Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


April 9, 2012

Plateau Gardening: Planning perennials for your landscape

CROSSVILLE — A friend who loves Nature’s beauty walked through my yard with me asking names of flowering plants. Her husband takes care of their lawn. She hopes to find enough time to plan, plant and tend some flower gardens this year. Work and children have kept her pretty busy, but all the kids are now old enough to be in school full time.

Initially, her idea was to select, buy and transplant each year in springtime a few good plants that would come back year after year (perennials) and would add color to her landscape with their flowers. She had some ideas about perennials being "no work" to care for, blooming all season long and needing to be planted only in springtime which I explained weren’t necessarily true. Our discussion was a good blue print for those planning a new landscape or adding plant material to an existing one.

As we walked and talked, I encouraged her efforts and explained that, in my opinion,  good landscape planning goes back to the old gardening adage, "Pick the right plant. Put it in the right place. Then treat it right."

Getting a good location-to-vegetation match is critical. First off, you want plants suited to the general climate in your region. Whether low temperatures in a region dip below the minimum necessary to support life for a particular plant has historically been the main gage for judging whether a specimen should be classified as a perennial in that location. Knowing cold hardiness as well as a plant’s ability to tolerate average heat and humidity levels typical for your area narrows the field of choice to species and cultivars that can be expected to not only survive but to thrive in your state and county.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) publishes the major plant hardiness guide based upon average low temperatures for North American locations. The USDA Plant Hardiness Map has just been updated. The 2012 version is based upon 30 years of data (1976 through 2005) and reflects the warming trend North America experienced during that time period. Find the new hardiness zones for your state, county and zip code using the interactive map found at the internet address,

Find the map for plant heat tolerance in the United States and learn about it at the American Horticulture Society (AHS) website, A Tennessee Heat Zone Map and the zone for your zip code are available interactively online at that location.

The next  step to successful garden planning is to study the mini-climates and trouble spots on your own property (the lay of the land, which areas get the most sunshine and which are shady – that kind of thing).

Recognize your greatest landscaping challenges. These are the spots where conditions are  difficult or impossible to change. They may include steep slopes or low areas where either cold air pools (known as ‘frost pockets’) or where rain and runoff water collect keeping the soil soggy most of the time. Areas with persistent strong winds or that bake in summertime because they are exposed to full afternoon sun aren’t plant-friendly either. Dense woods with thick undergrowth and/or solid structures (buildings and walls, for example) cast persistent shadows blocking sunlight, air flow, and natural rainwater. That denies plants positioned nearby their three major survival requirements – light, air and moisture. Those are places where plants you add must be able to adapt to conditions or they die.

• • •

Plateau Gardening is written by Master Gardeners for gardeners in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region.  UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (931-484-6743) has answers horticulture questions, free publications and details on how to become a Master Gardener. Send email comments or yard & garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae, 



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