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!
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
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
More than likely when you think of hydrangeas an image of a large pink or blue puff ball comes to mind. The ever so popular Endless Summer Hydrangea! They do have their appeal. They bloom for many months and provide excellent color even in the heat of the summer (as long as they are receiving afternoon shade). However, the Endless Summer is not a native hydrangea. Some of the prettiest hydrangeas are native and they often take a back seat to non-native varieties simply because of marketing. Fortunately, the native varieties are readily available at most garden centers.
There are two main native hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia & Hydrangea arborescens) and both are fantastic. For this post however, we are just going to focus on Hydrangea quericifolia also known as oakleaf hydrangea. While this unique looking hydrangea can take a wide array of site conditions one of its best features is the ability to survive in dry shade. It does really well in areas under trees where most plants suffer from lack of water and sun. The leaves on this hydrangea look similar to an Oak leaf hence the name. The flowers bloom in large conical masses and are most often a whitish color that fades to pink as the flower ages. There are all types of cultivars that allow for planting of these great shrubs in just about any sized location. Two of our favorites are ‘Snow Queen’ which gets about 4-5′ tall and wide and ‘Alice’ which can reach heights of 10′! Dwarf varieties are also available though harder to come by. A final draw to this plant is the incredible fall color. Shades of oranges and deep reds will provide a truly breath taking site in your garden.
So we hope next time you are at your local garden center and thinking about purchasing some hydrangeas you will walk past the blue puff balls and instead give the underused oakleaf hydrangea a try. We know you’ll love it as much as we do!
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!