ShadyGardens Blog

February 12, 2008

Drought Tolerant Plants for Georgia Native Plant Gardens

As our climate here in Georgia becomes more hot and dry, it is important to make wise choices when considering plants for the garden. Necessary watering restrictions imposed last year caused many of our newly planted garden plants to die. If you don’t want to be faced with those same results again this year, consider plants that actually enjoy hot, dry growing conditions. My husband jokingly states that we live in the ‘Desert Southeast.’ Well, there really seems to be alot of truth to that new nickname, so we’ve added several plants to our garden that originate in the desert southwestern US. Plants from that region are accustomed to hot, dry climates with poor soil and most will adapt well to our climate here. Southwestern native plants need well-drained soil, though, and for the most part, Georgia soil is heavy clay. Some soil improvements will be necessary to help those plants survive here. Now, bear with me for a moment–I know you’re thinking I’m about to suggest you install a cactus garden, but I’m not. Most of the time when we think of the gardens of Arizona, we think only of cactus and yucca, but there’s more out there than that. I’ve compiled a list of garden worthy plants that deserve consideration for Georgia gardens, along with photos to show you how beautiful they are. Some of these recommendations are actually native to the Southeast!

  • Delosperma comes in several varieties with different foliage and bloom color, but my favorite Ice Plants are cooperi and nubigenum. Delosperma cooperi has rather large purple flowers resembling asters on a ground-hugging succulent plant. Delosperma nubigenum has sunny yellow flowers resembling daisies on a very low-growing succulent with jelly-bean shaped leaves that turn red with the onset of cold weather.
  • Gaillardia, often referred to as Blanket Flower or Indian Blanket, has blooms all summer long that, as the nickname implies, have all the colors of an Indian Blanket. The blooms are quite large and bright, visible from a distance, making this plant ideal for roadside gardens. Some even have ruffly or double petals!
  • Rudbeckia (Black eyed Susan) and Echinacea (Coneflower) are probably already in your garden, but seek out some of the new colors which are hard to find but unusually beautiful.
  • Ornamental grasses will provide movement in the garden as well as foliage contrast. The blooms which are usually in the form of a plume or seed head offer additional beauty at the end of the season and also food for some of our native birds! An unusual native grass we grow in our garden, Muhlenbergia capillaris or Pink Muhly Grass, goes unnoticed all year until September when billows of pink cotton candy appear above the foliage–simply spectacular!
  • Bulbs tend to be more drought tolerant, so if a native plant forms a bulb, you can usually count on it surviving a drought and returning when more favorable conditions return. One of my favorites is a California native plant, Dichelostemma, commonly referred to as Firecracker plant. This plant is available in either red or pink blooms and likes dry summers! Other drought-tolerant native bulbs are Solomon’s Seal and Rain Lilies. Zephyranthes candida sends up lovely white blooms usually right after a good rain shower, which is the reason for its common name.
  • Amsonia is a native perennial that really looks like a grass to me. In early summer blue flowers are lovely, but in my opinion this plant is most beautiful in fall when the foliage turns the brightest of gold.
  • Baptisia also has many seasons of beauty–soft blue-tinted foliage appears in spring, vivid blue flowers are next, then large seed capsules that turn black in late summer. Wow!
  • Vines are needed in every garden for that vertical interest, and my absolute favorite of all is the very drought tolerant Cross Vine, Bignonia capreolata. Not to be confused with the also beautiful Trumpet Vine which can be invasive if not controlled, the Cross Vine is much easier to manage. And instead of just plain orange blooms, Bignonia has blooms that resemble a flame–yellow, orange, and pinkish red all on the same flower! Shaped like a trumpet, the blooms are a favorite of the hummingbirds here.
  • I wouldn’t be discussing native plants if I didn’t mention my very favorite native tree, the Red Buckeye. Unlike other buckeyes, the Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia, grows well in dry soil. The huge red bloom panicles appear in very early spring even before the leaves, and provide food for the hummingbirds just as they are returning from their winter vacation.

    These plants tolerate our winters as well as our hot, humid summers, as long as the soil is well-drained. So as you plan for new additions to your garden this year, remember there’ll be a drought and plant some of our beautiful native American plants that are even more accustomed to the heat than we are!

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!

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.