ShadyGardens Blog

September 4, 2009

Native Plants for a Low Maintenance Garden

I am often asked why I focus so much on native plants. Many homeowners really just do not know what a native plant is, so I thought it best to clarify. A native plant is simply a plant type that occurs naturally in a particular area.

Often plants seen growing in abundance on roadsides are mistaken for native plants. The sight of kudzu and Japanese honeysuckle climbing and devouring trees and wooded areas cause new gardeners to turn up their noses at the suggestion to plant native plants. Those plants are invasive exotics and not native plants at all.

Native plants should be planted more often for several reasons:

  • Ease of growing. Native plants require less maintenance. No heavy pruning and no coddling.
  • Pest free, usually. Native plants have been growing with the same insects for years and usually will not die just because of a few bugs. A garden with no pesticides is a good thing!
  • Drought tolerant. Native plants have acclimated themselves to our changing environment and can tolerate whatever conditions a Georgia summer can dish out.
  • Deer-resistant. Yes, most native plants are deer-resistant. Deer will often walk right past a native plant to devour something from exotic lands, such as your prized hosta. Why eat something they see all the time in the woods, when they can try something new?
  • Beauty. A little known fact is that often the native plant is much more beautiful than it’s exotic counterpart. Some examples: Hibiscus coccineus, Hibiscus moscheutos, and Lonicera sempervirens. The image above is Hibiscus coccineus, native to the Southeastern United States. Isn’t it fabulous?

June 30, 2008

Honeysuckle & Plumleaf Azalea: Blooms In Late Summer

By the end of summer, many plants have grown tired of providing blooms for our garden. Sometimes it can be a challenge to find plants that will fill in this difficult time with flowers. A diligent gardener can find quite a few plants that bloom in late summer.

You’re probably familiar with Black-eyed Susan and Butterfly Bushes, providing the garden with blossoms this time of year no matter how hot it gets, attracting butterflies by the hundreds. You’ve seen Japanese Honeysuckle on the side of the road, or perhaps you’re even plagued with its invasive qualities in your own garden.

But have you seen our native Red Trumpet Honeysuckle? Lonicera sempervirens is a non-invasive evergreen vine that blooms almost year round, attracting hummingbirds, butterflies, and many other beneficial insects. Grow it as a groundcover, let it climb an arbor or trellis, or train it to cover a fence. You’ll be rewarded with blooms from spring to fall, and I’ve even seen blooms on mine in December! It will grow in sun or shade, but flowers more profusely in full sun.

For the shade, try Lobelia cardinalis, our native red Cardinal Flower, loved by hummingbirds. This perennial prefers moist soil, but can be grown in regular garden soil with supplemental water.

If you have a woodland garden, try the beautiful Plumleaf Azalea, an American native azalea made famous by Callaway Gardens. Rhododendron prunifolium is a rare deciduous azalea with bright red blooms in late July and August. Plumleaf Azalea prefers a cool shady spot with regular water.

Perennial hibiscus continues to offer up showy blooms in several colors right up until the onset of cold weather. There are many hybrid forms of our native perennial hibiscus, but my favorite is Hibiscus coccineus, often referred to as Swamp Hibiscus or Texas Star Hibiscus. It has attractive foliage in addition to the beautiful flowers. When I look at the blooms, it’s hard for me to believe that instead of coming from Hawaii, this plant is a native of the Southeast!

And for a little later on in the season, consider adding Swamp Sunflower, a good companion for perennial hibiscus, since they both share a love for sun and water. Helianthus blooms in September with large, bright yellow flowers on tall stems up to 10 feet tall! I hope you’ll try some of my suggestions in your late summer garden as you strive to make your garden more beautiful year round.
For more information on any plants mentioned here, contact us at
Shady Gardens Nursery.

January 30, 2008

You Can Plant in Winter!

February is a great time for planting here in Georgia! Shrubs and trees planted before the arrival of hot weather have a much better chance of surviving the drought. I’m afraid it’s time we all adjust our gardens for the return of the drought each year.

Recently our garden was certified as a Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. We are very proud of that, because preserving our environment for wildlife and our children is very important to my family and me.

Not only is preserving wildlife and native plant species important from an environmental standpoint, but native plants are easier to grow, since they are able to thrive in our climate!

In addition to being easy to grow, many of our Native American Species offer other advantages over the imported counterpart.

Consider American Euonymus with the unusual red fruits instead of the more common Euonymus that is invasive. The fruit resembles a hard strawberry until the capsule bursts open to reveal bright orange seeds—food for the birds! (See the photo above.)

American Native Azaleas perfume the garden with a lovely fragrance, while Asian Azaleas have no fragrance at all! And what could be more beautiful than a native azalea in full bloom?

Nothing smells sweeter than the banana-pineapple scented blooms of the native Sweetshrub, Calycanthus floridus.

The bright red blooms of our American native honeysuckle vine, Lonicera sempervirens, will attract whole families of hummingbirds, yet won’t take over and pop up all over the community as does the very aggressive Japanese honeysuckle.

So as you add new plants to your garden during this great planting time, seek out some of these rare native specimens, and don’t be afraid to plant them now, to give them a headstart before summer! And check back soon for suggestions on how you can improve your garden to help protect your local wildlife.

November 12, 2007

Native Plant Alternatives to Invasive Species Like Honeysuckle, Privet, Tallow, and Wisteria

Many popular landscape plants seem harmless but are actually invasive plants that are moving into the surrounding areas and crowding out native plant species. Once established, these plants are capable of strangling trees and covering up native plant species on which many of our beneficial insects and wild animals depend for their survival. This change to our environment could drastically alter our eco-system.
Most of these popular invasive species have a native counterpart that is much more desirable in both appearance and behavior!
Listed below are some commonly planted invasive plant species with some alternatives.
Chinese Tallow Tree (Popcorn Tree) is prized for its fall color, but is one of the worst invaders into our forests because of the rapidly dispersed seed. It is a lovely tree, but consider these alternatives:
Sassafras – a native small tree with beautiful fall color and large unusually-shaped leaves. It is easy to grow and tolerant of a variety of growing conditions.
Serviceberry – another native tree noted for its spring flowers and fall color with the addition of beautiful berries which are food for the birds.
Fothergilla – yet another native American tree/small shrub with showy, sweet-scented, white bottlebrush flowers in spring, and excellent fall foliage in shades of orange, red, and burgundy.
Viburnum – there are many varieties, both native and non-native, that are lovely, consisting of beautiful, showy blooms and many also have berries in shades of white, blue, pink, and red that provide wildlife food, and some ending up with beautiful fall foliage, while others are evergreen—yet they are never invasive!
Sourwood cannot be beat in my opinion. It’s my favorite native tree, because in addition to beautiful maroon foliage in early fall, Sourwood has fragrant blooms in early summer that look and smell like Lily of the Valley!
Chinese Privet is a highly invasive species that is all over the South! The plant is rapidly spread by birds who eat the small dark berries. Privet is very difficult to eradicate, since it’s still sold and planted in enormous proportions. It can be found in almost every landscape. In my opinion, it isn’t even very pretty, and I don’t know why people plant it, unless it’s because it’s evergreen. There are certainly many superior alternatives to this pest. I could go on an on with a list, but any fine, textured evergreen would be better. Here are just a few suggestions:
Boxwood is much slower-growing, which is an asset, since Privet must be pruned every few weeks to keep it tidy. Boxwood is available in dwarf sizes and variegated forms, making it unnecessary to ever plant privet.
Hollies are excellent with dark green glossy leaves and beautiful berries in shades of yellow, orange, and red. Dwarf yaupon holly is a native holly with small leaves giving a fine-textured appearance.
Yew is a lovely evergreen plant that is available in a variety of forms.
Viburnums are available in small-leaved varieties such as Davidii, Compactum, or Sandankwa.
Itea, Virginia Sweetspire, is a lovely shrub available in large or dwarf-growing sizes. Sweetspire has fragrant bottlebrush blooms in spring and one of the showest fall color displays of any shrub, native or not!
Japanese Honeysuckle appeals to many gardeners due to its fast-growing habit and its sweetly scented blooms, but the fact that it’s fast-growing is what has caused it to take over the South! Japanese Honeysuckle is one of the most common nuisance plants, yet it is still sold in garden centers everywhere!
American Native Honeysuckle, shown in the photo above, is one of the best hummingbird magnets I know of, with its large red tubular flowers that come year round in my garden. (There were a few blooms on mine even in January here in West Central Georgia!)

Confederate Jasmine (Star Jasmine) is an evergreen vine with sweetly-scented white star-shaped flowers.
Lady Banks Rose comes in 2 colors—white blooming which is very fragrant, and yellow blooming which is not. Both varieties thrive with neglect, and the largest, oldest rose bush in the country is a white Lady Banks Rose growing in Tombstone, Arizona! That should give you an idea of how easy it is to grow. That bush is over 100 years old!
American wisteria, yes, I did say wisteria!!, is a native vine that is just as beautiful as the Chinese and Japanese wisteria, but is not invasive at all. The blooms are very fragrant. You might see it sold as Amethyst Falls wisteria, but don’t be afraid to plant it. Avoid Chinese and Japanese wisteria, because I can show you how it’s taking over much forestland in Alabama and Georgia, strangling and pulling down trees, much like kudzu.
Clematis is available in many varieties, both native and non-native species.
Passionvine is another native perennial vine with very showy, large purple flowers and attractive, edible fruits. This vine will self-sow, but never crowds out its neighbors.
I hope you will consider some of these suggestions, and plant native plants instead of invasive exotics. Thus you will be helping to preserve our environment as it is, for our wildlife neighbors and for our children.

October 31, 2007

Drought Tolerant Plants for Georgia

“Average Moisture” is a term we see often on plant labels and in garden books. Many plants do well with average moisture. If only I had a garden with average moisture! It seems like our drought comes earlier each year. Our garden shows serious signs of stress, since we’re now under severe drought status. Nowadays when I search for new plants, I look for those claiming to be drought tolerant. Once again, I’m drawn to native plants—plants that occur naturally in this part of the country. Many native plants are rare plants, mostly as a result of land development for housing, shopping, and industry, but specialty nurseries have them. Georgia climate poses some problems for many plants—our summers are hot and humid. Most years we receive little rainfall. Yet our winters can be cold. Actually, it’s the extreme temperature fluctuations that cause the demise of many plants in winter here in Georgia. Native plants are accustomed to our temperature fluctuations and our drought. Believe it or not, there are some plants that grow very well in dry soil. For dry shade, look for Columbine, Perennial Geranium, Cast Iron Plant, Rohdea, Carex, Autumn Fern, and Christmas Fern. For dry sun, you’ll be rewarded by Amsonia, Asters, Yarrow, Ice plant and other succulents, Blanketflower, Perennial Sunflower, Blackeyed Susan, Ornamental Grasses, and Red Trumpet Honeysuckle. If you plant some of these drought tolerant plants, you’ll find it easier to have a beautiful garden during this Georgia drought.

October 28, 2007

Native Plants vs Exotics

Many popular landscape plants are actually invasive plants that are moving into our natural areas and crowding out native plant species. Once established, these plants are capable of strangling trees and covering up native plant species on which many of our beneficial insects and wild animals depend for their survival. This change to our environment could drastically alter our eco-system.
Most of these popular invasive species have a native counterpart that is much more desirable in both appearance and behavior!
Listed below are some commonly planted invasive plant species with some alternatives.
Chinese Tallow Tree (Popcorn Tree) is prized for its fall color, but is one of the worst invaders into our forests because of the rapidly dispersed seed. It is a lovely tree, but consider these alternatives:
Sassafras – a native small tree with beautiful fall color and large unusually-shaped leaves. It is easy to grow and tolerant of a variety of growing conditions.
Serviceberry – another native tree noted for its spring flowers and fall color with the addition of beautiful berries which are food for the birds.
Fothergilla – yet another native American tree/small shrub with showy, sweet-scented, white bottlebrush flowers in spring, and excellent fall foliage in shades of orange, red, and burgundy.
Viburnum – there are many varieties, both native and non-native, that are lovely, consisting of beautiful, showy blooms and many also have berries in shades of white, blue, pink, and red that provide wildlife food, and some ending up with beautiful fall foliage, while others are evergreen—yet they are never invasive!
Sourwood cannot be beat in my opinion. It’s my favorite native tree, because in addition to beautiful maroon foliage in early fall, Sourwood has fragrant blooms in early summer that look and smell like Lily of the Valley!
Chinese Privet is a highly invasive species that is all over the South! The plant is rapidly spread by birds who eat the small dark berries. Privet is very difficult to eradicate, since it’s still sold and planted in enormous proportions. It can be found in almost every landscape. In my opinion, it isn’t even very pretty, and I don’t know why people plant it, unless it’s because it’s evergreen. There are certainly many superior alternatives to this pest. I could go on an on with a list, but any fine, textured evergreen would be better. Here are just a few suggestions:
Hollies are excellent with dark green glossy leaves and beautiful berries in shades of yellow, orange, and red. Dwarf yaupon holly is a native holly with small leaves giving a fine-textured appearance.
Yew is a lovely evergreen plant that is available in a variety of forms.
Viburnums are available in small-leaved varieties such as Davidii, Compactum, or Sandankwa.
Itea, Virginia Sweetspire, is a lovely shrub available in large or dwarf-growing sizes. Sweetspire has fragrant bottlebrush blooms in spring and one of the showiest fall color displays of any shrub, native or not!
Japanese Honeysuckle appeals to many gardeners due to its fast-growing habit and its sweetly scented blooms, but the fact that it’s fast-growing is what has caused it to take over the South! Japanese Honeysuckle is one of the most common nuisance plants, yet it is still sold in garden centers everywhere!
Red Trumpet Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, is one of the best hummingbird magnets I know of, with its large red tubular flowers that come year round in my garden. (There are a few blooms on mine now in January here in West Central Georgia!)
Carolina Jessamine is an evergreen vine native to the Southeastern US that produces tubular yellow blooms in late winter to early spring.
Confederate Jasmine (Star Jasmine) is an evergreen vine with sweetly-scented white star-shaped flowers.
Lady Banks Rose comes in 2 colors—white blooming which is very fragrant, and yellow blooming which is not. Both varieties thrive with neglect, and the largest, oldest rose bush in the country is a white Lady Banks Rose growing in Tombstone, Arizona! That should give you an idea of how easy it is to grow. That bush is over 100 years old!
American wisteria, yes, I did say wisteria!!, is a native vine that is just as beautiful as the Chinese and Japanese wisteria, but is not invasive at all. The blooms are very fragrant. You might see it sold as Amethyst Falls wisteria, but don’t be afraid to plant it. Avoid Chinese and Japanese wisteria, because I can show you how it’s taking over much forestland in Alabama and Georgia, strangling and pulling down trees, much like kudzu.
Clematis is available in many varieties, both native and non-native species.
Passionvine is another native perennial vine with very showy, large purple flowers and attractive, edible fruits. This vine will self-sow, but never crowds out its neighbors.
I hope you will consider some of these suggestions, and plant native plants instead of invasive exotics. I truly recommend native plants for every garden, but there are some other plants that have earned respect with their ease of growing and ability to do well without invading our natural areas. Just, whatever you do, don’t plant any more invasive exotics! Where ever you live, when you plant native plants, you will be helping to preserve our environment as it is, for our wildlife neighbors and for our children.

October 27, 2007

Dry Climate Gardening

This time of year has always been my favorite time to work in the garden. I want to plant pansies, mums, and beautiful, crunchy, purple kale! But if you’re like us, the recent rains didn’t soften up the soil any, so digging a garden bed is almost impossible. I just can’t plant anything in the soil we have right now. If the showers you received were not as much as you’d hoped (I was praying for a monsoon), there are still some things you can do to make your garden more beautiful! One very important task that can be done any time of year is to improve the soil. We look forward to the falling leaves, because we chop them up with our lawnmower and spread those on all of our garden beds. If you’ll add composted manure to your beds, earthworms will be attracted to break down all the organic matter to improve the nutrition in your soil. This will lessen soil compaction and will also make it easier for the rain we do receive to reach the roots of your plants. You can sprinkle composted manure and chopped up leaves right on top of the beds around your plants—no need to work it into the soil. This should be done every fall anyway. Landscape supply companies also have available a double-ground mulch that is excellent for improving soil texture, and it’s a beautiful dark brown color that makes the plants look better, retains moisture, and keeps the roots at a more consistent temperature during heat waves and cold spells. If you’ve contemplated adding some hardscape to your garden, now is a great time to build an arbor or rock wall. The cool weather will be pleasant while you work. Then when the rain comes, consider planting a beautiful native vine like Red Trumpet Honeysuckle or American Wisteria at the base of your arbor instead of an exotic vine that will require lots of water and pruning to keep it from taking over! You know, native plants don’t require as much water—they’re used to whatever our Southeastern climate has to offer. When you thank God for the rain we received last week, ask him to send a little more!

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