Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

April 22, 2013

Plateau Gardening: What makes a plant right for your yard? 

By C. Rae Hozer
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — While a landscape project is in the pencil and paper design phase, find the right plants. According to the old garden adage said to ensure yard and garden success, the gardener should "plant the right plant in the right place, and then treat it right." The tricky part is determining which plants are the right ones for your situation.

Each landscape addition should enhance the look of your property. Check plant tags to avoid investing in perennials that may not make it through a tough winter where you live. When the environment meets a perennial’s needs, it will prosper many years. Individual plants should have cultural requirements similar to plants grouped with it.

Gardeners may first be attracted to a plant’s ornamental characteristics — flowers or leaf texture and color. Consider also the designated use of that part of the yard. For example, since I want to attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife, brightly colored creeping phlox (pictured) would be a good choice for my yard. Phlox look good, are winter hardy here and provide natural food for both hummingbirds and butterflies in springtime.

The right plants for your yard may not be equally appropriate for other landscapes in your neighborhood or other parts of our state. The United States Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Map, shows Tennessee gardeners deal with a range of climate conditions. Perennials suitable to the minimum temperatures found in south Shelby County (Memphis area) rated Zone 8a (average winter low temperatures 10 to 15 degrees F) will differ somewhat from those appropriate to the cooler Zone 7a (expected lows between 0 and 5 degrees F) in Smith County (Carthage) or Cumberland County’s Zone 6b (Crossville area, minimum temperatures of negative 5 to 0 degrees F)

Know your site and match new plants to conditions there. Plants need light and proper soil moisture, fertility and drainage. But just how much sunlight (or shade) is right? How much soil moisture is adequate? What the soil pH is best? What temperature range promotes good growth and reproduction? That can vary from plant to plant. Analyze the hours of sunlight and shade in your yard. One way is to document sun using digital photos. Snap shots at about 10 in the morning and three in the afternoon. Do this now before trees have all their leaves and again at the start of summer in June when foliage is in place.

Test the soil’s level of acidity or alkalinity (pH). Combine plants requiring similar soil conditions and water needs. Plants which require soggy soil placed next to greenery that wants a well drained location can lead to disaster. Check plant tags or otherwise research light, soil and drainage requirements of plants before purchasing them. Also pick plants that will thrive given the amount of time and effort you can devote to maintenance. Some vegetation is needier than others. Homeowners with scant time for outside work won’t want to fuss with them. At the other end of the spectrum are hobby gardeners who devote loads of time to make their yard picture perfect may lavish attention on favored specimens. Realistically evaluate where you are on that spectrum.

Upcoming Garden Shows

Crossville’s 2013 Master Gardener Spring Flower and Garden Show Friday, April 26 (noon-6 p.m.), Saturday 4/27 (9 a.m.-6 p.m.) and Sunday, April 28 (11 a.m.-3 p.m.). Visitors will find landscaping ideas, plants and garden accessories. Admission is $3 for adults and free for children 12 and under.        

UT Gardens’ Blooms Days Festival and Marketplace on the University of Tennessee Knoxville campus on Mother’s Day weekend (Saturday, May 11 and Sunday, May 12 (9 a.m.-5 p.m.). Admission is $6 and free ages 12 and under. There will be live music, workshops, garden goods and plants.

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Plateau Gardening is written by Master Gardeners for gardeners in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region.  Contact UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (484-6743) for answers to horticulture questions, free publications and how to become a Master Gardener. Send email comments or yard and garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae, MGardenerRae@frontiernet.net.