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Plants can bring your deck to life. What’s more, they can solve design problems in a way no other element can. Containers with brightly colored blossoms create a pretty view from the house. A nearby hedge screens an unattractive view. Potted trees provide shade and privacy, as well as fruit. Large planters help establish traffic patterns. Well-placed planting beds, trees, shrubs, perennials, and ground covers blend your deck right into the landscape, making the entire scene a single, attractive composition.

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When you’re ready to integrate plants into your landscape design, first decide where they should go. Use your design concept to tell you where you need shade, privacy, and shelter. Then select plants that do the job in style.

Making Garden Beds

Before you decide what to plant in a bed, first decide on the right shape for the bed. Remember that the perimeters of a garden bed also shape adjoining lawn areas.

If you don’t yet have your plans on paper, experiment with a garden hose in the general area of the bed, creating outlines that are in keeping with your overall style choices. Most homeowners find that curved lines— even bordering the square corners of a deck—give their landscape a more expertly designed look than straight lines.

Once you’re happy with the contour, mark it on the lawn with spray paint. Then remove the hose and cut the contour and the bed from the soil. Plant beds in tiers, placing the shortest species toward the front and gradually increasing the height of the planting toward the rear of the bed. Plants right next to the deck should be no more than eye level when you’re seated, unless you’re using them to screen out a view or increase your privacy.


These “lowly” plants are perfect for covering broad areas or reducing erosion. Plant wide, sweeping beds that curve around a deck, and complement adjacent lawn space with a single variety of ground cover. This simple strategy defines areas without dividing a large space into smaller parts. You can also fill shaded areas where grass won’t thrive or cover slopes you don’t want to mow.

Container gardens

Container gardens allow you to make quick changes when you tire of the current scene. With containers, you can grow just about any kind of plant, even when you’re faced with hot, dry weather or lack of space. Before you decide what plants to grow, figure out where you’ll put them. Here’s how:

  • Sit on all of the benches, hammocks, chairs, walls, and steps of your deck and look at the views. Go inside and check the view from the adjoining room.
  • Take note of any distractions in the background—utility wires, heating and cooling units, meters, outlets, and tools. Then use the containers to block these views.
  • Pay attention to any areas that seem to need more privacy. Plants can add height to a wall without creating a walled-off feeling.
  • Look for empty corners, blank walls, and signs of shabbiness. Liven up these areas with container-grown plants.

Boxes amd Baskets

Window boxes and hanging baskets offer an opportunity to create a self-contained composition on a small scale. A window box or basket filled with formally clipped topiaries or tumbles of bright flowers always adds cheer to your deck.

Generally, plants in a box or basket should have the same requirements for sun, water, and fertilizer. For reliable results, combine plants of similar colors or contrasting textures. Billows of fine-textured plants, such as baby’s breath, make fine companions for plants with spiky foliage, such as rosemary. Upright forms accent compositions when surrounded by trailing flowers.

Basket tips

Before hanging a basket, make sure it’s in a spot where no one will bonk their head as they pass by. Then use the following “recipe” for sure-fire success.

  1. Start with a 12-inch or larger basket.
  2. Purchase three trailing plants (in 3-inch pots or six to a pony pack).
  3. Position the trailers in the basket of soil at the points of a triangle, spaced equally apart and a few inches from the edge.
  4. Place the upright plants similarly in the center of the basket.
  5. Tuck in a few filler plants randomly.

The style of a window box planting should match the mood of adjacent rooms, indoors and out. Here, a multitude of flowers gives this window box a cottage-garden look that works.

Window box tips

  • The deeper the window box, the healthier your plants will be. Boxes at least 10 to 12 inches deep hold more soil and allow room for adequate root growth.
  • Be sure your window boxes have at least two drainage holes in the bottom.
  • Slide a sheet of plastic foam inside the front of your window box before filling it with soil for planting. The foam insulates roots from heat and reduces evaporation of soil moisture.
  • Before planting, mix water-retaining polymers in the soil at rates specified on the package. These tiny pellets swell when wet and hold moisture in the soil.
  • Water window boxes daily (sometimes twice a day) during hot weather. If the soil is dry to the touch, it’s time to water.

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