The two talks given at “Saturday in the Garden” on Native Plants and Drought Tolerant Plants were most informative. The speakers who are Volunteer Master Gardeners were very knowledgeable and their enthusiasm evident despite the muggy, warm morning.
At the sign-in desk everyone was given the 48-page color guide, produced March 2015 “Native Plants for Northern Virginia” by Plant NoVA Natives. The beautiful, informative guide was worth the trip alone. If you were unable to attend the talks, you’re in luck because you can download this guide at their website. This is specific for our area of Northern Virginia. Many of the morning’s talks about the plants in the gardens are featured in this guide and the Latin name of plants listed below were found in this booklet. Another freebie was the fold-out about “Sweet Pepperbush” Clethra alnifolia the 2015 Virginia Wildflower of the Year published by Virginia Native Plant Society. Brochure about Sweet Pepperbush is available at their website.
Volunteer Master Gardener, Karen, spoke first on the importance of creating an environment for the insects and critters to meet their needs for food, shelter and reproduction. We need to plant native plants because our insects evolved with natives. It wasn’t until the first Europeans arrived that their environment changed as we introduced foreign or invasive plants. Insects can’t recognize an alien plant as a food source so they don’t know to use it thus they are not able to thrive. When we plant invasive or alien plants, they may be pretty to us but they are taking up space where natives should be. Natives take less maintenance, less water and less pesticides to grow and who wouldn’t want to do less in their gardens and enjoy them more? It was suggested to use the Latin name of a plant if you’re shopping around so you’re assured of getting a true native plant. In the Native Bed, no commercial fertilizer is used. Their secret is once a year to put compost down with a layer of mulch to control weeds. The best mulch is leaves. Just run your lawnmower over the leaves in your yard and put the chopped leaves around your plants. Best of all – the mulch is free and no hauling it from the store. Most natives can get along just fine with natural rain and can tolerate dry spells. They like our clay soil. You must remember that planting a native is great but keep in mind “Right Plant, Right Place” if you want them to do well. By having a native garden, you are creating a by-way for birds to migrate through. They can stop off for food and shelter before continuing on their way. Encourage your local nursery to carry native plants. Jannell, Volunteer Master Gardener, walked us through the Native Bed and showed us (just to name a few):
Rudbeckia species: Brown-eyes and Black-eye Susan, Coneflower – goldfinches and chickadees love their seed.
Lonicera sempervirens Trumpet or Coral Honeysuckle, native, semi-evergreen, hummingbirds like them.
Cephalanthus occidentalis Buttonbush: just finished blooming, white or pale-pink flowers resembling pincushions in June-Sept., full sun to part shade.
Monarda didyma Scarlet Beebalm: likes a moist soil, bees love
Monarda fistulosa Wild Bergamont – invites pollinators
Cornus florida Flowering Dogwood – red berries are great for migratory birds, does like some shade
Pycnanthemum tenuifolium Narrow-leaf Mountain Mint
Zizia aurea Golden-Alexanders: a favorite for the Black Swallowtail butterfly
Polygonatum biflorum Solomon’s seal: graceful arching stems with bell-like flowers
Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’ Fragrant Sumac: nice low lying plant. Are male and female, females produce berries. Great fall color with reds & oranges, not poisonous.
Panicum virgatum Switchgrass: gives you vertical interest, birds like the seed heads
Antennaria plantaginifolia Plantain-leaved Pusseytoes: flower looks like the bottom of a cat’s paw, does well in dry soil and can take hot sun.
Yucca filamentosa Yucca and Rattle plant.
Chrysogonum virginianum Green & Gold: as its name states green leaves and gold flowers
Itea virginica Virginia Sweetspire: great nectar plant, attractive ornamental.
Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ Eastern redbud: attractive red leaves
Coreopsis verticillata Coreopsis, yellow flowers May-August, does well in full or part sun
Eutrochium fistulosum Joe-pye-weed: loves full sun, has pink spray flowers, grows tall
Tradescantia virginiana Virginia Spiderwort: purple flowers, like more shade than sun, seeds profusely
Hamamelis virginiana Witch Hazel shrub: flowers late winter, early spring with yellow flowers.
Symphyotrichum Asters (a genus of about 90 species): Fall flowers
Solidago Goldenrod ‘Firecracker’ – cultivar (this does not cause allergies – that is ragweed)
Asclepias syriaca Common milkweed: the sole host plant for Monarch butterflies.
Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly Weed: is also a milkweed and the insects love its bright orange flowers.
Asclepias incarnata Swamp milkweed: can tolerate standing water. Has pink flowers in July
Karen is standing next to tall Joe-pye-weed, yellow coreopsis and common milkweed.
It was emphasized the importance of having your soil tested. If the conditions are not right for your plant, it may not do well or die. Whatever you plant will be around for a long time, especially trees, so make sure the soil is right for it and it is the “Right Plant, Right Place” and that you have provided enough space for it. Spending $10 to have your soil tested is a worthwhile investment. You should have at least three soil kits: testing where you plant trees, for your lawn and for your garden. The best group to do this through is Virginia Cooperative Extension where they have kits which you send to Virginia Tech. The Cooperative Extension will help you interpret your soil test results.
Sally, Volunteer Master Gardener, spoke about the Drought Tolerant bed. She said it is best to go Native or go Drought Tolerant to save water. Drought Tolerant is good for rocky clay soil, slopes. Under a tree has dry soil because trees steal a lot of water. Amending your soil helps. Using compost aerates, drains, lightens and brings microorganisms to the soil. Success in the garden comes from the soil. Our area is generally considered Zone 7A. Many plants suffered from the severe winter we had which was more typical of Zone 6 and even Zone 5. All gardens need maintenance, but a native or drought tolerant garden will need less water. The best time for planting is Fall not Spring (except for annuals). Amend the soil in Spring and plant in the Fall. Group plants with similar needs (water, fertilizer, sun, etc.) for easier maintenance. New plants will need to get established so in the beginning they will need to be watered for several months until they get a good root system. You can conserve water by watering by hand (which can get old and tiring) or by drip irrigation. This method weeps water out of a hose below the leaves which lessens the chance for disease and conserves water.
Linda, Volunteer Master Gardener showed us the Drought Tolerant Garden (below names a few she showed the group):
Nepeta cataria Catnip: tall purple spikes, smells wonderful and butterflies & bees love it
Sedum – very drought tolerant, low maintenance, many varieties
Liatris: tall purple spikes, a genus in the Aster family. Four species are native to No. VA
Salvia microphylla ‘Hot lips’ (sage family): very attractive plant with red flowers
Cockscomb: red flowers will bloom next month
Physocarpus opulifolius Ninebark shrub: has dark leaves. Value to songbirds, waterfowl, small mammals, and beneficial insects. Special value to native bees and honey bees.
Grasses: cut back in winter
Succulent Garden was started last year; not much soil is needed and can also be in pots on your patio.
Hen & chicks
Echinacea or Coneflower
Artemisia schmidtiana: Silver Mound: beautiful feel, wack it back when it gets leggy and it will rebloom
To get either a Native or Drought Tolerant Bed you don’t need to rip out your present plantings but transition to these other plants when the time or need arises. Herbs are dry tolerant as well.
With all these choices, we should be able to have beautiful plants that don’t require much water and will be a treat for our eyes as well as a treat for our native pollinators, birds and critters by attracting them to our gardens.