The easiest way to achieve balance in your landscape is to just plant the same stuff on both sides. But, when designing a layered landscape, you may not want your garden beds to exactly mirror themselves from side to side. A lot of beginner gardeners struggle with the concept of balance and how to make their landscapes look right.

If you want to take your landscape design up a notch, you need to have a basic understanding of plant mass and how it relates to the visual weight of your landscape. Don’t worry, creating a balanced and diverse garden is not as difficult as you think! It’s all about understanding what makes up the visual weight of your plants. Once you know this, you’ll be able to balance just about anything!

What does an unbalanced landscape look like?

Before I dive too deep into this, I wanted to provide you an example of what it may look like when your landscaping isn’t quite balanced. It’s usually just a nagging feeling for a gardener. You know something isn’t quite right, but you can’t put your finger on it. A lot of times, unbalanced landscapes aren’t terrible looking. But, the lack is what’s making the landscape feel mediocre instead of extraordinary.

Example of an unbalanced landscape
Example of an unbalanced landscape

This is a pretty typical example of the average home foundation planting. It looks nice and there’s some variety. But the balance is way off. The planting on the left side of the home has a lot more visual mass than the plantings near the front door. In addition, the plantings in the center under the window are definitely out of balance with the right and left side. Like I said, it’s not terrible, but beefing up the right side a little and the center a lot will make this landscape shine.

Example of an unbalanced landscape
Example of an unbalanced landscape

This is another typical example of an unbalanced landscape. The shrub between the walkway and the driveway is way too big for the space. it’s causing a lot of balance problems in this landscape. First, the left and right side of the walkway is out of balance. Second, the left side of the home feels really out of sync with the right side of the walkway. Ripping out this oversized shrub and putting something in that would match the visual mass of the planting on the left side of the home would really even things out. To take it a step further, I’d also carry that balance over to the left side of the sidewalk by making it wider and incorporating a similar sized planting.

Now that you have some real world examples of unbalanced landscape, let’s talk about how we can diagnose and fix our own balance problems. Or, better yet, make sure that we don’t create a balance problem in the first place!

Balance is directly related to a plant’s visual “weight”

A plant’s visual weight is basically how big of a presence the plant has in your garden. Visual weight is made up of mainly three different elements; mass, color and density.

How plant mass affects balance

A plant’s mass is determined by its overall size; how much space it takes up in your garden; how wide and tall it is. This is really straightforward so lets not overthink it. A big plant demands attention and visually moves forward in a garden. The opposite is also true. A smaller plant will blend in with surroundings and recede into the background of your garden.

Equal plant mass in the garden

A plant’s mass is determined by its overall size; how much space it takes up in your garden; how wide and tall it is. Although different plant amounts, sizes and shapes, the overall weight of this large cone-shaped tree is equal to the mass of the three shrubs.

If you want to balance out your landscape, you can simply choose equal sized plants for either side. But it doesn’t have to be this predictable. Three smaller shrubs can also be balanced by a much larger one, as in the example above.

How plant color affects balance

Plant color also plays a big role in balance. Even if your plants are the same size (or mass), they may not have the same visual weight. Certain colors carry more weight than others. As a rule of thumb, darker colors feel heavier than lighter colors.

Darker colors have a heavier visual weight than lighter colors

A dark green yew has a heavier weight than a blue juniper of the exact same size because color plays a role in plant weight. To balance this, you may need to add multiple junipers to balance out the heavier weight of the yew.

Quick Tip: Interested in learning more about color? You’ll want to read my post about creating gorgeous color schemes in your garden.

How plant density affects balance

The density of a plant can also affect balance in your landscape. Density is how “full” a tree or shrub is. Some shrubs have sparse, wispy foliage. Other plants are really full and you can barely see through them. Some plants have tons of branches all mixed up and crossing over each other. Other plants have more open and loose branching structures. Obviously, the thicker the foliage and branching, the more density the plant has. That’s why you can’t balance a dense plant with an open and airy one.

Plant density is important in determining plant mass

The Colorado blue spruce (dense branches and dense needle texture) has a heavier weight than the Eastern white pine (open branches and open needle texture). Even if the spruce and the pine are the same size, the pine will be the heavier of the two – because of the plan’t density.

Quick Tip: Density is often a side-effect of a plant’s texture. Learn more about using plant textures to make your garden exciting!

What Blooms with What?

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Hey, since you're already signed up for my emails, you may be interested in my Printable Garden Planner Kit. It includes 5 printable worksheets that you can use to plan and organize your landscape. Check it out here.

The importance of balancing plant weight

The examples above are meant to show you that balance is not just about the size of the plants. That’s definitely one part of it. But, balance is also affected by the color and density, too!

A plant’s weight becomes most important in the winter months when many of your plants will lose their leaves and, thus, their overall weight. Evergreens carry a garden’s structure throughout the winter because they remain solid and commanding.  Large, dark-colored and dense evergreens will stand out and form the major “structure” elements of your winter landscape.

Think about your own landscape in the winter. Do you have all of your evergreens in one area? It may feel really out of balance when the foliage of your other trees and shrubs have dropped.

Symmetrical vs. asymmetrical balance

Creating symmetrical balance in your garden design
Creating symmetrical balance in your garden design means you are mirroring your plantings from one side to the other.

Symmetrical balance in garden design: Mirroring your plants to achieve balance

There are two different ways to balance plants in your landscape using plant weight. The first is symmetrical balance. Basically, repeating the same plants on either side of a path, bench or focal points creates a pleasing effect. That’s because, without even knowing it, you’re balancing the weights of the plants.

Achieving asymmetrical balance in your garden design
When creating asymmetrical balance in your garden, ensure that the plants on one side of the garden equal the weight of the plants on the other side of the garden.

Asymmetrical balance in garden design: Understanding the visual weight of your plants

The second way to design your garden is to achieve asymmetrical balance in your plantings. This is where your newfound knowledge comes in handy. When creating your mixed border, all you need to do is balance the weight of each side of your landscape. Asymmetrical planting schemes create more variety and interest in your landscape because it won’t feel so predictable.

When creating asymmetrical balance in your garden, pretend that you’re putting your plants on a teeter totter. You want to ensure that the plants on one side of the garden equal the weight of the plants on the other side of the garden.

Remember, the number of plants and their shapes aren’t as important as the total visual weight of the planting. They need to balance each other out. Use the principles of mass, color and density to figure out the overall plant mass of each grouping.

Here’s another example of asymmetrical balance in garden design. The weight of the 3 cone-shaped evergreens balance out the weight of this large multi-stemmed shrub on the right.

Quick Tip: If you like this post, you’re going to love learning about creating an effective landscape using the layered planting techniques I share in this post.

Balance creates rhythm in the garden

You can use visual weight to your advantage by planting groups of heavyweight and lightweight plants throughout your landscape. This will create a rhythmic pattern and visual excitement in your garden. A person’s eyes will naturally bounce to from drifts of heavy and light plantings because they contrast one another. It’s a really fun way to create visual interest in your garden without using a single blooming flower!

Wrapping Up

If you wondered if your landscaping needs to be symmetrical in order to work, you now know that it doesn’t have to by. Using asymmetrical balance you can expand the types of plants that you use in your garden without making it feel lopsided and unprofessional. Plant weight is determined by many factors including the mass, color and density of your plants. Symmetrical balance just means that you mirror plants from one side of the garden to the other. Asymmetrical balance is when you determine the overall weight of the plant based on the mass, color and density, and match the weight of each side of your garden or plant grouping. Grouping plants by their weight into drifts is another great way to create interest and rhythm throughout your garden.

Have you been successful at balancing plant weight in your garden? Share your questions, tips and tricks in the comments below.

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Creating balance in your garden by understanding plant weight

What Blooms with What?

Plantpairingguide teal mockup web %28custom%29

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

Powered by ConvertKit
Hey, since you're already signed up for my emails, you may be interested in my Printable Garden Planner Kit. It includes 5 printable worksheets that you can use to plan and organize your landscape. Check it out here.
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