Hello to all our readers. We have some exciting news to share. Plant by Design Native Nursery has officially launched and will begin selling plants in early April. Check out our website to learn more and keep up with our upcoming events!
Thank you to everyone for your continued support and for helping us make this possible.
GET WILD, GO NATIVE!
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 decided 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 it 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 known 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.
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.
Plant by Design LLC
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.
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.
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!
Plant by Design LLC
Here at Plant by Design we consider October to be Ornamental Grass month.
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.
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).
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.
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
Last month we explained the important relationship between Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) and late summer blooming plants such as Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium/Eupatorium spp.). Just to reinforce the importance of correct plant pairings we would like to share the results of an area we planted this year for the Monarchs.
For this test we used the two most common types of Milkweed found at garden centers (Asclepias tuberosa & incarnata). During the month of August over 50 Monarch caterpillars were counted! Multiple chrysalis were found and many mature butterflies were spotted collecting pollen. Out of the two varieties of Asclepias used, Swamp Milkweed (Asc. incarnata) was by far the favorite. In fact we never once saw a monarch caterpillar on the tuberosa species. For nectar sources we planted many Eutrochium and Eupatorium species as well as other summer and fall blooming perennials. As is apparent in nature, diversity is the key! More variation in bloom times, positively correlates to more Monarchs having the necessary energy needed to survive the long trip back to Mexico.
It is now early September and I am still finding Monarch caterpillars on the Swamp Milkweed. As the Joe Pye weed and other mid to late summer perennials wind down, what can be planted to still provide these late bloomers the energy needed to make the trip? Two perennials immediately come to mind. Asters and Goldenrod! For Septembers plant of the month we will focus on Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
Solidago is a late summer/fall blooming perennial in the aster family (Asteraceae). The hundreds of species and cultivars range in size from less than a foot to over 6 feet tall. They sport small vivid yellow blooms that mass together to create a beautiful show. All pollinators benefit from golden rod during early fall due to the decline in other flowering plants. While being so important they are not commonly planted in residential settings. Two misconceptions that likely have led to this lack of use is that Goldenrod causes Hay Fever (which it doesn’t) and that they are just too weedy to have a place in a maintained garden (which it isn’t). In cultivation, Solidago spp. are excellent additions to any garden. Here are a few varieties that you can try:
- Solidago ‘Little Lemon’ – Dwarf variety that only gets about 1′ tall
- Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ – Beautiful clump forming cultivar that gets 3 to 4′ wide
- Solidago speciosa – We’ve started growing this variety in our nursery and it hasn’t dissapointed. It is also called Showy Goldenrod because of its stunning blooms. It reaches about 5′ tall and tends to bloom later than other species of Solidago.
So give Goldenrod a try this fall and let us know if you like it as much as we do.
Thanks for reading!
Plant by Design LLC
Here at Plant by Design we are pleased to announce that we now have an RVA nature photography section on our website. The photos will showcase the different flora and fauna of our city. In order to accurately identify the different species of insects we will be working closely with Dr. Doug Tallamy, an author and professor of entymology at University of Deleware, who wrote the groundbreaking book “Bringing Nature Home”. Give it a read and I promise you will never look at your landscape the same again.
Plant by Design LLC
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. It 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. This 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 soil
- Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Milkweed) – Orange blooms, medium to dry soil
- Asclepias purpurascens (Purple Milkweed) – Purple blooms, medium to dry soil
COMMON TYPES OF JOE PYE WEED:
- Eutrochium maculatum – (Joe Pye Weed) Medium to wet soil – Cultivar: ‘Gateway’
- Eutrochium dubium (Dwarf Joe Pye) – Medium to wet soil – Cultivar: ‘Baby Joe’
Plant by Design LLC