Plants Don't Read Our Tags
Right plant, right spot. Have you heard that? We're forever telling clients and customers that catchy, little phrase. Interpreted, it means, don't plant a crape myrtle that gets 20' x 15' in a two foot space next to the garage, no matter how pretty it's multi-stem arching trunks look there now. Sooner over later, you're going to hate that plant because it will grow and grow, and you will prune and prune, and one day the plant will win and you'll be parking in the street.
Here's the rub: Your neighbor has the exact same crape myrtle, and it never grows and it fits perfectly in their two foot spot by their garage. They aren't parking in the street.
Yeah, plants are like that. They don't read the plant tags. They grow beyond their noted maturity size, or conversely, they never grow at all.
So then, what's all the bother with right plant, right spot? The stated size is an average size or maintenance size estimated by growers and nurserymen. Plants don't quit growing once they hit that average size. The 'Little Gem' Magnolia that says it reaches 20' x 15' can get 30' if it lives long enough, and has the right conditions. When stating sizes, different tags read different ways. Some will give you the maturity of the plant at 10 years (Islei Nursery does this). Some will give you an average size determined by trialing plants. What's a gardener to do?
Remember: Stated plant sizes are guidelines for the mature height and width of a living, breathing, organic plant, not a measurement for a kitchen cabinet. The sizes give you proportion (columnar, cone, square), and hopefully, a pretty good range for a ten year period.
Rule of thumb: Give plants room to spread out. That American beautyberry? It's going to look stunning in fall, with it's purple-magenta berries, given plenty of room to send those branches out (tag says 5'-8' x 5'-8', but as we all know, that's a big 5-8'). It won't look stunning crammed between two Nellie Steven's hollies that get 20' x 10', and are planted 3' apart. None of us want to start culling 5 years after planting.
For more on right plant, right spot, read this Proven Winner's article: click here.
The Longer You Live in a Landscape the Shadier It Gets
Take a picture of your garden now. Take a picture of it in 3 years. Then again in 5. See the difference? Those dogwoods and sugar maples you planted are now shading your full sun perennial beds. When you hear yourself saying things like, "My azaleas just don't bloom like they used too," look up. Maybe all that's needed is fertilizer or rejuvenation pruning to invigorate old azaleas, but often, what was once a sunny spot, is now a shady one.
Trees have grown, neighbors have added onto their homes, a lot can change and because we live with the daily changes we don't notice it so much. Sometimes, trees fall, creating more sun, but mostly our homes get shadier. Take heart, there are plenty of shade plants to create shade gardens, and gardening in the shade? Way more fun than the hot sun.
Here's the good thing: Finding yourself in the shade is an opportunity to learn new plants and start new gardens.
Remember: Gardens aren't static. They evolve and change. That's part of what makes them so interesting to us. As gardeners, we adapt with our gardens, not the other way around.
Rule of thumb: If you've lived in a house for 15+ years, chances are good, you've gone from full sun to part shade or full shade. Take stock. Can some trees be limbed up to allow for more sunlight? Is it time for trees to come down? Are some shrubs in need of replacing because they no longer get enough sunlight to bloom? Have an arborist routinely check the health of your trees and determine if any culling is necessary. Put that on your spring or fall clean-up list to ensure trees don't fall on your house or your neighbor's. Have a garden coach suggest some new plantings that can replace old shrubs that no longer perform. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes--even your own--is necessary.
For some of our favorite shade plants: click here.
Perennials Live Forever, Right?
No, perennials don't live forever. As we all know, nothing does. Some perennials are called short-lived perennials. They live 3-5 years (lupines, delphiniums), others are longer-lived, up to 15 years (ballon flower), and then decades (peonies). And, as noted above, conditions can change which will impact the lifespan. The best way to keep your perennials thriving year-to-year is to divide them every 3-6 years, and spread them around. When you see perennials bleeding out in the middle, or getting thinner, it's time to divide. This applies to grasses, as well. Due to the sheer volume of perennials, a good book on perennials is an excellent resource for gardeners to have handy. (Although, they're getting harder and harder to find since many use the internet for that purpose. Still, nothing beats a good book, so if you know of a good one, please comment below. I'd suggest The American Horticulture Society Encyclopedia of Perennials.)
Here's the how-to: Divide and propagate. That creates more perennials for the borders and keeps your perennials thriving. For step-by-step instructions, click here.
Remember: Some perennials reseed easily and can be transplanted to where you want them. Black eyed Susans, foxgloves, echinaceas, salvia and sedums are are a few.
Rule of thumb: For spring blooming perennials, divide and transplant in the fall. For summer and fall blooming perennials divide and transplant in spring.
For our some of our favorite full sun perennials: click here.
These tips come from our daily conversations with customers. As we listen, we hear comments like, that plant tag is wrong! Or, why do azaleas quit blooming? We'll post more tips as we go through the season, but please, post your own trial-learned tips below. We'd love to learn from you. Questions are welcome, too. We'll do our best to answer them.
Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach, blog writer, outside sales staff.
BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upsate South Carolina, and Tennessee.