8 Ways to Dress Up Your Patio for Summer With Greenery, According to Plant Pros
Plants are universally loved for how they add life and vibrancy to a space. So as the weather warms up, it’s only natural to want to enjoy greenery in an outdoor area, too. Outdoor plants are, of course, much different than the average houseplant. You have additional elements to consider with greenery outdoors, from the climate and location you live in to your desire and potential to landscape.
Where do you get started? Well, you might want to turn to the experts. I tapped two plant pros for their top tips on how to dress up your patio (or any outdoor space) ahead.
Scout out your space.
You’ll first want to get familiar with the area you’ll be working with. “Factors to consider when choosing plants for an outdoor space include the size of your space, how much sun and shade the space gets, what kind of critters the plants may attract, how much water the plants will need, how you will provide that water, and what size the plants can grow to be,” notes Marcus Bridgewater, author and plant influencer behind the Garden Marcus TikTok account.
It’s also important to choose plants that will thrive in your region’s climate. “Things like rainfall, average temperature, humidity, and whether it snows or not will greatly impact how well your plants perform,” says Nahal Sohbati, landscape designer and founder of Topophyla. “The easiest way to determine whether a plant will grow well in your area is to refer to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map and rating of the chosen plant.”
You can also take a trip to your local nursery, Sohbati adds. This way, you can figure out which plants grow near you — plus, which flowers and flora resonate most with your style or vibe.
Be mindful of sunlight.
Once you get a feel for your space, you can then choose plants for different areas based on how much sunlight they get. “A few great plants for sunny areas are lavender, sweet potato ivy, and hibiscus,” recommends Bridgewater. “Plants that do well in shade include the snake plant and arrowhead plant.”
Some plants are more versatile though, which may make them even more attractive to you. “Many species of plants can be adaptive to both sun and shade, and those are typically the ones that perform best in manmade environments,” notes Sohbati. Again, take the time to look plants up on the internet and engage in conversations at your local nursery, plant store, or home center. This will help you fill in the gaps that plant care tags (those things you often find stuck in plants with info on them) don’t always address.
Bring in bold color.
Flowering plants offer bright, colorful blooms that come to life seasonally. Sohbati’s favorite way to incorporate them is with natives to whatever your local habitat may be. “One of the greatest joys of gardening is being amongst nature, and when you provide habitat with the use of native flora, you integrate yourself within the local habitat,” she says. “For us in California, we especially love native Salvias (Sage), Mimulus (Sticky Monkey Flower), and Achillea (California Yarrow).”
Based in Houston, Texas, Bridgewater’s favorite flowering plants include bee balm and roses. Sohbati encourages people to look outside the box when creating color into the garden, too. “Many plants can be used for their colorful foliage and seasonal leaf color instead,” she notes. It’s not always all about the flowers!
Plant to attract butterflies.
There’s something magical about watching butterflies and hummingbirds flutter around, and it can happen in your own backyard if you choose the right flora. “Plants that attract butterflies include milkweed (especially if native to where you are), bee balm, mint, and lavender,” says Bridgewater. “I fill my garden with these herbs because of the butterflies and the amazing smells they bring.”
Create natural privacy.
Beyond their aesthetic appeal, several plants also provide functional benefits like privacy. “Depending on the space, the best plants for privacy are typically upright shrubs and vines,” recommends Sohbati. “Upright shrubs like Privet do great as privacy screens, while vines like Jasmine can be trained on a trellis to provide screening.”
Sohbati notes the importance of referring to the mature size of a plant to select the right species. “When choosing a vine, it’s important to check their growth habit, whether they need a support or training, or if they can cling to the surface,” she adds.
Pick a style.
Disclaimer here: There aren’t really any hard and fast rules when it comes to styling plants, but a good place to start is deciding whether you want a more dramatic or pared-back look.
To achieve a dramatic look, Sohbati recommends amassing a specific plant then layering in different textures and contrasting colors. Certain species naturally enjoy the spotlight. “This will depend on the region you are in, but plants with large foliage like sculptural succulents or agaves and large leafy tropical plants like giant bird of paradise can provide a very dramatic effect in a garden,” she says.
For extra lushness, Bridgewater recommends plants with big leaves like monsteras, plus ones with vines that can hang and trail like pothos. “It is one of my favorite plants, and a great addition to an outdoor space,” he notes. “I keep mine in pots and hanging planters, as pothos can spread uncontrollably.”
For a more subdued look, it’s best to stick with a minimal palette of soft-textured plants like grasses or fine-leafed shrubs, says Sohbati. Bridgewater also suggests succulents for a softer style.
Try out a living wall.
Living walls and vertical gardens are newer trends that showcase plants in a unique, artistic way. Essentially, the flora decorates a wall or part of a wall, making you feel even more immersed in nature, which is especially great for urban environments or smaller spaces. “The best tips for styling living walls are to keep a theme and stick with it,” says Sohabti. “Do not just randomly fill the wall with plants. Choose plants with textures and colors that work well together and try to create masses of plants instead of individual clumps.”
Typically, living walls require more maintenance than normal potted or in-ground plants. “[So], it is also best to use plants that are adapted to cliffs or epiphytic conditions, as they will perform better in the living wall conditions,” says Sohbati.
Go with your gut.
There’s much to consider when decorating with outdoor plants, but the benefits are well worth it. “They provide different smells, shade in some places, and varying colors, shapes, and textures,” says Marcus of his plants. “This combination of different elements energizes my spirit, inspires my creativity, and helps me better my well-being.”
In other words? Don’t get too caught up in achieving a perfect look or having to grow the same thing as your neighbor. Styling plants outdoors is ultimately about finding out what you love that works with your outdoor conditions — and having fun along the way.