What Is Plant Diversity?

What Is Plant Diversity? thumbnail
A diverse plant selection adds further color, texture and ornamental features in a garden bed.

On a broad scale, plant diversity refers to all the different types of plants that can or do grow in a geographic area, but for the home gardener the main concern is including a variety of different plants within a smaller space. The University of Kentucky Extension service advises planting no more than 10 percent of the same species and no more than 30 percent of the same plant family in your landscape to encourage diversity. Avoiding similar plant selections benefits both your garden's health and the general health of the surrounding ecosystem.

  1. Minimize Problems

    • Planting the home landscape to encourage diversity can decrease diseases and harmful pests infestations, while improving the number of beneficial insects in the small space. A monoculture in the garden, where most plants are of the same species, makes it more likely for a single disease or pests to wipe out the entire garden. When you plant for diversity, spaces are left between similar plants, so diseases pathogens and pests are less likely to destroy all the plants. Beneficial insects, including butterflies and bees, are more likely to spend time in your garden.

    Soil Health

    • Diversity also helps keep the soil healthy because the plants aren't all depending on high amounts of the same nutrients. A diverse garden may include plants that require high amounts of nitrogen combined with those that actually work with soil bacterium to produce nitrogen. For example, edible and ornamental scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus), hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 11, create nitrogen in the soil that helps keep surrounding foliage plants green and healthy in a diverse garden.

    Maximize Space

    • Planning a diverse garden also allows you to maximize space, especially in smaller yards. Combine ornamental and edible crops in the same space to increase plant species diversity while also getting double the use from the space. Many edible plants -- including most herbs, leafy greens and some flowering edible -- are attractive in an ornamental bed. A border bed filled with annual leaf lettuce (Lactuca sativa) and brightly colored impatiens (Impatiens walleriana), hardy in zones 10 and 11, provides both species diversity and a diversity of uses because both the lettuce and the impatiens flowers are ornamental and edible.

    Plant Selection

    • Dividing the landscape into zones and then selecting plants can simplify diversity planning. Begin with the big plants, such as shade trees, border shrubs or a privacy screen. If several shade trees are needed, choose two or three different species that grow well in your area, instead of settling on just one variety. Combine climbing vines, such as ornamental sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), hardy in zones 9 through 11, with shrubs for privacy screening and to add even more diversity. Select plants with similar light, soil and water needs in each area of the landscape. In ornamental and edible beds, intersperse the different plant varieties together instead of planting in a single block when possible. Keep in mind, some annual vegetable crops, like corn (Zea mays), require block planting for pollination. It also increases diversity in your neighborhood to grow plants that are different than the ones in your neighbor's yards.

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