WHAT PLANTS TO PLANT?
We all care about our yard and even more so at springtime. Whether you’ve taken the time to research or you’re just on your way to the garden center to grab what looks nice, it helps to know a few things before you get too far into the plant selection process. Keeping in mind some basics will increase the probability of success in the garden.
One of my favorite flowers, actually a shrub, is the Rhododendron. I love to visit the northwest when they are in bloom. Azaleas are another favorite but it is on the same list as the Rhodies; a list of favorites I cannot grow. They thrive in the coastal regions of Oregon and Washington, as well as other parts of the country, but not at all in Riverton, Utah. Fortunately there are a lot of plants and flowers that do very well in Riverton; I just need to know which ones they are.
In selecting plants we need to know something about them, something more than they look pretty in the catalog. All plants have requirements with some tolerance within the criteria:
- Temperature; some plants don’t mind the cold and in fact, may require it, while others cannot tolerate it. If you’re only selecting annuals this is not as much of a concern as it is for perennials, although it is good to know what is typically the first and last days of frost. The country is mapped according to hardiness zones 1 through 10, meaning primarily, minimum temperatures; 1 being the coldest. Plants are classified by zone. Riverton is a zone 7 which means that plants classified less than 7 might be perennial in Riverton. Plants above 7 can still be grown, but as annuals, so it is good to know your zone and the zone of the plants you are considering. Keep in mind that zones are based on averages and don’t account for unusually cold winters or hot summers. https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/
- Soil; soil composition and condition are important. Many plants are tolerant of soil condition, but some are not. Plants generally do better in a sandy loam soil as opposed to heavy clay. A part of the soil of which plants are least tolerant is the pH. This is one of the main reasons why I can’t grow the Rhododendrons; they require an acidic soil somewhere around 5 on the pH scale. Riverton soil is on the alkaline side of the scale. Know your pH and check the plant’s requirement.
- Water; water requirements for plants range from very wet to very dry. I have seen more plants killed by too much water than by too little. Providing for varying water needs can be a challenge.
- Light; all plants need light; direct or indirect. Some plants thrive on full sun and as much as they can get, while others prefer just the light they get in the shade. Make sure you have a place to meet the light requirements of the plants you’re looking at.
- Propagation; it is good to know how aggressive plants can be, particularly the perennials. Plants reproduce by root expansion and division or seed production or both. Check to see if they will overcome the planting area and how quickly they will do it. (Propagation is a topic in itself which we can discuss another time)
- Climate; overall environmental conditions, not just temperature, can also be critical. Plants that require moderate temperatures and high humidity will struggle in Riverton’s dry heat, while others are perfectly at home.
Don’t pick a plant simply because it is pretty in the garden center, but don’t be afraid of it either. If you see a plant you like, but you’ve never seen it grown in your area, a little extra research might be a good idea.
Some, or most, of what we have talked about can be controlled and/or altered to some degree. Depending on the effort you’re willing to make you can grow many plants that would otherwise not work.
If you have questions about how to change your growing conditions or of specific plants you’ve thought about, please let me know and we’ll talk about it.