My recent column on Sustainable Gardening promised a part 2 in which I'd list all the sustainable plants I could conjure up for this part of the world, and here it is. The impetus for compiling such a list came from reading the National Wildlife Federation's recommendations for sustainable gardening practices, which includes the directive to use native plants only. Well. Readers won't be surprised to know I'm critical of generic gardening advice directed to all 300 million of us (or even worse - all of N. America). And how anyone can expect the almost exclusively woodland plants native to the East Coast to be drought-tolerant, even in full sun, is beyond me. Is it ideology trumping reality? I can't iImagine trying to landscape my whole property using just the plants on this list of natives.
My sources for the list started with every website I could find but included many respected hort experts and native plant advocates in the D.C. area and I thank them all. Now gardenbloggers and readers, what can you add?
"GARDENING COACH" COLUMN FOR NOVEMBER 2006
Okay, a quick review in case you didn't memorize Part 1. Sustainable gardening practices are those that don't damage the earth or waste resources. Definitions vary all across the board but that one has broad support. And for eco-conscious local gardeners I've looked far and wide for plants that are:
- Drought-tolerant. Since most drought-tolerant plants are Mediterranean and need good drainage if they're to survive our winter and esp for winter and wet springs. So berms are helpful, plus well-draining soil a must. Also, no low spots or poorly draining clay soils. And if your site is a consistently soggy one, drought-tolerant plants won't work. (Google plants for wet soils.)
-Resistant to disease and severe insect damage. Minor insect damage? Get over it.
GOTTA BE NATIVE?
Another criteria for the "sustainable" label used by some sources is that plants be native, a word I interpret to mean locally native. (Why? Because no other definition makes any sense. Plants don't behave according to political boundaries like "native to the U.S.," and the U.S. includes waaay too many different ecosystems to provide horticultural guidance in the first place.) Here in the Mid-Atlantic area the native ecosystem is that of deciduous forest and almost all the native plants are woodland, shade-loving ones, not the desert or rock garden plants that tolerate sun and drought. So I've included as many locally native garden plants as I could find but there just aren't many to choose from. (The Plains of the Midwest do provide a considerably larger selection, however.)
A FEW DISCLAIMERS
- Even the most drought-tolerant plants for our area require careful watering during their first year, sometimes longer. So don't assume a plant is drought-tolerant until at least its second full season. This is especially true of any plant installed in the spring (which is why fall planting is best!)
- I found contradictory information about some plants, with the literature saying one thing and local gardeners another, so I've noted them as "possibly" sustainable.
- Some plants listed here are on watch lists for possible invasive behavior because of reports from other parts of the country (nandina, liriope, ornamental grasses, butterfly bush, and daylilies) but no locally listed invasive plants have been included.
- I've used primarily common names for reasons of space and public recognition.
LOCALLY NATIVE SUSTAINABLE PLANTS
Grasses: Big and Little Bluestems.
Perennials: Threadleaf coreopsis, Liatris, Rudbeckias (including black-eyed susan), goldenrod, common evening primrose, Butterfly milkweed, wild columbine, New England aster, wild bleeding heart and possibly Amsonia, Bee balm and Joe Pye Weed.
Shrubs/small trees: Flame azalea, American beautyberry, Serviceberry, several sumacs, Witch Hazel and Pasture rose.
SUSTAINABLE PLANTS THAT AREN'T LOCALLY NATIVE
Grasses: Carex, Dwarf mondo grass, Liriope, and most larger ornamental grasses
Perennials: Agastaches, Asters, Baptisia, Chinese Fringe Flower, Daylilies, Dianthus, Epimedium, Hellebores, Heucheras, Hostas, Mazus, Purple coneflower, Rudbeckias, Sedums, Penstemon digitalis, Russian sage, Salvia (hybrid sages), Sempervivums, Sweet Autumn clematis, and Yucca
Shrubs/small trees: Abelias, Aucuba, Azaleas, Beautybush, Butterfly bush, Caryopteris, Cotoneasters, Crapemyrtles (especially those with Indian names), Deutzia, Forsythias, Fothergilla, Hydrangea paniculatas, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Asian and hybrid dogwoods, Junipers, Lespedeza, Mahonias, Nandina, Photinia, Rugosa roses, Sarcococca, Spiraeas, Viburnums, Witch Hazel, Weigelia, Winter jasmine, Yaupon holly, and Yucca.
- These popular plants in our area really don't like drought: Japanese maples, snowbells, rhododendrums, big-leaf hydrangea, boxwoods, and our native dogwoods (Cornus florida). These dogwoods flunk our sustainability test because they're vulnerable to the disease anthracnose.
- Some drought-tolerant plants (like artemesia) have been excluded here because they hate our humidity, so ask enough questions of the nursery staff.
-Got some plants that always look sickly or that require constant vigilance during even moderate droughts? Consider getting rid of it. You'll be glad you did.
Thanks to my contributors: Larry Hurley of Behnkes; Peggy Bowers, horticulturist at the American Horticultural Society; Jim Adams, horticulturist at the British Embassy; Pat Howell of Deephaven Landscapers; Mike Welsh, Takoma Park's City Gardener; Donna Shipp, horticulturist at American Plant Food; Joel Lerner via the Washington Post; Derek Thomas, local landscaper; Carole Bergman and others in the Maryland Native Plant Society; the NC State Cooperative Extension Service website and other many others.