The key to success with right plant right place is a thorough consideration of all its components in light of the overall process

If you’ve ever overheard an interior designer discuss options with a client, phrases such as “It just doesn’t go there” or “I’m not seeing it in that spot” may have been tossed around. Actually, design principles are similar regardless of whether they are inside a shopping mall, in the clubhouse or on the golf course.

The principles of line, texture, unity, order, rhythm, repetition, balance, mass/void, proportion, scale, contrast, emphasis and gradation are the same inside or out and should be considered whenever a new project is on the drawing board, a renovation is considered, or when it’s simply time to install a few new plants.

Selection Tips

Steven Rodie, a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects, offers a seven-step guide for choosing plants wisely:

    1. Accept the situation
    2. Analyze facts and feelings
    3. Define goals and objectives
    4. Generate ideas to achieve goals and objectives
    5. Select best ideas or combination of ideas
    6. Implement
    7. Evaluate

First or last?

The design principles mentioned above are to be outlined early on in the endeavor of plant selection. The choice of specific plants is the last step, not the first. The progression involves seven steps (listed at left) that are an effective guiding procedure in terms of choosing wisely.

Accept the situation

– Acceptance of the current golfscape appearance and function is the first step. This requires perspective or at least effort on both the part of the superintendent and the facility owner/manager. The issues involved are lack of (or loss of) aesthetics, purpose and potential use of the plant material. Each party may view the plant material slightly differently, depending on budget and goals for the course.

Analyze facts and feelings

The fact may be that a limb has fallen to the ground, a shrub has died, or a ground cover bed has thinned, creating a need for replacement. Both superintendents and owners often see these facts, and also combine the actual occurrence with the hurt from the loss of a valuable asset and may need time to work through their feelings, especially if it is a memorial or historical planting.

Define goals and objectives

Whether it’s a new planting or renovation of an existing one, it’s helpful to revisit the importance and purpose of the plants involved. If the plants in question are a grove of undesirable volunteers in the extreme rough, a damaging event may be a blessing in disguise rather than a problem. Damage often provides an opportunity to rethink why perennials, shrubs and trees are in a given place on the course in terms of the benefits they provide and the effort that’s required for their care.

Generate ideas to achieve goals and objective

In most scenarios, several ideas or plant groupings can accomplish the goals for the plantings. Each one should be directly related to objectives of the specific location (No. 4 tee, No. 7 refreshment stand, clubhouse, etc.) as well as the course as a whole. It’s often helpful to draw upon experiences or applications on other courses in the area in the consideration and discussion, keeping in mind that owners and other stakeholders will likely have some of their own.

Select best ideas or combination of ideas

The selection of the “best” ideas is a highly subjective process. As the process moves along, keeping the purposes of the plant material in mind is a wise guiding force, as well as the various specific features of the plants such as disease resistance, size and shape, color, cold hardiness and sun/shade preference.


Once the choice has been made, it’s time to implement the action. If the need for change is because of a current cause, such as removing a fallen limb or root rot of an ornamental grass crown, it’s wise to act quickly. In many situations, several causes and ideas are part of the work to be done. If so, it’s often helpful to stakeholders to devise a simple project plan or punch list that can be presented in a walk-and-talk procedure around the course.


Even the best plant material choices are subject to the tenet that golf-scape design is never finished, and starting over is a legitimate consideration. After a year or so from implementation of the plan, it’s wise to evaluate how well the action has accomplished the goals and objectives. Did the removal leave an unacceptably large gap in the tree line between fairways? Have defects such as cracks, codominant leaders or decay developed since the implementation? These are important questions to ask of yourself and your staff and discuss with various stakeholders. Once the questions have been asked and answered, it may be necessary to start over and implement new or additional actions.

Assessment of conditions

Once the seven steps have been fully considered, it’s time to think about the plants themselves. The key to success with right plant right place (RPRP) is a thorough consideration of all of its components in light of the overall process. One of the most frustrating experiences is watching a particular species struggle in the wrong location.


In general, four types of shade are recognized:

  • full sun, eight or more hours of bright exposure;
  • partial shade, three to four hours of bright exposure and shady conditions during the remainder of the day;
  • dappled shade, three to four hours of filtered shade and shady conditions during the remainder of the day; and
  • heavy shade.

A common myth exists that eight to nine hours of dappled shade equals or counts for the requirements of partial shade; unfortunately, this is simply not true for most ornamental species.


Some states are in a drought and others are waterlogged, but this isn’t what moisture refers to. The focus in terms of choosing plants is what the preference for moisture is over the long term. In fact, many drought-tolerant plants, such as buffalo grass, little bluestem or coreopsis, need to be kept moist during the establishment year.

Soil characteristics:

Drainage potential and moisture requirements go hand in hand in many situations. Sandier soils tend to create dry growing conditions, while heavy clay soils retain moisture for a longer period of time. Another important factor is the capacity to provide nutrients to the plant; cation exchange capacity and pH are crucial considerations in this regard.

Need for color:

Winter stems, spring flowers, summer foliage and fall leaves are solutions for the need for color from golfers and stakeholders. One of the best resources on underutilized color sources is the closest arboretum or botanic garden.

Size and shape:

Tall and thin, short and wide – these are the descriptors of the architecture of an ornamental plant. In many locations a row of upright, narrow trees is just the ticket, while a low-growing, spreading mass of ground cover is called for in a narrow space between the clubhouse and start of the cart path.

Need for groupings of plants:

Especially in a large-scale landscape like a golf course, using plant masses is appropriate. Single specimens that accent special places can be well sited, but when big impact is needed, one or two shrubs on the back side of a green just isn’t going to cut it. A common guiding rule amongst designers and architects is to use odd numbers of plants in informal settings and even numbers in formal locations. This rule holds for plant masses with less than 10 specimens; for larger masses, the exact number isn’t nearly as important.

Pests coming your way:

When selecting plants consider the pest species that have been reported to be moving into your area. The emerald ash borer is the quintessential species, but others such as pine wilt and Asian long-horned beetle are pests that demand one’s attention. Fortunately, many plant species are available to provide worthy alternatives to ash and Scotch pine in the golfscape.

Disease resistance:

For the pests that are already in your area, such as apple scab, cedar apple rust and powdery mildew, choosing cultivars that possess a high degree of resistance is a wise move. This usually requires drilling down into a particular genus or species, looking at cultivar trials conducted by a local university or trade association. For example, All-America Selections is an industry association that promotes new cultivars of well-performing annuals and perennials. The new introductions are thoroughly tested for many individual traits including disease resistance.

Overall, good design principles, site selection and a thorough assessment of growing conditions are foundational to the success of any golfscape. Skipping any step can be a mistake and may cause the planting to fail.