Spring has sprung in my neck of the woods. Grass has greened up. Early bulbs have begun blooming, Daffodils and Bluebells are about to bloom. Plants have begun to arrive at Garden Centers to tempt us into impulse purchases with their fresh green foliage after another grey winter.
To plant or not to plant, that is the question
So, what should you consider when deciding if you should add a new plant to your garden?
- How does it look through the seasons? Does it look great in Spring, but after that it’s ho-hum?
- When is it’s peak interest? If flowers, how long does it bloom?
- How does it look in each season. How quickly does it wake up in the Spring? When is it worn out?
- What does the plants foliage look like? What is the foliage color and texture? See my post on plant textures for more info.
- Is it a member of the tough plants club? If you put it in your garden, will it look it’s best or will it look like it should be sent to the land of misfit plants.
That’s a lot to consider!
Especially considering plants perform differently in different regions and growing conditions. For example:
- Azaleas can grow in the southeast like weeds. But here in Illinois they struggle.
- Colorado spruce are low care plants in arid west, but often are wrecked by disease in the our global warmed humid summers of the Midwest.
Most people don’t research this before they buy plants, so they just use the trial by error method. If it looks good enough to them, they give it a try. Maybe they ask a trusted person at a nursery or if they are really desperate, a blogger.
What if I told you there was a way to select tough plants that are solid performers throughout the year, readily available and often cheap?
Where to look for Tough plants
One way to find these solid season long performers for your specific area, is to open your eyes to what is planted by commercial landscapers around you.
Specifically, look at what is planted around restaurants, shopping centers, hospitals, apartment buildings, and even parking lots.
I can hear the immediate outrage and objections. “I don’t want my yard looking like a Chili’s!”
Don’t worry. I don’t want that either.
If you look at the plants around these places, you will see some plants that you will like that will be bullet proof performers in your garden. I am not suggesting you ONLY use these plants!
Don’t necessarily look at HOW they are planted together, but instead look for WHAT is planted. Although, some commercial landscapes are better done than others.
Tough Plants for a tough market
Commercial real estate is a cut throat industry with tight margins. Commercial real estate landscapers work with similar tight margins.
They cannot afford plant failures and replacements. They also can’t use plants which require extra care to keep alive over the years.
Look at the plants, not the designs
You are not looking for designs to copy.
When you see a plant that strikes your fancy, take a photo of it with you cell phone. When you are at your local nursery, you can ask them to ID it.
So what are some tough plants that can be found at commercial sites?
Some tough shrubs
- Gro-Low Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’)
- Northern Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)
- Japanese Spirea (Spirea japonica)
- Knock out roses (Rosa ‘Radrazz’ PP#11836)f
- Yews (Taxus xmedia)
- Junipers (Juniperus)
- Hydrangeas (Hygrangea)
Some tough perennials
- Karl Forester feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ )
- Moonbeam coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’)
- Goldstrum black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’)
- Rozanne Geranium (Geranium x ‘Rozanne’ P.P.# 12175)
- Purple cone flower (Echinacea purpurea)
Native prairie plants are among the toughest
There is a definite trend toward using native plantings around modern commercial developments, I have noticed this especially on new developments of Corporate headquarters, government buildings and community colleges.
Low maintenance prairie plants such as Little Blue stem, prairie drop seed and others are joining the ranks of other tough plants suitable for commercial landscapes.
Some native grasses that are tough plants:
- Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolis heterolepsis)
- Northwind switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’)
- Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
So next time you are out driving in your car, take a look around for the what just might be the next plant for your garden.
Warren Braun says
Another great posting, Jim!
Wish we had your advice suitable for our Tucson high desert climate!
Thanks Warren. Dessert plants unfortunately are not a specialty of mine!