, Muskogee, OK

April 30, 2014

Swap out those problem plants

By Molly Day
All the Dirt on Gardening

— Spring is here and gardens are ready to be spruced up for enjoying the summer outside.

Most of us will be wandering the garden centers over the next few weeks, shopping for colorful annuals to put in containers and borders. Then, we need a few vining plants or two for the trellis and maybe to cover a fence. If old shrubs look bad or a new tree is needed for shade and shelter, those decisions also have to be made.

Gardeners who have a few years of experience know a bit more about what works and what leads to disappointment. Some plants disappoint because they did not last through a season, never did fill out or bloom like the ones in the photos, or they spread so fast they became a nuisance.

Some problem trees include:

• Bradford pear or Callery pear tree, because it makes hundreds of babies all over the garden and the limbs break in storms. If a fast-growing tree is needed, try Autumn Blaze Red Maple. It has two native maple tree parents, so it will not seed profusely. Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry is another possibility.

• Eastern cottonwood or poplar, a popular landscape tree, because not only is it weak and prone to early death, it sends out suckers and creates problems. Tulip poplar is a fast-growing tree with more durable stems and branches that could be used instead.

• Native Redbud trees, which are beautiful when they bloom in the spring, but have short lives, replacing themselves a hundred times over with seedlings. The newer hybrids have been improved. Look for Floating Clouds, Merlot and Rising Sun varieties.

Shrubs considered problem plants include:

• Barberry shrubs. Although they are planted in landscapes everywhere, they are thorny as well as invasive. In their place choose Coppertina Ninebark, which has the red leaves but not the issues. In addition, they have beautiful peeling bark in the winter.

• Firethorn or Pyracantha. This is another popular plant that is appealing to homeowners until they have to prune its thorny branches or the plant is killed by fireblight. Viburnums make better choices. Koreanspice Viburnum has berries for the birds as well as scented flowers in the spring. Linden Viburnum has spectacular red berries in the fall.

All of these suggestions and information came from a recent book, “Plant This Instead: Better Plant Choices,” written by garden designer Troy Marden and published by Cool Springs Press. It is a 190-page paperback with dozens of suggestions with explanations and color photos.

Marden urges gardeners to grow plants that are more resistant to pests and diseases, are less aggressive, require less effort or are more attractive than the varieties commonly seen in landscapes.

Because he gardens in Nashville, Tenn., Marden’s recommendations work well in our area.

For flowers, Marden recommends skipping Million Bells or Calibraihoa because they have special soil requirements and may not survive a summer. Instead, look for Supercal Calitunias, which are less demanding. They require no deadheading and can take full or partial sun.

Instead of Impatiens, which developed a virus problems a few years ago, Marden says to look for SunPatiens and New Guinea Impatiens.

When shopping for petunias or Wave petunias, consider Supertunia Vista Bubblegum, Pretty Much Picasso, Picasso in Pink or Tidal Wave petunias instead. They have the same willingness to bloom all summer no matter how hot and humid it becomes.

The ever-popular Bishop’s Weed could be replaced with Shuttleworth Ginger or Strawberry begonias, Saxifraga stolonifera. Shuttleworth is a native ground cover with heart-shaped leaves. Strawberry begonias are beautiful under trees as ground cover.

The book is an easy-to-use, helpful reference that can help us plan and make improved choices for our gardens.