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!
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
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
This month we chose to feature two plants because they have a special relationship when it comes to Monarch Butterflies. Monarchs are the most well known butterfly as a result of all the work that has been done to combat their population decline. Thanks to these efforts most people know that Monarchs need milkweed (Asclepias var.) in order to survive. It is their host plant and must be present for the adult butterflies to lay eggs. Due to herbicides being used in the crop industry, as well as land clearing, milkweed is not as abundant as it use to be. Because of this it is very important for everybody to plant a patch or two of milkweed in their yards (Plant at least two different varieties).
Planting milkweed is well and good but it’s not enough. What many don’t think about is that the adult Monarchs need a nectar source to build up the energy to lay eggs as well as to migrate later in the season. If the only flowering native plants you have in your yard are milkweed than there is a good chance you won’t end up with monarch caterpillars. Adults will be looking for a combination of nectar sources as well as varieties of asclepias. So what’s the best perennial to serve this purpose? Joe Pye Weed!
Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium var.) just might be our favorite perennial here at Plant by Design. In early spring the leaves emerge and slowly grow until the summer heat hits. Once this happens the purple stems explode to a height of 5 to 8′ tall! Their purpleish pink clusters of flowers will often reach over a foot wide. It would be hard to find a plant during the months of July and August that pollinators like more. From dawn to dusk it is covered in different species of bees butterflies and moths. This is why it’s so important to plant it alongside milkweed. The Monarchs flock to the Joepye weed and then lay their eggs on nearby milkweed. After the caterpillar forms its chrysalis and emerges it will have an immediate high quality source of nectar available. This allows them to build up the energy needed to migrate back to Mexico and start the process all over.
COMMON TYPES OF MILKWEED:
- Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) – Pink blooms, medium to wet soil
- Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Milkweed) – Orange blooms, medium to dry soil
- Asclepias purpurascens (Purple Milkweed) – Purple blooms, medium to dry soil
COMMON TYPES OF JOE PYE WEED:
- Eutrochium maculatum – (Joe Pye Weed) Medium to wet soil – Cultivar: ‘Gateway’
- Eutrochium dubium (Dwarf Joe Pye) – Medium to wet soil – Cultivar: ‘Baby Joe’
Plant by Design LLC
Bee Balm (Monarda), which is a member of the mint family, is possibly the best perennial available when it comes to pollinators. The flowers are quite showy and come in shades of pinks, reds, and purples. The most common Bee Balm seen in gardens are cultivars of the species Monarda didyma. I know we normally preach selecting straight natives when possible, but Monarda didyma is one of the exceptions. The straight species will become covered with powdery mildew in our climate. Some great cultivars have been developed with a resistance to this disease. A couple of our favorites are Jacob Cline & Rasberry Wine.
The great thing about these cultivars is that they appear to benefit our native insects just as much as the straight species. I have a large section of it in a meadow area of my yard and it is covered in many species of bees, butterflies, moths, and humming birds. I’ve also noticed quit a few gold finches hanging out on the flowers as well.
Another species of Monarda we love is Monarda punctata. It has a much different look from its relative didyma. The flowers almost appear to be silvery extensions of the leaves. While the smell is similar to all Monarda I feel it has a bit more of a minty aroma. This one is great in mass plantings where the silvery purple flowers can really show off. Planting the straight species is fine with this one.
One word of caution: All species of Monarda tend to spread rapidly from year to year. Make sure you plant it in an area that can handle its self sowing nature. Fortunately the plant is easy to pull up if it does begin to make a nuisance of itself.
Check out Sandy’s Plants if you are interested in purchasing some Bee Balm. They have many varieties including the ones mentioned here.
Thanks for reading!
Plant by Design LLC
Native Columbine (Aguilegia canadensis) is a wonderful woodland perennial for early spring. Gorgeous red blooms begin to appear as early as mid to late March but more commonly by April 1st.
We love Columbine because it is a low maintenance burst of color in shady areas. It also spreads pretty easy by seed which makes it a good choice for a ground cover in areas you want to stay a little more natural. The typical size is around 1 to 2′ tall by 1′ wide. If Aguilegia receives too much sun or dries out it will likely go dormant in the summer and reemerge once the temperatures cool down again; therefor, it’s definitely a plant best suited for moist part to full shade locations.
The unique blooms are a real show stopper. They are a favorite of hummingbirds and will surely attract these fascinating birds to your garden. Another great quality is that they are deer resistant. Over population of deer is a huge problem here in Richmond, VA and it can be frustrating finding plants that they will not devour. Columbine is one of them!
Just remember there are many varieties of columbine, most of which are not native. When you go to your local nursery be sure to specifically request Aguilegia canadensis to make sure you get all the benefits of this great native plant.
If you have any questions or need help locating native columbine just let us know!
Thanks for reading!
Each year around this time we have clients E-mail us with pictures of certain plants in their landscapes that seem to of gone from lush and green to brown and crispy over night. The problem is some of the most commonly planted shrubs in Richmond would really prefer to be further south. With this post we would like to address a few common plants that we would recommend not planting without taking certain precautions.
Who doesn’t love the smell of gardenias? Unfortunately they can be a very tricky plant to have success with in our climate. They need to stay cool with partial shade in the summer but also need to stay warm in the winter. Unless you live in a micro-climate such as the FAN you will probably have a difficult time getting them established. If you are able to get one established it will likely die back hard in the winter but should begin to send up new growth at the base once the temperatures warm up for spring. For wonderful fragrance we recommend planting Clethra instead. It smells amazing and is also native to our region.
Also called Chinese Fringe Tree, the Loropetalum is another commonly planted shrub that struggles with our winters. Once established it will likely do okay with minimal die back but getting it established can be tricky. The reason this plant is desired is for the burgundy red evergreen foliage. For a native plant with some red evergreen foliage try different varieties of Leucothoe Axilaris. Also consider planting deciduous shrubs that have gorgeous red fall color. Among the best are Itea Virginica and Red Choke Berry. For an ornamental grass check out Shenandoah Switch Grass for beautiful red foliage many months out of the year.
While more cold tolerant than Star Jasmine, Madison Jasmine still has a hard time making it through our winters. Once established it will likely experience die back and then flush back out in Spring. So if you have jasmine in your yard that has recently turned brown don’t panic yet! Give it some time and it will likely show signs of life within the next month. For great native vines, try Clematis Virginiana, Passion Flower, Native honey suckle (Lonicera Sempervirens), and Virginia Creeper (I know this one is often thought of as a weed but you just can’t beat the fall color of this great vine!) While all native vines tend to be deciduous, they flush back out and grow extremely fast in spring.
The final plant we would like to bring awareness to is the wonderful fig tree. Its fruits are cherished and its branch structure is considered a work of art. Over these past couple winters we have witnessed many 20+ year old fig trees totally die back to the ground. Most of them did recover once warm weather returned but they were dramatically reduced in size. If your fig tree did not appear to make it this winter give it some time and it may come back.
One thing these four plants have in common is they are all non-natives. This presents one more great reason to begin switching over to native plants in your yard. While the plants listed above are not detrimental to our environment they just don’t do very well here. A lot of time and money can be saved by planting perennials, shrubs, and trees that are intended to be in our area. So this coming spring keep it native and plant by design!