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Skaggs: Plant in the right spot

POSTED: October 17, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Fall is here, and for the gardening enthusiast, now is the ideal time to make additions to your landscape - in particular, hardy perennials, ornamental shrubs and trees. While many of us are familiar with "spring fever," fall actually is the appropriate time to plant. Trees and shrubs planted now have the entire fall and winter to set down roots and get established before the heat of spring and summer arrives.

The drought of the past two years has led many gardeners on a quest for drought-tolerant plants. This search often leads to native plants, and while natives are accustomed to our environment, they are not accustomed to extreme drought.

When gardeners hear the term "native," they often assume these plants can be planted anywhere simply because they are native. This is simply not the case. Just like other plants, native plants have specific light and water requirements. They are no different than nonnative species sold at retail garden centers.

Before planting any plant, remember this golden rule: right plant in the right place.

For example, if you plant the nonnative lace cap hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) in a dry and sunny location, it certainly will struggle. Likewise, if you plant a native oak leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) in a dry and sunny location, it also will struggle. The native can, however, withstand drier soils than its nonnative cousin.

Here are a few native suggestions for shady sites that don't get too dry: native azaleas (hundreds of cultivars), Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), redbud (Cercis canadensis) and anise (Illicium floridatum).

Here are a few suggestions for sunny, dry sites: wax myrtle (Morella cerifera), Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), fringe tree (Chiocanthus virginicus) and beautyberry (Callicarpa americana).

If you're looking for a tough shrub that also attracts wildlife, consider inkberry (Ilex glabra), winterberry (Ilex verticillata) or one of the many native viburnums, including arrowwood (V. dentatum), swamp-haw (V. nudum) or blackhaw (V. prunifolium).

Did you know that our state flower, the Cherokee Rose, is not a Georgia native? It was named the state flower in 1916. This points to a century-old trend of using nonnatives in our landscape.

While there is nothing wrong with using nonnatives, you may want to step back in time to the pre-antebellum days when landscapes were filled with native plants. There are native species that will fit any growing environment.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.



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