BrADford Pear

Invasive Bradford Pear

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While driving around this week keep a look out for all the white flowering trees scattered among just about every “natural” and unnatural area in our city.  This is a perfect example of the dangers of invasive species and why planting native to our region is so important.  The tree I am referring to is the dreaded Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana).

At one time the Bradford Pear was widely planted all around the city because of its modest size, adaptability, and early spring blooms.  Unfortunately the tree has weak limbs which break during storms, horrible smelling flowers, and is as invasive as can be.  They out compete most of our native under story trees such as Redbuds and Dogwoods and provide little if any ecological value.  Fortunately, the planting of Bradford Pears greatly decreased once the negative attributes were discovered, however the damage is already done.

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Let this example be a catalyst to encourage ourselves and others to recognize the negative impact non native invasive plants have on our environment.  With the plethora of native trees, shrubs, and perennials available, finding beneficial alternatives to non-natives is easier than ever.

If you are in the Richmond area and would like to purchase native plants, check out Plant by Design Native Nursery .  We are currently offering a selection of perennials native to our region and will be adding shrubs and trees in the near future.  Plants will be available for purchase at Siteone (Formerly Glen Allen Nursery) and Elwood Thompson’s this April.

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www.RVAnatives.com      Plant by Design Native Nursery Richmond, VANative Landscape Design Richmond, VA

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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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
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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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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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