few basic things. If you find a plant and want to identify it, you may wish to visit World Wide Flowering Plant Family Identification.
Here you can input the plant characteristics and get a group of families. Then you will need to do some further research to get the appropriate cultivar. Unfortunately, the site won’t help you much unless you have a pretty good idea about plants already.
For landscaping your yard, most people won’t want to know about the taxonomic classification system. We mostly want to be able to recognize the basic types of plants to choose from. We are providing you a basic way to identify the most common landscaping plants.
They have large leaves and most of us already know the shape of the maple leaf. Maple leaves are very large. Maples seeds have little “helicopters” on them to help them float in the wind away from the tree. Basically, look for a large-leafed tree that looks pretty normal.
The tree bark is white. The leaves are small and round. The tree will often have dark black bark spots among the white. They grow by sending out runners and you will see smaller ones growing nearby.
The most commonly planted are white ash and green ash. The leaves are green and medium-sized. Branches and buds are opposite with a single budding leaf at the end of each branch. The bark is light gray or brown and is not waxy.
Willows have branches that hang down to the ground. They have long and very skinny leaves. The leaves are in abundance. The branches that hang down are thin and flexible while the trunks are large and sturdy.
Pine trees have needles instead of leaves. They grow in shades of blue and green. They grow very tall and live for a long time. Their seeds are contained in a pine cone. Pine tree needle length can vary a lot by species; some are quite long and others short.
Evergreen vines tend to be darker green and have smaller leaves. The most common evergreen vine is the Ivy. Deciduous vines are lighter green in color and tend to have larger leaves. In addition, some non-evergreen vines will bear fruit. Fruit vines, like Grape, tend to have giant leaves.
In general, larger growing shrubs have cone-shaped flowers or large cup-shaped flowers, and lower growing shrubs have smaller flowers and small cup-shaped flowers. You can look at smaller plants and compare flower size to determine how tall the plant might get. This, however, is not a substitute for reading the description of the plant.
Evergreen shrubs, like trees, have needles and are darker in color. Some evergreens, like Euonymous, have a leaf that has a waxy “wet” look. You can usually tell it’s evergreen because the leaf looks like it’s out of the rainforest.
Deciduous shrubs are lighter in color and the leaves are duller in appearance. You will have more choices to choose from when you get deciduous shrubs. One great thing about deciduous shrubs is that they turn red in the fall. Ivory Halo Dogwood is one of my favorites. The bark on the stems actually turns red with the leaves.
Perennials are so diverse you can’t tell by looking at one. You need to know about the individual plant. One easy way is to remember what the annuals are because there aren’t that many annuals in the nurseries. And, of course, it depends a lot on your geographic area.
Most people plant Pansies, Marigolds, Geraniums, Purple Fountain Grass, Salvia, Zinnia, Petunia, Impatiens, and many others. Consider annuals that are self-seeding so you don’t have to replant them every year. For a longer list of annuals, please visit Plant Fact.
Grasses can be identified without further discussion. Most of us already know what they look like. Once you have seen one, you have seen them all.
Desert plants tend to have smaller flowers. They are often more prickly, like cactus than other plants. Their color is usually light green or various shades of light silver or blue. They also tend to produce a lot of seeds that travel well in the wind. For example, dandelion seeds.
More Shrubs and Bushes
Shrubs, in general, grow about 4-5 feet tall and are 4-5 feet wide. They come in flowering and nonflowering varieties. There are way too many to mention, so we will show you some of our favorites.
Rose of Sharon
The Rose of Sharon grows very tall (10 feet or more) for a shrub. It blooms in late summer and into fall. It keeps the blooms for a long time and that makes it a prized shrub. It is related to the passionflower.
Forsythia is the first shrub to bloom in the early spring. The flowers are light almost fluorescent colors. Forsythia grows best in full sun and well-drained soils.
Butterfly bush is a good plant for a perennial backdrop. It is a large shrub. The flowers are pink or purple and attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies.
There is no singular viburnum foliage. It can be rounded, lance-shaped or toothed, smooth, velvety or rough. Most varieties produce fruit that is loved by animals and humans. The flowers are pink or white and they fall color is outstanding.
To get the fruit, the shrub must be cross-pollinated like fruit trees. Viburnum has some very sweet fragrant varieties like the Korean Spice Viburnum.
Lilac usually produce large purple flower clusters and grow up to about six feet tall. It is a pretty enough shrub that it can be used as a specimen plant. They prefer full sun and well-drained soil.
Burning bush is actually a Euonymus alatus. It is an evergreen that turns a bright red color in the fall. It is prized for its ability to bring in fall color.
Ivory Halo Dogwood
Ivory Halo Dogwood also turn red in the fall; leaves and bark turn red. They have small green leaves with a variegated look that is halo shaped. They are medium-sized shrubs that like the partial sun.
Hydrangea is prized for its large clusters of flowers. They come in purple, white, pink, and blue. Their flowers come in from early spring to late autumn. Hydrangeas do the best in cool frost-free areas.