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Monday - February 16, 2015

From: West Columbia, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Lists, Meadow Gardens, Grasses or Grass-like, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Native Plants for Year Round Interest
Answered by: Mike Tomme

QUESTION:

I'm involved in a paradigm shift from traditional bedding plants (petunias, zinnias, begonias, etc.) to native plants. I realize that native plants have natural life cycles where they look pretty bad during part of the year especially during winter. Disney keeps their plantings looking great year-round with succession planting. When plants begin to look bad they have more ready to replace them. Can this be done with natives? We want to go native here in West Columbia, TX, but for our demonstration project we would like plants that will be showy in window boxes and planters along our "Main St.". Perhaps another option would be a mixture of traditional bedding plants and natives. What do you think of these options?

ANSWER:

Disney has a great approach. They also have massive greenhouses, an army of gardeners and a zillion dollar revenue stream to pay for it all. You may be more constrained.

Here's what Mr. Smarty Plants likes:

1. Use native perennials that have long bloom periods. these will require minimal maintenance and come back every year. When their bloom period ends, generally when it starts getting really hot or after the first freeze, cut them back and let another plant take over the show.

2. Select plants that bloom at differrent times of the year so there is something going on during every season.

3. Use plants that have interesting foliage throughout the year such as native grasses. This will make sure you never have too much empty space and get you throough the winter months when there just isn't much that blooms.

You can see this approach in action when you visit the Texas Mixed Border at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. This garden was designed to illustrate the three ideas above and is acctractive throughout the year.

Here are a few of the blooming plants used in this garden and their bloom times:

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium (Aromatic aster) Sep - Nov

Conoclinium greggii (Gregg's mistflower) Mar - Nov

Scutellaria ovata (Heartleaf skullcap) Apr - Jun

Datura wrightii (Sacred thorn-apple) May - Nov

Here are some of the plants used for their foliage:

Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats) green throughout the summer then golden in the winter

Hesperaloe parviflora (Red yucca)

Muhlenbergia capillaris (Gulf muhly)

As for your other idea, I suggest using native annuals as your bedding plants. You can transplant or seed bluebonnets, paintbrushes, blackeyed susans, Indian blankets, etc., then dig them up when they have finished blooming and start looking scraggly.

 

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