Sunday, February 13, 2011

Don't Blow it all on Spring

Spring is surely coming, but the repeated applications of cold days and flaky precipitation have me wondering how much longer it will be before it arrives.  When it comes, spring will dazzle us as always, bringing wave after wave of fresh blooms like a fantastic fireworks display: “Oooooh … ahhhh!”  But even spring must come to an end at some point, and if you have decorated your garden with plants that bloom in the spring – even native ones – you’ll be looking at a lot of green come summer.

For a longer lasting parade of blooms, include some summer blooming shrubs and trees in your landscape.  I just happen to have some ideas here, if you need some.

Two species of Hydrangea are native to the Southeastern U.S. and both bloom in early summer.  Smooth hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens, is a very quiet woodland shrub that is found in moist areas near streams.  However, a number of cultivars have been identified, including the well known ‘Annabelle’.  It is easy to propagate and often shared among gardeners; I got my start from a friend.  Oakleaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia, is a handsome shrub with nice flowers, attractive foliage, good fall color and interesting bark – truly a four season shrub.  A number of cultivars have been created – including dwarf forms, forms with double flowers, and even a form with golden leaves (‘Little Honey’).

Hydrangea quercifolia
Hydrangea arborescens

Rhododendron prunifolium

Azaleas are not just for spring; there are a number of native azaleas that bloom later in the year.  In my yard, the swamp azalea, Rhododendron viscosum, has fragrant white flowers in early June.  In late June, my plumleaf azalea (Rhododendron prunifolium) starts flowering and continues through much of July.  The red flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds.  Azaleas do best in morning sun and afternoon shade, and they need adequate applications of mulch to keep their roots cool.

Aesculus parviflora

In a large sunny spot, Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) will create a summer-blooming spectacle guaranteed to have the neighbors talking.  My picture does not do it justice – imagine a shrub the size of your car with dozens of bottlebrush shaped white flowers reaching upward.  The blooms attract pollinators and butterflies.

Several late blooming trees should be mentioned.  The genus Magnolia includes both evergreen and deciduous species that are native to this area.  The evergreen Magnolia virginiana (Sweetbay magnolia) has beautiful silver-backed leaves and fragrant petite flowers.  I have learned to appreciate the native deciduous magnolias.  The oversized leaves on Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) never fail to impress visitors to my house – they offer a very tropical look much like a banana tree.  The flower is just as oversized but lasts only a few days.

Magnolia macrophylla
Magnolia virginiana

Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum), or Lily of the Valley tree, also blooms in the summer.  My tree is so tall that sometimes I don’t realize it is blooming until I find the tiny white bells already falling to the ground.  Bees love these blooms too – Sourwood honey is much prized by those that know of it.

Late into the summer come two more outstanding shrubs: Clethra and HibiscusClethra is known as Summersweet for it’s fragrant summer flowers.  Naturally found in moist areas, it does well in garden soil too.  Several cultivars of Clethra alnifolia are available: ‘Hummingbird’ is a low growing shrub with white flowers while ‘Sixteen Candles’ is a taller form.  If you like pink flowers, look for the species form or ‘Ruby Spice’.  Clethra has a suckering tendency in very moist conditions.  As you can imagine, bees and other pollinators love this plant.
Clethra alnifolia 'Ruby Spice'
Photo by S. George

Photo by M. Creekmore

There are several Hibiscus species native to the Southeast, but I think the showiest is Hibiscus coccineus, scarlet rosemallow.  This shrub has cutleaf foliage, rather reminiscent of a certain illegal plant.  But once it blooms, there is no mistaking this plant for a Hibiscus.  Naturally at home in swamps and marshes, this plant performs well in average moisture as well.  In a sunny spot, this shrub will bloom from late summer until frost.

Other ideas include our native roses: swamp rose (Rosa palustris), climbing rose (Rosa setigera), and the more common Carolina rose (Rosa carolina).  I recently purchased a Rosa setigera and look forward to seeing how it does in my garden this year.

This was my first year growing one of the bell-like Clematis (I already have Clematis virginiana naturally).  My new Clematis did not bloom until late (after being thoroughly munched by a caterpillar) but then it continued to bloom until frost.  I am not sure of the species name for this one, but the purple bells are enchanting!  Another summer vine that bloomed for me this year (for the first time ever) was Decumaria barbara, sometimes called “Climbing hydrangea”.  This vine grows naturally in my yard, but I had trained it over a sunny fence in the hopes of seeing some blooms.  It was gorgeous.

My Clematis

Decumaria barbara

I hope that you find some ideas here.  When choosing plants, consider all seasons so that you have pleasant surprises throughout the year.  You'll be glad you planned ahead come summer.

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