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!

www.plantbydesign.com

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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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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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