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Choosing Landscape Plants That Work

Everyone wants low-maintenance landscaping and one of the keys to success is knowing a palette of plants that will thrive in a given situation. But how do we choose such a list? One school of thought is to look to the natives, and there are many excellent landscape plants that happen to be native to the Southeast. However, in the ongoing battle that is gardening, I have been defeated more times than I’d care to admit by native plants.

While hiking at Hanging Rock State Park one Spring I noticed a beautiful yellow-flowering shrubby tree growing on the side of a ravine below a waterfall. I id’d it as a species of viburnum and later realized that one of my suppliers grew it. On my next buying run I picked out a nice specimen and planted it in my garden... only to immediately discover that it had no drought tolerance whatsoever. In nature it thrived in a microclimate that provided constant moisture and did fine with daily overhead watering at the nursery, but in the landscape it was a complete failure. Another example is Coastal leucothoe- a strikingly beautiful plant. It’s a low evergreen with cascades of flowers in Spring and great foliage, a perfect plant to spill over stone at a water feature. The first time I planted a mass of it it promptly mildewed. Not wanting to spray it and not wanting to give up, I tried a new crop using a different planting method that provided perfect drainage for the root system. Yep, mildewed again. I mentioned this to the grower and he told me they sprayed it all season long to keep it looking “healthy”.

Over the years I’ve put together a list of the plants that perform well in Apex and Cary, NC. These plants have some common attributes:

  • Winter hardiness

  • Drought-tolerance

  • Pest and disease resistance

  • Neat habit of growth without excessive pruning or maintenance needs

Compared to all the variety available at a retail nursery it is a relatively small group of plants- but it works!

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