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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Get Wild, Go Native!

A radical shift is taking place in the American landscape.  For decades foreign plants that were thought to be superior to our own native species have primarily been used.  Looking back, not only do we see that they are not superior, but we are also witnessing the devastating effects that many of these plants have had on our ecosystem.  Common invasive plants such as burning bush, russian olive, forsythia, and bradford pears crowd out our native species and spread rapidly by seed.  The problem with this infestation is plants that are depended upon by all facets of our ecosystem are disappearing as the dominant non natives take over.

As we begin to understand the intricate role native plants play in our ecosystem we realize how important they really are.  They provide food and shelter to countless wildlife that will go extinct without them.  They also help to clean our water and air as well as increase our soil fertility and prevent erosion.Native & Sustainable Landscaping Richmond, VA  One of the best parts about using native plants in a landscape setting is that they are very low maintenance once established.  They do not need fertilization and rarely need watering.  Also, if the correct plant is chosen for a particular spot it will need next to no pruning.  Plus, native plants are beautiful!  They have incredible seasonal interest and make stepping out into your yard a new experience every day.

With spring right around the corner we encourage everyone to join the gardening revolution and give native plants a chance.  We will help out by showcasing one native perennial a month to help our readers know which trees, perennials, and shrubs are perfect for their gardens.  And as always, feel free to contact us with any questions!

Get Wild, Go Native!

Plant by Design
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Forget Forsythia

forsythia03Forsythia blooms are one of the first signs that spring has arrived.  Often blooming in late winter to early spring, it lets us know that cold snowy days are behind us.  The flowers emerge before the leaves creating a stunning display of bright yellow against an often still stark backdrop of the last breaths of winter.  Oh yes, it’s easy to see why Forsythia has become a staple plant in Virginia.  But you know what?  Forget Forsythia!

While the blooms are fantastic they only last for 1 to 2 weeks.  What you are left with is an unruly looking shrub, often mistaken for a weed, that requires hard pruning in most landscape applications.  It’s not known for fall color and has zero winter interest.  Forsythia is not native and does very little for the local wildlife.  Take honey bees for example.  Their tongues are just a little too short to take full advantage of the nectar produced by the flowers.  While not considered “invasive”, Forsythia does spread over time and can be a pain to remove after years of growth.

What you end up with is 14 days of this:
Forsythia Spring

And 351 days of this:

Forsythia in the winterforsythia summer

While working at plant nurseries I remember in early spring countless customers coming in to ask for “that yellow blooming plant” they saw flowering all over the place.  Most didn’t understand that because of its size and growth rate forsythia is really only affective as a backdrop or maybe as a hedge if frequent pruning is something you actually enjoy.  *Keep in mind though that Forsythia blooms on old wood so pruning in summer or fall to maintain a uniform shape will greatly reduce the amount of blooms it produces the following spring.*
The bottom line is, it’s just not that great of a plant!

I understand Forsythia’s appeal (for 2 weeks out of the year) but I would like to make some alternative suggestions for late winter/early spring bloomers that can have just as big of an impact while providing more seasonal interest and benefits for our ecosystem. 

So forget Forsythia and try something new this spring:

Perennials:

Bluestar (Amsonia hubrictii)
Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata)
Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)
Bulbs such as Crocus, Daffodils, and Iris
Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis)
Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Shrubs: 

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) – late winter to early spring bloomer
Witch alder (Fothergilla) – early spring bloomer
PJM Rhododendron – early spring bloomer
Spice Bush – (Lindera benzoin) – late winter to early spring bloomer

Trees:

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Star Magonolia (Magnolia stellata) – one of the earliest spring blooming trees
Serviceberry (Amelanchier grandiflora)
Dogwood (Cornus florida)
Crabapple (Malus) – varieties range from early to late spring bloomers


Quick Note of Caution:

Keep in mind that all the plants listed here have a wide range of needs and growth habits.  Never hesitate to ask your local nursery expert which of these plants would work best for your particular application.  We’re always happy to answer questions as well. 

Thanks for reading!

– Megan & Brian
www.plantbydesign.com

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Bee-cause They’re Necessary

Nobody wants to get stung by a bee;  so it’s no surprise that many people shy away from planting flowering shrubs and perennials in fear that they will be attacked by a horde of bees on the way to their car each morning.  This is understandable (even though most bees are not aggressive), but the fact is we NEED flowering shrubs and perennials, particularly natives, to maintain a healthy ecosystem.

Honeybee_landing_on_milkthistle02

  This doesn’t mean you have to plant Rudbeckia right at your front stoop or Echinacea next to your favorite lounge chair on your back patio.  If bees are an issue for you, particularly if you are allergic, consider planting a large amount of bee loving flowers around the outskirts of your property or in a sunny area you rarely traverse.  Even just a few extra flowers in each yard can make a huge difference.

Here are a few bee loving perennials we use often:

  • Asclepias (butterfly weed)
  • Echinacea (coneflower)
  • Monarda (bee balm)
  • Rudbeckia (blackeyed susan)
  • Aster

So why are bees so necessary?  Check out this video and find out!

-Megan & Brian
www.plantbydesign.com
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