Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
October, 2009
Regional Report

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The beautiful March blooms of the serviceberry tree produce blueberry-flavored fruits in May.

Branch Out in Selection of Trees & Shrubs

I live in a pleasant neighborhood with a variety of interesting homes, but the gardens are surprisingly similar. Can guess the most prevalent trees and shrubs?

There are hedges of 'Leyland' cypress (x Cupressocyparis leylandii) along boundary lines, conical 'Nellie R. Stevens' hollies (Ilex x) at house corners, mounds of Indian hawthorns (Rhaphiolepis indica) hiding foundations, 'Bradford' pear (Pyrus calleryana) as the featured ornamental, and pairs of crepe myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) flanking driveways.

In spring, I noted 27 'Bradford' pears on my two-block street. This morning, I counted an astounding 145 crepe myrtles along the same route.

Perhaps it's time to branch out -- to go boldly where few homeowners have gone before -- beyond a landscape of pears and crepe myrtles. If you're eager for more diversity and pizzaz in your garden, consider these ideas:

Instead of 'Leyland' cypress, plant 'Yoshino' cryptomeria (Cryptomeria japonica). 'Leyland' cypress is one of most common evergreens in the Middle South. The tree is not without problems, however. It is susceptible to fungal disease, as well as bagworms and spider mites. And while its quick rate of growth is initially considered desirable, its mature size (70 feet tall by 15 feet wide) can soon shade what was once a sunny garden.

'Yoshino' cryptomeria grows to 30 to 40 feet tall, and 20 feet wide. Cryptomeria is a more graceful conifer, with slightly pendulous branches of needle-like leaves. It makes a nice hedge or specimen tree. It also provides winter interest in the garden, when its bluish-green foliage can take on a reddish hue.

Or, forgo the practice of planting a single type of plant and grow a hedge comprised of many different trees and shrubs. A variety of plant sizes and shapes allows you to reveal and conceal views beyond the garden, and provides flexibility when a plant must be replaced.

Instead of 'Nellie R. Stevens' holly, plant 'Mary Nell' holly (Ilex x). Like 'Nellie R. Stevens' holly, 'Mary Nell' is a pyramidal evergreen with shiny dark green leaves, but its foliage is longer and broader with shorter spines. Abundant red berries grow in a spiral around the stems and persist for an extended period in fall and winter. 'Mary Nell' is slightly smaller than 'Nellie R. Stevens,' maturing at about 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide.

For an even smaller plant, select 'Bright and Tight' Carolina cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana), which grows only 8 to 10 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide. Native from North Carolina to Texas, the shrub has dense foliage of glossy green, smooth-edged leaves. Small, white, highly fragrant spring flowers are followed by black drupes in fall.

Instead of Indian hawthorn, plant 'Spring Bouquet' viburnum (Viburnum tinus). Viburnums are among my favorite shrubs. 'Spring Bouquet' is an evergreen viburnum that grows 4 to 6 feet tall and wide and has clusters of pink buds which open into fragrant white flowers in spring. For a smaller selection, choose 'Bewley's Variegated', a cultivar with deep green leaves edged in creamy white, which grows to 3 to 5 feet tall and wide.

Instead of 'Bradford' pear, plant 'Okame' cherry (Prunus x). 'Bradford' pears are short-lived and notorious for broken limbs in wind and ice storms.

Like the pear, 'Okame' is small tree for the home garden, growing to about 30 feet tall. It flowers in late winter or early spring with electric pink flowers, attracts native birds to the garden, and displays brilliant orange foliage in autumn.

Or, plant serviceberry 'Autumn Brillance' (Amelanchier x grandiflora), another excellent ornamental. Early spring flowers are followed by blueberry-flavored fruits in May. 'Autumn Brillance' grows to 25 feet tall and lives up to its name, with foliage becoming an eye-catching red orange in fall.

Instead of crepe myrtle, plant lilac chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus). Simply put, crepe myrtles are wonderful, but over-planted. The chaste tree, however, deserves wider use in the home landscape.

Vitex grows fast to make a small, multi-trunked tree that is 15 to 20 feet tall and wide. In late summer, 6- to 12-inch flower spikes form on new growth, attracting bees and butterflies. Flowers vary in color and showiness, so look for named cultivars such as 'Abbeville Blue' and 'Shoal Creek' for blue and blue-violet bloom spikes, 'Fletcher Pink' and 'Rosea' for pink flowers, and 'Alba' and 'Silver Spire' for white blooms.

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