Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
September, 2004
Regional Report

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This lovely sedum is flopping helplessly since it is growing in a shady spot. It needs sun!

The Right Plant for the Right Place

As the weather cools, it's only natural for the excitement of fall planting to start building. However, as enthusiastic as I get this time of year, I still try to keep a fairly level head when it comes to making plant selections. I do know how critical it is to choose the right site for a plant I absolutely must have, or the right plant for a site I want to landscape.

Most of the time a plant that looks terrible is not an inherently bad plant. Rather it may be in the wrong spot for it to grow and perform at its best. A plant that is not in a good location will be stressed. A stressed plant is a magnet for pest and disease problems, not to mention physiological problems. And that is enough to stress any gardener!

Evaluate Plant and Site
There are several factors to consider when matching plant and site. Perhaps the most critical point is whether the plant is adapted for sun or shade. A plant that needs shade will simply burn up when planted in the sun. A plant that needs sun will stretch and languish when planted in a shady spot. Watch your site carefully to see just how much sun it gets. If the site is sunny, is it intense afternoon sun or gentle morning sun? If shady, is the shade dense enough to keep anything except woodland plants growing or is it dappled shade with touches of sun?

Next, consider soil type and soil moisture. If the soil has a high pH (alkaline), there is a whole list of plants that will thrive. There is an equally long list of plants that may not survive in alkaline soil because they need acid soil. It's definitely worth doing a soil test to find out the pH before planting.

If the soil is permanently wet, the best plant choices will be those species that are naturally found in flood plains and along streams and ponds. Most plants will survive a dry soil, but it may be necessary to make plans for irrigation. Also, most plants will do fine on clay soil, but on sandy soil they may need to be watered and fertilized more frequently since water and nutrients drain quickly through sand.

Once the nuances of the site are clear, it's time to choose a plant according to disease resistance and hardiness. In this age of carefully bred plants, there is a phenomenal selection of disease-resistant plants available. There's no need to have a crab apple that has no leaves in August because of apple scab nor should you settle for bee balm that gets powdery mildew every year. There are callery pear cultivars with strong branching systems instead of weak, breaking branches. There are tomatoes that resist blights and wilts. Research the most trouble-free plants, and search them out.

Finally, a plant needs to fit the site without needing constant pruning. This means selecting according to mature size and spread. Take into account the fact that form may vary according to sun or shade, whether the plant has a high or low crown, or whether it will spread to choke out the rest of the perennials in the bed.

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