What is a Border Plant?

Mary McMahon

A border plant is a plant which can be grown in a border, a narrow strip of landscaping which surrounds a larger landscaped feature, a path, or a lawn. Border plants are well suited to use in borders due to a number of characteristics, and there are numerous plants suitable for border planting. Gardeners looking for inspiration can ask at their local nursery, or consult a plant list on the Internet; some sites even have menu options which allow people to pick by zone, color, and other parameters to narrow down the border plant selection.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

Perennials are especially popular for borders, because they will live for two years or more when well cared for. This means that the border won't look scraggly, vacant, or dead, as it might after annuals die back. Biennials are also used in border plantings, depending on the taste of the gardener. Plants used for edging are commonly flowering plants, although not always, and a border plant can include variegated foliage to look colorful even when flowers are not present.

A good border plant is dense and compact, with growth which can easily be shaped by trimming and clipping. Plants which tend to sprawl or become sparse are not desirable, because they can look untidy and they will ruin the crisp look of the edge of the border. A plant like sweet William, for example, makes an excellent border plant, while morning glories would be unsuitable.

Gardeners are usually encouraged to plant border plants after all of the major landscaping is in. They need to think about the colors in the area of the garden where the border plantings will appear, and to think about how the borders might work to tie the whole garden together, or to offset certain areas. It can help to allow a garden to grow for a year to see how plants will grow and to take note of the changes which occur over the course of the seasons. Gardeners may also be concerned with issues like zone appropriate gardening, a desire to use native species, or a particular aesthetic theme for the garden.

Plants for borders should be well cared for if they are perennials, to encourage them to thrive and to keep coming back. Deadheading and pruning of dead growth is encouraged to keep them looking neat and healthy, and these plants benefit from mulching in the winter to protect the roots from frost in cold areas, along with fertilization to promote growth in the spring. Some border plants may need to be periodically dug up and divided, in which case a gardener will end up with new plants which can be established elsewhere in the garden or given away.

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