Evil Ground Covers!

Last post we discussed Invasive Ivythe 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)
Native Plants Richmond, VA

  • 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.

 

Native Landscape Design Richmond, VA
Plant by Design LLC
http://www.plantbydesign.com

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Goodbye Euphorbia :-( Hello Sedge!

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 dDSC_0007ecided 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 itDSC_0006 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 DSC_0013known 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.  IMG_2805
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.

Happy gardening!

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Plant by Design LLC
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November Plant of the Month: The Majestic Oak!

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.

Scarlet Oak Quercus coccinea

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.

Red-Maple-Tree- Quercus rubra

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!

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Plant by Design LLC
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October = Ornamental Grasses! Plant of the Month: River Oats

Here at Plant by Design we consider October to be Ornamental Grass month.

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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.

Chasmanthium latifolium

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).

Richmond, VA Landscaping

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.

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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
http://www.plantbydesign.com
create@plantbydesign.com

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Attract Monarchs!: Plant Milk Weed & Joe Pye Weed

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.  sn-migrationR2It 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. Eutrochium Joe pye Weed, Bumble bee, MothThis 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 soilAsclepias incarnata
  • Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Milkweed) – Orange blooms, medium to dry soilAsclepias tuberosa and Monarch Butterfly
  • Asclepias purpurascens (Purple Milkweed) – Purple blooms, medium to dry soilpurpurascens

COMMON TYPES OF JOE PYE WEED: 

  • Eutrochium maculatum – (Joe Pye Weed) Medium to wet soil – Cultivar: ‘Gateway’eutroch mac
  • Eutrochium dubium (Dwarf Joe Pye) – Medium to wet soil – Cultivar: ‘Baby Joe’eutroch dub

 

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Bee Balm – July’s Plant of the Month

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.

Jacob ClineJacob Cline

Rasberry Wine
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.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.Monarda_punctata_10684_500

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
www.plantbydesign.com

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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
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