Native Hydrangeas – June’s Plant of the Month

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!  enldess summerThey 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 arrquercifoliaay 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. quercifolia fall color

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
www.plantbydesign.com

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Native Azaleas – May’s Plant of the Month

Evergreen azaleas are the most common shrubs found throughout much of the East Coast.  You can’t walk down a street in Richmond, VA without seeing masses of azaleas in almost every yard.  They bloom profusely in spring and then fade to the background as just another green shrub that needs occasional pruning.  These azaleas are so commonly used that many people would be surprised to learn that they are in fact not native.  What may be more surprising is that there are gorgeous native azaleas that are rarely sold in nurseries.  Why is this?  The only answer I can think of is that non native azaleas are evergreen while native ones are mostly all deciduous.  I’m about to go on a bit of a rant and then I promise I will get to the point of this blog post which is describing native azaleas in all their glory.

Okay, so for some reason over the years the idea of having a deciduous shrub in a landscape has become a negative thing.  It’s as if plants that lose their leaves are inferior to evergreens.  While design wise it makes sense to have evergreen shrubs on the foundation of a house, it’s not necessary most other ares in the landscape.  I would like to propose the idea that evergreen shrubs are in fact inferior to deciduous shrubs from most design and aesthetic standpoints.  As I said, evergreens definitely have their place in design, but when looking for seasonal interest they just don’t compare.  The primary example of this is fall color.  Most deciduous plants have incredible fall color.  Many also have fruits/berries that cling to the stems of the shrubs after the leaves have fallen.  Some plants such as redtwig dogwood and itea have colorful architectural stems that give great winter interest and would be unnoticed if the leaves remained.  Finally, one of the best features is getting to see the new growth take form in early spring.  Some plants such as buckeyes, native azaleas, and sumacs really put on a show.  Deciduous shrubs make walking through your yard an exciting adventure each season of the year.

Now on to Native Azaleas!

Like their non-native relatives, native azaleas prefer to be an under-story plant.  This means they want some protection from hot afternoon sun.  They also need good drainage.  If you have clay soil consider planting them up a few inches out of the ground and mounding dirt around them to help keep their roots from sitting in water.

There are many different types of Native Azaleas but I would like to showcase just a few for this post:

Rhododendron Canescens (Piedmont Azalea):

This is a large growing Azalea that can reach heights of 15′.  It is great as a specimenCanescens or used in mass as a border or screen.  The lite pink flowers smell incredible and will bloom for 2 weeks to a month depending on weather conditions.  Their blooms typically open up in early to mid April.  This is a great option for a large shrub that will make all the neighbors jealous!

 

 

 

 

Rhododendron Calendulaceum (Flame Azalea):

ThiRhododendron calendulaceums Azalea gets its name from the vibrant orange/red flowers that cover it in early to mid spring (May-June).  It can reach heights of 12′ and is also perfect as a specimen or screen.  Unlike Canescens, Flame Azalea is not fragrant.  However, what it lacks in the olfactory department it more than makes up for in the visual!

 

 

 

Rhododendron Atlanticum (Coastal Azalea)

R_MarydelNeed a smaller growing azalea?  This is the one for you.  Most reach a height of 2-4′.  They have fragrant white to pink blooms and work great as a foundation plant intermixed with other evergreens.  One cultivar we like a lot is ‘Marydel’.  It has medium pink flowers and gets about 4′ tall.

 

 

 

Beautiful right?  Spring is the true highlight of native azaleas but fall isn’t far behind either.  On most species the leaves turn a vibrant orange/red before dropping and revealing a beautiful branch structure that provides great winter interest.

If you live in the Richmond, VA area and would like to purchase native azaleas we recommend Colesville Nursery in Ashland.  They are the only nursery around that carries a large amount of native azaleas.  They also have a great assortment of other native plants as well.
www.colesvillenursery.com

Thanks for reading!

Plant by Design LLC
www.plantbydesign.com

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Columbine – April’s Plant of the Month

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.Aquilegia_canadensis_'nana'

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.

close upThe 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!

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Landscaping In Richmond, VA

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.

Gardenias:

gardenia-bushWho 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.

Loropetalum:

Loropetalum_Purple_Diamond_Close_Blooms_X21A26871Also 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.

Madison Jasmine: 

JasmineWhile 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.

Fig Trees:

Fig TreeThe 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!

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March Plant of the Month: Trillium

Here in Richmond, VA one of the first native perennials to emerge is the underused gem of a plant known as Trillium.  We choose it for this months plant because it’s a great sign that spring is right around the corner!

Commonly known as Toad Shade, TrilliTrillium cuneatum Bed 03G (2) 600x399 107KBum is a member of the lily family and is prized for its unique form.  It contains 3 leaves and a single flower that presents itself in the middle.  With some varieties the flower sits directly on the leaves while with others it is elevated above on a stem.  The leaves will either be variegated (as shown to the left) or solid green.  Flowers tend to be either red (Trillium erectum), white (Trillium grandiflorum), or yellow.

 

When planting Trillium it is best to choose a site that will get sun in the early spring but will be shaded in summer.  Typically this means planting it underneath deciduous trees.  Since they are slow growing and stay low to the ground it is best not to plant them intermixed with other aggressive plants.  It takes many years for Trillium to spread, white-trilliumbut if allowed to do so it can become a beautiful ground cover.  Because Trillium often dies back in the heat of the summer it is best to plant it around other non invasive shade perennials and shrubs.  This will insure that interest remains in mid to late summer.  Keep in mind, it is important to leave trillium standing even when it does die back.  If it is cut back in summer it will often not re-emerge.

So if you have a shady woodland garden we highly recommend giving trillium a try.  While not providing much in the way of nectar it is just a really cool native plant!  The moment you see it in your landscape you will know that warm weather is just around the corner!

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