En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
1 rating

Thursday - April 30, 2009

From: Ashburn, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Planting, Herbs/Forbs, Shrubs, Trees
Title: Low maintenance replacement garden in Ashburn , VA
Answered by: Barbara Medford


We live in Ashburn, VA (Northern VA). Our house is 10 years old and the contractor grade plants have died. We are planning on digging everything up and re-doing the landscaping in our front yard - right in front of the home. We do not have green thumbs and don't have a lot of time to care for the garden due to kids. So, we would like to know which plants/shrubs are best to plant in this area. The old plants were azaleas and evergreen shrubs but the azaleas never bloomed. We would like low height shrubs and some plants that would provide color year-round, if possible. Also, is there a dwarf tree that would be good as an anchor on the end of the garden? Thanks.


This is a great opportunity, since you are digging the old plants out anyway. Before you do anything else, get some compost (you can buy it in sacks at commercial nurseries), spread it over the existing soil, and then dig it in. Compost in the soil helps with drainage, assists the roots in getting nutrients from the soil that they need, and has nutrients in it, too. You almost can't put on too much. When the time comes to dig holes for your plants, it will be much easier. We will recommend plants native not only to North America but to your area. Plants that have been living in an area for millions of years will be accustomed to the climate, soil and rainfall; thus, requiring less water, fertilizer and maintenance. If you are unfamiliar with the use of native plants, you might start by reading our How-To Articles Using Native Plants and A Guide to Native Plant Gardening

You didn't say what your soil is (you may not know), but, again, natives to your area will like that soil, whatever it is. You also didn't say how much sun or shade your garden area has. We consider "sun" to be 6 or more hours of sun daily, "part shade" 2 to 6 hours of sun, and "shade," less than 2 hours. When we list plants we are suggesting, we will detail what kind of light requirements each plant has, and you can make your decisions accordingly. We will go to our Recommended Species section, click on Virginia on the map, and from there select on "herbs" (herbaceous blooming plants) under Habit. We will repeat that search on "shrubs" and "trees." You can duplicate this search, making your own selections by specifying bloom time and color, soil moisture and so forth. These plants are all commercially available, and if you have difficulty locating your selections, go to our Native Plant Suppliers section, type in your town and state in the "Enter Search Location" box and you will get a list of native plant nurseries, seed companies and landscape and environment consultants in your general area. They have contact information and maps, so you can check with them first before you make a shopping trip. Follow each plant link on our list to get more information, including (if you wish) going down to the bottom of the webpage on each individual plant to a link to Google on that plant.

Herbaceous flowering plants for Northern Virginia

Achillea millefolium (common yarrow) - perennial, to 3 ft. tall, blooms white, pink April to September, medium water use, sun, part shade

Aquilegia canadensis (red columbine) - perennial to 2 ft. tall, blooms red, pink, yellow February to July,low water use, paart shade, shade

Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed) - perennial to 2-1/2 ft. tall, blooms orange, yellow May to September, low water use, sun, part shade

Conoclinium coelestinum (blue mistflower) -perennial to 3 ft., blooms blue, purple July to November, medium water use,  sun, part shade

Coreopsis lanceolata (lanceleaf tickseed) - perennial to 2-1/2 ft., blooms yellow April to June, medium water use, sun, part shade, shade

Lobelia cardinalis (cardinalflower) - perennial to 6 ft., blooms red May to July, low water use, sun, part shade

Penstemon digitalis (talus slope penstemon) - perennial, 2 t 5 ft. tall, blooms white May to July, sun, part shade

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (New England aster) - perennial to 6 ft. tall, blooming pink, purple, August to October


Lindera benzoin (northern spicebush) - deciduous, 6 to 12 ft., blooms white, yellow in April, medium water use, sun, part shade, shade

Morella cerifera (wax myrtle) - evergreen, 6 to 12 ft., blooms green March and April, high water use, sun, part shade (can also be trained up to the small tree you requested)

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (coralberry) - deciduous to 4 ft., blooms white, green April to July, medium water use, part shade, shade

Viburnum prunifolium (blackhaw) - deciduous 12 to 15 feet, blooms white April to May, medium water use, part shade (another possibility for the small tree)

Small trees

Cercis canadensis (eastern redbud) -deciduous 15 to 30 ft., blooms pink March to May, low water use, part shade, shade

Chionanthus virginicus (white fringetree) - deciduous, 15 to 30 ft., blooms white April to May, high water use, part shade

Prunus americana (American plum) - deciduous to 35 ft., blooms white April, May, medium water use, sun, part shade, shade

Magnolia virginiana (sweetbay) - semi-evergreen, 12 to 20 ft. tall, blooms white April to July, high water use, part shade

Achillea millefolium

Aquilegia canadensis

Asclepias tuberosa

Conoclinium coelestinum

Coreopsis lanceolata

Lobelia cardinalis

Penstemon digitalis

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

Lindera benzoin

Morella cerifera

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus

Viburnum prunifolium

Cercis canadensis

Chionanthus virginicus

Prunus americana

Magnolia virginiana




More Shrubs Questions

Removal of non-native invasive Ligustrum japonica from Austin
February 14, 2012 - I bought a house that I am slowly turning into a native garden, but as a teacher, I have a really small budget. One entire border of my backyard (30 feet) was planted with evil Ligustrum japonica. I l...
view the full question and answer

Florida shrub with tiny green pumpkin-like fruit
July 23, 2008 - I live in Central Florida and have a fast-growing shrub with long stems. The leaves are similar to sassafras and from a distance the red flowers resemble those of a geranium. It has pods that look l...
view the full question and answer

How can I distinguish Hibiscus laevis from Pavonia braziliensis in New Braunfels, TX?
September 12, 2011 - How can I distinguish Hibiscus laevis (Halberdleaf Hibiscus) from Pavonia braziliensis (Brazillian Rock Rose)? Earlier this year I was given the former by a friend and former NPSOT chap...
view the full question and answer

Re-landscaping neglected garden in Franklin CT
April 03, 2011 - I am starting from scratch in a yard that has no planting beds or, for that matter, plants at all. House was vacant for quite some time, grass was three feet tall when we moved in. I would like to p...
view the full question and answer

Duplicate of English holly for Eufaula OK
January 03, 2010 - I wish to have a shrub that would duplicate the red berries and foliage of English holly. Tolerance of cultivation is also desired.
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center