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What is a Background Plant?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 16, 2024
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A background plant is a type of plant that provides a backdrop for smaller plants. A hedge can be a type of background plant design, if the hedge is lined with smaller flowers. While many background plants are flowerless and simply act as greenery, some may have flowers as well; it all depends on the gardener's preferences. Other types of small background plants are used in aquariums.

Many gardeners use background plants to frame the smaller plants in their garden. This gives a garden a more cohesive look as well as making the smaller, flowering plants stand out more against the greenery. In addition, the larger plants can sometimes provide a small bit of protection against the elements in a garden.

A background plant generally only needs to be a few inches higher than the plant it is behind. In fact, too large of a size gap will look strange visually. Keep in mind that there is no reason to only have two tiers in a garden; plenty of gardeners choose to use a number of tiers with plants of various sizes. In that way, the garden can be framed by a tall hedge, with successively smaller plants all the way until the groundcover is reached. Even tall flowers may be used as a background plant for shorter flowers.

Creativity in a garden goes a long way. Some people choose to create a very organized garden with only a few types of plants, while others choose to mix plants for a more eclectic or natural look. Either one can work, though organizing plants in a tier system by size is one easy way to make sure that all the plants can be seen, as well as to make sure they all grow successfully by receiving enough sunlight and water. Background plants may be found at greenhouses or other places that garden plants are sold.

The other type of background plant is a small aquatic plant used in an aquarium. This type of plant grows completely underwater, typically planted in the rocks at the bottom of the aquarium. When placed in the tank, it provides a visually appealing backdrop as well as a place for fish to hide. Live aquatic plants may be used in conjunction with plastic aquarium plants or statues to add visual interest and an environment for the fish. Most background aquarium plants may be purchased at pet stores, or wherever fish and other aquarium items are sold.

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