01 May 2014

Making Better Plant Choices

Spring is here and our gardens are ready to be spruced up for enjoying the summer outside. 

Most of us will be wandering the garden centers over the next few weeks, shopping for colorful annuals to put in container and borders. Then we need a few vining plant or two for the trellis and maybe to cover a fence. If old shrubs look bad or a new tree is needed for shade and shelter, those decisions have to be made.

Gardeners who have a few years of experience know now what works and what was a disappointment some plants can be because they did not last through a season, never did fill out or bloom like the ones in the photos, or spread so fast that it became a nuisance.

Some of the problem trees include:
Bradford pear or Callery pear tree because it makes hundreds of babies all over the garden and break in storms. If a fast growing tree is needed, try Autumn Blaze Red Maple. It has two native maple tree parents so it will not seed profusely. Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry is another choice.

Eastern Cottonwood or Poplar is a popular landscape tree but not only is it weak and prone to early death but it sends out suckers and creates problems for gardeners. Tulip Poplar is a fast growing tree with more durable stems and branches.

Native Redbud trees are beautiful when they bloom in the spring but they live short lives replacing themselves a hundred times over with seedlings all through garden beds. The newer hybrids have been improved. Look for Floating Clouds, Merlot and Rising Sun selections.

Shrubs considered problem plants include:
Barberry shrubs, while planted in landscapes everywhere, are thorny as well as invasive. In their place choose Coppertina Ninebark which has the red leaves but not the  issues. Its peeling bark is beautiful in winter.

Firethorn or Pyracantha is another popular plant that is appealing to homeowners until they have tried to prune its thorny branches or their plant is killed by fireblight. Viburnums make better choices. Koreanspice Viburnum has berries for the birds as well as beautiful scented flowers in the spring. Linden Viburnum has spectacular red berries in the fall.

All of the suggestions and information above came from a recent book, “Plant This Instead: Better Plant Choices”, written by garden designer Troy Marden and published by Cool Springs Press. It is a 190-page paperback with dozens of suggestions with explanations and color photos.


Marden urges gardeners to grow plants that are more resistant to pests and diseases, are less aggressive, require less effort or are more attractive than the varieties commonly seen in landscapes.

Since he gardens in Nashville, Marden’s recommendations work well in our area.

For flowers, Marden recommends skipping Million Bells or Calibraihoa because they have special soil requirements and may not survive a summer. Instead, look for Supercal Calitunias which are less demanding. They require no deadheading, can take full or part sun.

Instead of Impatiens which developed virus problems a few years ago, Marden says to look for SunPatiens and New Guinea Impatiens instead.

When shopping for Petunias or Wave Petunias, consider Supertunia Vista Bubblegum, Pretty Much Picasso, Picasso in Pink or Tidal Wave Petunias instead. They have the same willingness to bloom all summer no matter how hot and humid it becomes.

The ever popular Bishop’s Weed could be replaced with Shuttleworth Ginger or Strawberry Begonias (Saxifraga stolonifera. Shuttleworth is a native groundcover with heart-shaped leaves.  Strawberry Begonias are beautiful under trees as ground cover.


The book is an easy-to-use, helpful, reference that can help us  plan and make improved choices for our gardens. 

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