HENDERSON — If you’re looking to add some new shrubs to your landscape this spring (and I hope you are!), here are some tips for finding great-performing plants that need minimal care.
It’s important to acknowledge that fall is actually the preferred time for planting shrubs, but it’s awfully hard to resist that spring planting bug. Just be prepared to be diligent in checking soil moisture levels every few days through this first summer.
An important starting point — and one that is all too often overlooked — is to carefully consider how much space is available. In general, I believe that people are terrifically inaccurate in estimating distances, so I strongly recommend using a tape measure to verify planting space. This includes accounting for the spread of the plant as well as the height.
Sun exposure will also come into play, but that’s easy enough to judge. If a plant is rated for “full sun,” look for a spot with at least six hours of strong light each day.
Armed with those two key pieces of information, it’s time to start narrowing down the options. At this point you can begin to consider which ornamental qualities are important. Does it need to be evergreen? Are you looking for a certain shape? Will it be a background plant or does it need to have some standout qualities? Are you looking for something that will pop during a particular season?
Regardless of your needs and desires, there will be numerous options. If the plant that comes to mind is the same one that everyone in your neighborhood has planted, then I encourage you to look a little deeper.
At this point, a visit to the NC State Extension Plant Toolbox will be invaluable (http://plants.ces.ncsu.edu). This comprehensive on-line database includes over 4,000 plants that can be planted in North Carolina, searchable by name or characteristic. A wide variety of filters will help you narrow down the options by variables such as size, flower color, landscape theme, overall shape and many other factors.
As you narrow down the options, either through the plant toolbox, a chat with your friendly local extension agent, or a visit to your hometown nursery, there are a few criteria that I urge you to at least consider.
First is to consider selecting a plant that is native to North Carolina. There are numerous excellent possibilities, including beautyberry, winterberry holly, Virginia sweetspire or a native viburnum to name just a few. I think it’s misleading to suggest that native plants perform better, but I can tell you for certain that they are important for supporting native birds, pollinators and other beneficial insects.
Next is to be certain not to choose something that invites trouble. Some species are just more prone to insect and disease pests. Save yourself the hassle by selecting something more durable.
Finally, when it comes to shrubbery, the flowering options are vastly underutilized. Too often we think of shrubbery as a subdued backdrop. In fact, shrubs can provide bright splashes of color to our landscapes. In general, their cheery blossoms come with much less maintenance than those annual color beds.
Choosing the right shrubs and installing them correctly can provide many years of enjoyment to your landscape. Take the time to make a good choice.