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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.

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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.

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Sunday - March 27, 2011

From: Troy, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Shrubs
Title: Short edging evergreen for IL
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

I am planning on planting a short (height at maturity less than 1 foot) evergreen (and if possible flowering) shrub to border the walkway to my house. Can you give me some suggestions? The soil is mostly just clay.

ANSWER:

I am afraid that we cannot be of much help because of the specificity of your request. 

According to our Native Plant Database there is only one woody plant native to Illinois that, at maturity is less than 1 foot in height: Rubus pubescens (Dwarf red blackberry).  Although it has nice white flowers, it is not evergreen and it is probably not a good choice along a walk as it is a member of the bramble family! Most shrubs grow to be taller than 1 foot and most evergreen plants don't have showy flowers.  So you are going to have to make some compromises.

Because this particular Green Guru has some experience with shovelling snowy front walks I would propose you consider something a little different.  Instead of a narrow band of green along the walk (much like baseboard trim in a room), think about a more irregularly shaped border where you can edge the walk with shorter, herbaceous ground covers, perennials and spring flowering bulbs and set groups of slightly larger (evergreen and/or deciduous) shrubs back a bit.  Then you would have an attractive, welcoming path to your front door which won't look completely dead in the wintertime but won't be damaged when you do have to pile snow on it.

Many of the evergreen herbaceous  (and woody) plants that gardeners use in that sort of planting are not North American native plants, so we cannot recommend them.  If you would like a list of plants native to Illinois, a Combination Search of our database selecting: Illinois, the plant type (herbaceous/shrub/sub-shrub etc.) and your light and soil conditions will generate lists of plants with links to detailed information pages.

You might also find some interesting ideas in books and magazines; check out Front Yard Gardens: Growing More than Grass by Liz Primeau.

 

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