How to Design a Mixed Border

Updated July 20, 2017

Designing a mixed border is the perfect landscaping technique for people who love a vast array of flowers, shrubs, and trees. Although a mixed border may seem like a haphazard attempt to throw a bunch of different flowers, plants, and trees together in one location, there is actually much more to it. If it is done correctly, a gardener will consider several factors and design a mixed border that is purposefully relaxed, structured, or even thematic.

Create a budget. Use the budget to calculate how much money is available to use towards the mixed border and how much the project will cost. Landscaping materials, including the plants, trees, and shrubs can be pricey, particularly if the item is exotic, large in size, or mature in age. Items that are native to the area, smaller in size, or less mature, such as seedlings, may be less expensive.

Choose a theme. A designer may want the mixed garden to provide a feeling of peacefulness or structure. Occasionally, additional design research is needed, particularly if deeper themes are desirable, such as scent, colour, wildlife attraction or the education of children.

Sketch a design plan on paper. The design plan will analyse the space for the mixed border, such as the exposure from sun or wind, the slope of the land, the soil conditions, and microclimates. The design plan will be used, along with the theme and budget, to select specific plants for the mixed border.

Select the foundational plants. These plants are the ones that are permanent, such as trees and shrubs. They are taller and should be strategically positioned to give the other plants protection from the wind and sun. They may also serve as trellises for vines and climbing plants.

Select the smaller, ornamental plants. Add these plants to the design based on colour and peak season. Bloom colours may rotate or plants that bloom in the fall may alternate with plants that bloom in the spring.

Verify that the specific plants can survive temperature extremes through a gardening manual, Internet source, or local nursery. The U.S. Department of Agriculture divided the United States into eleven hardiness zones, based on the average minimum temperatures for each zone. Each plant is given a zone classification that indicates the minimum temperature that it can survive.


Although most plants are classified according to hardiness, many plants are also classified according to their drought tolerance, soil preferences, and affinity for sunlight. Consider these factors when designing a mixed border.

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About the Author

Dee Christina began writing professionally in 2006. She has written for and Christina holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from Washington University and a Juris Doctorate from Cumberland School of Law.