I feel like a lot of people spend a good amount of time in the colder months tidying up their gardens. Cleaning up the fall leaves, clipping back all the spent perennials and grasses and then putting down a thick layer of mulch seems to be common practice. Let’s try looking at the garden in a different way this winter!
By cutting down the spent grasses and perennials you really miss out on the winter interest of these plants. The winter unveils another stage in the plants beauty with its dried bronze stalks, seed heads and spent flowers. It’s definitely very different than the way the garden looks during growing season, but this is what is so beautiful about it! Winter is also a really interesting part of the plant cycle. The focus is not on the growth of the foliage or flower, it’s now saving that energy and going into dormancy. The plant will protect its self and wait for springs arrival. While all this is going on, the plant is also playing a crucial role as shelter for many pollinators. Our native solitary bees overwinter in the still standing stalks of perennials. Ground bees like bumblebees rely on leaf litter to protect and warm them throughout the winter as they gather underground. The thick layers of mulch we apply make it very hard for the bees to get underground. Soil with just a cover of leaf litter is what these little guys need. Countless insects rely on this winter landscape in order to make it to spring and once spring hits we need them to pollinate and feed our other wildlife, such as birds. It’s a delicate cycle that is being tampered with, but little changes we make can make a collective and monumental difference!
So this winter, leave your spent plants up! Let the insects make their homes in the stalks. Leave the leaves in the beds or mulch up the leaves in your yard with a mower and apply these as layer of coverage to your garden beds in place of store bought mulch. It looks great and think about the difference you’re making to native pollinators!
Thank you to everyone who came out and visited our booth at this years Earth Day Festival in Manchester. The event was awesome and we appreciate all the hard work that went into making it happen.
Since our primary goal is to educate, we loved the chance to chat with hundreds of people on the importance of using native plants in their residential landscapes. We also sold far more plants than anticipated which is fantastic. The cumulative effect of choosing natives over non-natives can not be understated. Every plant makes a difference! Thanks to everyone for doing their part!
If you missed us this past weekend we will be at Maymont Herbs Galore this coming Saturday the 22nd. Hope to see you there!
Megan & Brian
Plant by Design LLC
Plant by Design Native Nursery
Hello to all our readers. We have some exciting news to share. Plant by Design Native Nursery has officially launched and will begin selling plants in early April. Check out our website to learn more and keep up with our upcoming events!
Thank you to everyone for your continued support and for helping us make this possible.
GET WILD, GO NATIVE!
While driving around this week keep a look out for all the white flowering trees scattered among just about every “natural” and unnatural area in our city. This is a perfect example of the dangers of invasive species and why planting native to our region is so important. The tree I am referring to is the dreaded Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana).
At one time the Bradford Pear was widely planted all around the city because of its modest size, adaptability, and early spring blooms. Unfortunately the tree has weak limbs which break during storms, horrible smelling flowers, and is as invasive as can be. They out compete most of our native under story trees such as Redbuds and Dogwoods and provide little if any ecological value. Fortunately, the planting of Bradford Pears greatly decreased once the negative attributes were discovered, however the damage is already done.
Let this example be a catalyst to encourage ourselves and others to recognize the negative impact non native invasive plants have on our environment. With the plethora of native trees, shrubs, and perennials available, finding beneficial alternatives to non-natives is easier than ever.
If you are in the Richmond area and would like to purchase native plants, check out Plant by Design Native Nursery . We are currently offering a selection of perennials native to our region and will be adding shrubs and trees in the near future. Plants will be available for purchase at Siteone (Formerly Glen Allen Nursery) and Elwood Thompson’s this April.
Over the last few years there has been a shift in the understanding of bees and the ones that need protecting. Until recently its been honey bees that get all the attention. Many are quickly realizing the detrimental impact this is having on our environment.
Honey bees are not native nor actually belong here. They also do not provide pollinating services for the majority of the crops we depend on. In the meantime incredibly important species of native bees are becoming extinct. If this trend continues the impact it would have could be catastrophic.
The short documentary below does a wonderful job of displaying the importance we all must begin to place on our native bees. Thanks for taking the time to watch!
Last post we discussed the removal of an invasive non-native known as Euphorbia amygdaloides. We got several requests to name ground covers to stay away from and also native options to use instead.
So here’s a quick list:
DO NOT PLANT: (No matter what your local nursery says!)
- Vinca minor (Perrie winkle)
- Vinca major
- English ivy (Shown in picture above)
- Spicata liriope (Or any liriope for that matter)
- Ajuga (Some varieties tend to be easier to keep in check so we aren’t totally against this one)
- Houttuynia cordata (Chameleon plant) – You will hate yourself forever if you plant this one. It is literally impossible to get rid of. Why would anyone still sell this???
- Clematis terniflora (Sweet Autumn Clematis) – We spent all day today removing this one from a residence on Grace St. It will take several more years to eradicate it.
- Euyonomus fortunei (Winter creeper)
GREAT NATIVE GROUND COVERS: (Let us know if you need help locating any of these)
- Chrysogonum virginianum (Green and Gold…shown above)
- Meehania cordata (Meehans mint… a great substitute for ajuga)
- Pachysandra procumbens (Don’t confuse this with the non-native pachysandra sold at most garden centers)
- Lindernia grandiflora (A great choice for planting between stepping stones)
- Clematis virginiana (Similar to terniflora but native and less aggressive)
- Callirhoe Involucrata (Wine cup)
- Carex pensylvanica (No need to plant liriope when we have this great native)
- Phlox subulata
- Phlox stolonifera
- Phlox divaricata
- Aster divaricatus
To sum things up, we at Plant by Design are not purists. We do believe that planting some non-natives in your landscape is perfectly fine. The issue comes when the non-natives are more aggressive and out compete our local flora. The ground covers we have asked you not to plant are invasive. While walking through the woods its hard not to find Vinca or Ivy choking out our native plants. Do not be afraid to mention this next time you are shopping at your local garden center. We never fault the home owner, we fault the garden centers that should be more responsible with the plants they sell.
Plant by Design LLC
A little over 2 years ago I obtained a sprig of Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Robbiae’ from a clients house we were doing work at. Despite reading about its invasive tendencies I decided to give it a try due to its incredible beauty as a dense shady groundcover. I told myself, “Surely I can keep it in check by regular maintenance”. Big mistake! Not only did it quickly spread by masses of runners, but after 2 years I started noticing the plant popping up 10 to 15 feet away from the mother plant. This told me that it also spreads readily by seed. This was the turning point for me. I knew if I didn’t eradicate the plant soon it would begin to spread into my nearby woods quickly out competing current native species inhabiting it. I had to say goodbye to my Euphorbia.
The good news is there are plenty of beautiful native ground covers that enjoy similar growing conditions. The plant I chose to replace this invasive nonnative is a sedge known as Carex pensylvanica. At first glance it looks like a type of grass but sedges are in fact their own separate thing. Come next spring the plugs I have installed will begin to fill out to 12″ wide and about 6 to 8″ tall. It’s a great ground cover to intermix with other plants. In the photo shown I have both Aruncus dioicus (Goats beard) and Meehania Cordata (Meehan’s mint) in the same area. I will post photos next year to show its progress.
There are tons of great varieties of native sedge currently in propagation. A few of our favorites are:
– Carex pensylvanica
– Carex woodii
– Carex Texensis (More tolerant of sun)
– Carex Appalachica (Thinner more delicate leaf)
– Carex leavenworthii
All of these Sedges do a great job of creating a shady ground cover that can also be used to substitute traditional non native lawns. The above varieties tend to max out at 6 to 8″ if left unmowed.
Mowing once a year in winter is a good idea to keep them healthy and full. Sedges typically spread by runners rather than seed so planting plugs is the preferred method. If you need help obtaining native sedge for your yard just let us know.
Final thoughts: No matter how beautiful the non-native plant may be, if it’s invasive, it’s not worth it! I will be battling seedlings of the Euphorbia for years to come. Lesson well learned.
Plant by Design LLC
Oaks (Querces) are the most majestic of our native trees; however, besides willow oaks, they are rarely planted in residential landscapes. Don’t let the size and potential acorn nuisance scare you away from planting one of these beautiful giants.
The picture to the right is a Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea) and is the reason we chose Oaks to be Novembers plant of the month. When it comes to fall color you just can’t beat it. Different species of Oaks provide color that varies from yellow to orange and even deep reds and purples. Their canopies provide excellent shade in the summer and a free source of mulch in the winter. It’s time to stop thinking of fallen leaves as a pain in the neck and see them for what they really are: natures mulch. Decomposing leaves provide beneficial nutrients to the soil, habitat, and also keep plants cool in the summer and warm in the winter. So this fall, why not consider mulching up the leaves in your lawn with a mower and then raking or blowing them into your planting beds. It’s way easier than bagging and you can always top dress the beds with a thin layer of hardwood mulch in spring if you prefer a cleaner look.
Another main reason to plant Oaks is the benefit they have on our ecosystem. According to Dr. Doug Tallamy, author of “Bringing Nature Home”, Oaks support 534 species of lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) caterpillars– far more than any other native tree or plant. This provides the food needed for all our migratory birds. Without the Oaks it is very likely that many species of insects, birds, and other animals would go extinct.
A few of our favorite Oaks are Quercus rubra (Pictured to the left), Quercus bi color, Quercus alba, and Quercus nutalli. I won’t get into the details of each of these oaks but feel free to do a little research to find out which one is best for you. We are always happy to answer specific questions as well. The only word of caution is to make sure you plant them in a spot that has plenty of room to grow. Many species grow to heights of 100′! This is definitely not an ornamental foundation tree!
Thanks for reading, and have a great fall!
Plant by Design LLC
Here at Plant by Design we consider October to be Ornamental Grass month.
Grasses are great year round, but October is by far the best when it comes to seasonal interest. In particular, the seed heads and fall color are what make grasses such an asset to design. Each October we will discuss a different ornamental grass that we feel no landscape should be without.
For this installment we will give the underused River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) their rightful place in the spotlight.
River Oats, also called Northern Sea Oats, are a clump forming ornamental grass that only gets around 3′ tall. Its structure is more similar to bamboo or other Japanese grasses (we like to encourage our clients who want Japanese gardens to include native plants that have a similar look. We will do a blog post on which of our native plants fit seamlessly into Japanese gardens soon).
If you need an ornamental grass for dry shade, this is the one you’ve been looking for. No other grass performs as well in these conditions. They will spread if the seed heads are not removed in early fall, but this is a great trait if you have a hill side or bank that you want to cover. Megan and I both have them in our landscapes and we are in agreement that they are easily manageable if spreading is not what you desire.
Chasmanthium latifolium is simply a gorgeous grass. Most of the year it is a vibrant green before turning shades of yellow in early fall. The seed heads persist for much of the summer and almost appear to glow in the early morning sun. By October they turn brown and offer an excellent accent for fall decorations or floral arrangements.
They are also great for nature! A few species of Skipper Butterflies use them as a host plant and the seeds are grazed by small mammals and birds. The foliage is also used in the creation of habitat. As for deer… they leave it alone!
River Oats are not the easiest grass to find at most garden centers so if you are having trouble locating some let us know and we will be glad to help you out.
Thanks for reading!
Plant by Design LLC
Last month we explained the important relationship between Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) and late summer blooming plants such as Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium/Eupatorium spp.). Just to reinforce the importance of correct plant pairings we would like to share the results of an area we planted this year for the Monarchs.
For this test we used the two most common types of Milkweed found at garden centers (Asclepias tuberosa & incarnata). During the month of August over 50 Monarch caterpillars were counted! Multiple chrysalis were found and many mature butterflies were spotted collecting pollen. Out of the two varieties of Asclepias used, Swamp Milkweed (Asc. incarnata) was by far the favorite. In fact we never once saw a monarch caterpillar on the tuberosa species. For nectar sources we planted many Eutrochium and Eupatorium species as well as other summer and fall blooming perennials. As is apparent in nature, diversity is the key! More variation in bloom times, positively correlates to more Monarchs having the necessary energy needed to survive the long trip back to Mexico.
It is now early September and I am still finding Monarch caterpillars on the Swamp Milkweed. As the Joe Pye weed and other mid to late summer perennials wind down, what can be planted to still provide these late bloomers the energy needed to make the trip? Two perennials immediately come to mind. Asters and Goldenrod! For Septembers plant of the month we will focus on Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
Solidago is a late summer/fall blooming perennial in the aster family (Asteraceae). The hundreds of species and cultivars range in size from less than a foot to over 6 feet tall. They sport small vivid yellow blooms that mass together to create a beautiful show. All pollinators benefit from golden rod during early fall due to the decline in other flowering plants. While being so important they are not commonly planted in residential settings. Two misconceptions that likely have led to this lack of use is that Goldenrod causes Hay Fever (which it doesn’t) and that they are just too weedy to have a place in a maintained garden (which it isn’t). In cultivation, Solidago spp. are excellent additions to any garden. Here are a few varieties that you can try:
- Solidago ‘Little Lemon’ – Dwarf variety that only gets about 1′ tall
- Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ – Beautiful clump forming cultivar that gets 3 to 4′ wide
- Solidago speciosa – We’ve started growing this variety in our nursery and it hasn’t dissapointed. It is also called Showy Goldenrod because of its stunning blooms. It reaches about 5′ tall and tends to bloom later than other species of Solidago.
So give Goldenrod a try this fall and let us know if you like it as much as we do.
Thanks for reading!
Plant by Design LLC