Great Underused Plants

1) Azalea viscosum- Swamp Azalea- This is another native with multi-season use and of very easy care. They will even take a soggy soil, that regular azaleas would rot in. Flowers are late for an azalea and show in early summer. They are not as showy as the standard azaleas, but the fragrance of these are fantastic and appear at a time when windows can be left open to let the scent permeate the air. Most varieties have a great show of leaf color on the fall. "Lemon Drop" (light yellow flowers), "Westonís Innocence" (white), and "Lollipop" (pink) are very good.

2) Fothergilla gardenii- Fothergilla is a good multi-season plant. The white bottlebrush flowers appear in April into May. Clean pest free foliage follows throughout the summer. This finishes the season with a fantastic fall color show.

3) Hydrangea serrata - Hydrangeas are very popular right now but a lot of folks do not know about this bunch, known as the Sawtooth Hydrangeas. They are easy to grow, hardy, drought tolerant (when established!), and fairly pest free. They have good flower power and a fantastic fall color. "Preziosa", with light pink flowers, and "Blue Bird" are two varieties that are easy to find. I grow other hydrangea that may be showier in flower but the fall color and overall toughness of this family gives it a big plus in my mind.

4) Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf Hydrangea)- This is one of the most beautiful native shrubs. Itís leaves adds interesting texture and great fall color. Itís ability to flower in deep shade gives midsummer bloom in sun or shade. During the winter, itís exfoliating bark gives interest to the landscape. Problems are few with this plant. It can get big and size is a concern, but new varieties, such as "Sikeís Dwarf", are out with more compact growth and these should have a spot in any garden.

5) Itea virginiana (Virginia Sweetspire)- Dark green leaves take on a reddish tinge in early fall and continue to deepen to a dark crimson red and scarlet, as the weather turns colder. These leaves will remain on the plant until cold weather sets in. With a mild winter, a few leaves may remain on until spring. Even when leaves drop, the stems remain attractive and eye catching. This plant is also valued for its long, white, fragrant flowers, which appear in May-June when few other shrubs are in flower. This native is very easy to grow and relatively free from diseases and insect problems. Tolerant of many light and soil conditions, it has shown a great deal of drought tolerance, when established. "Henryís Garnet" and "Little Henry" are two of several great varieties.

6) Rhododendron "Olga" and "Aglo"- These two sister plants are very easy to grow for Rhododendron. The flowers of both are a pleasing pink, showing after "PJM" in late April. Their leaves are attractive all season long. As with all rhododendron, watch the drainage!

7) Spirea "Magic Carpet"- Easy to grow with season long interest, this has a great groundcover habit. The pink-purple flowers show in mid-summer, but the real draw is the great foliage (red tips over bright gold). Mixing well with perennials, annuals, grasses, and shrubs, there is a place for this spirea in every garden.

8) Syringa meyeri "Palibiní or Syringa patula "Miss Kim"- Lilacs are another group that, because of pest problems, I stopped growing. Lilac borer, powdery mildew, bacterial blight, among other problems, caused more trouble than the fragrant flower was worth. These two dwarf lilacs changed that. While not as fragrant as their larger siblings, they are strong bloomers with clean foliage and none of the problems that plague lilacs. Look for some new varieties of these in the future.

9) Viburnum plic. tomentosum "Summer Snowflake"- I havenít met many viburnums I didnít like. Most are easy to grow and add to the garden in many ways. "Summer Snowflake" steps ahead of the pack by its blooming power. Before we offered it for sale, I planted one to test its claim of summer long flower. It sounded too good to be true. I have to say it lived up to itís claim. I have had flowers against the reddish bronze fall foliage in November. The flowers come in waves throughout the season. The only thing to watch with this plant is that it is a quicker grower than I expected. Every flowering wave is a flush of growth so this plant got bigger than I expected in a shorter time than I would have imagined. Mine is now about 10 feet tall and I am beginning to trim it up as a small tree.

10) Viburnum x "Prague"- Again , I like viburnums, but here is another standout. This is an evergreen variety with shiny dark green leaves. The flowers are not the showiest of the viburnums, but the combination of foliage, ease of growth, and adaptability make this a very worthwhile plant to find a spot for.

A lot of the plants I like tend to be natives or varieties of natives. They tend to be adaptable and easy to grow. They may not give a fantastic show at any particular time like forsythia or rhodoís, but thatís not what we are really looking for, is it? A forsythia bursts into the landscape like a comet, then burning itself out to no interest for the rest of the year. I think these are all plants that are true stars and shine in the garden all season long.

Butterfly gardening

Drought resistant plants

Great Underused Plants


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