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Gardening, Lawn Maintenance, and Landscaping Articles written by Kim Lewey

Creating Outdoor Beauty with Plants

Part Two of a Three Part Series, written by Kim Lewey


Creating beauty with plants was one of the many ways mentioned in Part 1 of this series as a way to enhance the outdoor beauty of your home.  Now that you are now ready to move in that direction, what is important to help you make sound decisions?  We discussed securing a formal landscape design or an informal thumbnail sketch to help you visualize the beauty plants can create.  We are now going to take a step back to discuss the elements of choosing proper plant material and its care for healthy growth.

Plant material (trees and shrubbery) are best suited for fall installation in the Triangle.  You can also plant in the spring, but you may have to contend with rising temperatures before the plant material has adequately taken root.  If you elect to plant outside of the fall season, pricing may be higher and responsibilities like additional watering may be needed for proper care.

Once you have decided when you would like to plant, take a good look at your home and ask yourself some questions.  Do I need shaded areas around the house or in the yard?  Do I need to screen our property?  Am I willing to wait for plant growth or pay for larger sizes for immediate results?  Do I have time to properly care for plant material that has to be pruned or requires additional attention or am I willing to pay a landscape professional?  Do I want color or flowering in my plant material, or will annuals provide sufficient color, and is it important in the spring or fall?  Is the plant material locally grown?  Knowing the answers to these questions will help you make good choices when you talk with your landscape professional.

Let’s now talk about trees and shrubbery.  There are deciduous plants and evergreens.  Deciduous trees provide shade in the summer, have changing leaf colors in the fall and lose their leaves in the winter.  Evergreens can block the wind and maintain their shape year round.  Both provide flowering choices, if desired.  Examples of deciduous trees common to the Triangle include Maples, River Birches, Dogwoods, Crape Myrtles, and Cherry varieties.  Evergreen examples include Cryptomeria, Southern Magnolia, Pines, Wax Myrtles, and Cypress.  Common local varieties of deciduous shrubbery include Hibiscus, Hydrangea, Rhododendron, Knockout Roses, Spiraea, and Viburnum varieties.  Common evergreen shrubbery includes Azaleas, Camellias, Gardenias, Junipers, Nandinas, and Holly varieties.  Plants require varying degrees of sun or shade to thrive or survive that may also vary within their plant varieties.  Some plants may also be more tolerant of drought conditions.  Crape Myrtles require sun and are drought friendly.  Hollies also are drought tolerant but do well in sun or part shade and depending on the variety, make a great screening tree.  Camellias bloom in the spring and require shade.  Azaleas bloom in the spring, or in the case of Encore Azaleas, both spring and fall, and require shade to part shade to remain healthy.  The choices can be endless and costly if you are unprepared for the discussion.

Other plant choices may provide ground cover or vivid color in the spring and summer for maximum effect.  Perennials like Daylilies and Lantana provide recurring blooms and are cut back in the winter for maximum effect.  Grasses like Pampas Grass and Mondo Grass are evergreen examples of ground cover.  Pampas grass grows rapidly, requires sun, and should be cut back in the winter to control its growth.  Mondo Grass, depending on the variety, may also be suitable in the shade and requires no additional care.

Watering methods are also a consideration when making plant choices.  Irrigation systems with drip lines are more economical and efficient than irrigation sprinkler heads.  Gator bags that are attached to trees and refilled periodically may work well when there is little time or no irrigation in place.  Drip hoses and watering by hand offer yet another alternative.  In general, five gallons of water per plant per week is needed while the plant takes root.  However, requirements vary by plant type and size and weather fluctuations like temperature and rain.   The soil type may also affect the amount of water needed.  There is a fine line between over watering and watering too little and may reflect the same outer appearance of brown or yellow leaves.  Checking the soil close to the developing roots periodically before you water will help determine if you are watering accurately.

Creating beauty with plants can be a challenging or rewarding experience depending on how you approach the process.  Arm yourself with answers to the questions that are important to you; your landscape designer and/or landscape professional will then be better equipped to assist you in the right choices.  Be sure to inquire of their experience with plants, both with installation and care.  Then, combine your preferences in aesthetic beauty and their knowledge of plant material to achieve that lasting first impression of your home.

Reprinted with permission from Boom! Magazine, September 2010