Think Native Plants When Designing Gardens
Last month we discussed why soil testing is one of the most basic, yet most important steps in gardening. Next, let’s look at when and what to plant.
The average date of the final frost in our area is April 15. However, watch the weather and be prepared to protect any tender plants that have been set out. After the last frost and with soil temperatures on the rise, it’s time to start your garden. A great source for frost dates, soil temperature and soil moisture information is the University of Georgia Weather Network. Just select the weather station closest to you for current and historical readings. www.weather.uga.edu.
Deciding what to plant is the exciting part! If you’re like me, it’s easy to get carried away by the beautiful displays at the local nursery and buy plants that may not be suited for their intended location. Examine the site before you leave home; determine the hours of daily sunlight, the type of soil (clay, sand, etc.), the soil moisture and drainage. Conditions in your yard can vary widely, so examine each area you want to plant. Also make sure you know the cold hardiness zone for your area. The USDA Agricultural Research Service provides a detailed interactive map. planthardiness.ars.usda.gov.
A thorough understanding of the site conditions enables you to choose the right plant for the right place. Plants that are well suited for their site establish themselves quickly, produce a healthy root system and become healthy plants. A healthy, thriving plant has a much better chance of fighting off disease or insect damage.
Know the habit and final size of the plant, then space the plants allowing enough room for them to grow successfully to their mature size. Your bed may look sparse at first, but as the plants grow it will achieve the desired look. The old adage, “sleep, creep, leap” perfectly describes the three-year growth pattern.
Another consideration is native vs. exotic, what the terms mean and why they matter. The National Wildlife Federation (www.nwf.org) states: “Native plants have formed symbiotic relationships with native wildlife over thousands of years, and therefore offer the most sustainable habitat. A plant is considered native if it has occurred naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without human introduction. Exotic plants that evolved in other parts of the world or were cultivated by humans into forms that don’t exist in nature do not support wildlife as well as native plants. Occasionally, they can even escape into the wild and become invasive exotics that destroy natural habitat.”
Are visions of kudzu dancing in your head?
The topic of what to plant is so broad, the University of Georgia Extension’s library of publications is a great place to start. Publications are written by faculty to offer unbiased, research-based information. Bbelow is a small sample of available bulletins. www.extension.uga.edu/publications.
• Native Plants of North Georgia: A Photo Guide for Plant Enthusiasts. Bulletin 1339.
• Flowering Annuals for Georgia Gardens. Bulletin 954.
• Flowering Perennials for Georgia Gardens. Bulletin 944.
• Home Gardening. Bulletin 577.
• Landscape Basics: Success with Herbaceous Perennials. Bulletin 1424.
• Soil Preparation and Planting Procedures for Ornamental Plants in the Landscape. Bulletin 932.
• Weed Control Options for the Home Vegetable Gardener. Bulletin Circular 1144.
Other websites of interest.
• Georgia Perennial Plant Association georgiaperennial.org.
• Georgia Native Plant Society gnps.org.
• Walter Reeves: The Georgia Gardener www.walterreeves.com.
• North American Native Plant Society nanps.org.
The Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County (MGVOCC) supports the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service and strives to improve the quality of life in our community by delivering research – based horticultural information, educational programs and projects.
– By Master Gardener Extension Volunteer Judy Abbott