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.
Who 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.
Also 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.
While 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.
The 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!
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, Trillium 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, but 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!
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. 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