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

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Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

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Monday - July 25, 2011

From: Memphis, TN
Region: Southeast
Topic: Planting
Title: Redoing garden in Memphis TN
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Please help. I don't know much about landscaping and plants and I am re-doing my flower bed. I recently had everything pulled out and I want to start fresh. The area that I will be working with is approximately 10 feet long and 3 feet deep so, it's not a large area. The home faces north so whatever goes in the area will need to be able to survive in the shade. I would like to plant shrubs and flowers that are low maintenance, colorful, and don't grow tall. Any help that you can provide will be appreciated.

ANSWER:

We love new gardeners - we feel like we can start them off right. First of all, let us introduce you to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, home of Mr. Smarty Plants, and outstanding proponent of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which those plants are being grown. We have How-To Articles on Using Native Plants and A Guide to Native Plant Gardening. Please read both of them to help you understand the economic and environmental reasons behind the use of native plants. An important point: now is the time for planning your garden, but not for planting. It is simply too hot all over the country right now to even think about planting.

To help you begin your planning, let's talk dirt. Shelby County, in the southwest corner of the state, is in USDA Hardiness Zone 7a. We're guessing you have an acidic clay soil, but a guess is not good enough. Contact the University of Tennessee Extension Office for Shelby County. They can give you information on soils, or will even help you get a soil sample. This is important because you don't want to select plants that need an alkaline soil, if you are planting in acidic soil. If you have a clay soil, you need to be prepared to improve drainage in your planting area before you begin to plant.

Finally, we are ready to help you select plants for your garden. Go to our Native Plants Database, and use the "Combination Search." Select Tennessee, either "herb" (herbaceous blooming plant) or "shrub" under Habit and then check the other characteristics you are concerned with, then click on "Submit combination search." It would help if you watch the area where you are planting for a day and determine exactly how much sun it is getting. "Sun" is 6 hours or more of sun a day, "part shade," 2 to 6 hours and "shade" two hours or less. We should warn you that it is difficult to get much in the way of blooming plants in full shade. We are going to check "part shade" and "shade" and search first on herbaceous blooming plants, checking "perennial" under Duration, and then on shrubs. Here are a few suggestions for you to look at before you make your own search. Follow the italicized link to our webpage on each plant to learn about their growing conditions, the soils they can thrive in, bloom color and time and so forth. 

Herbaceous Blooming Plants for Memphis TN: 207 possibilities

Asarum canadense (Canadian wild ginger)

Coreopsis lanceolata (Lanceleaf coreopsis)

Equisetum arvense (Field horsetail)

Shrubs: 68 possibilities

Cephalanthus occidentalis (Common buttonbush)

Cornus amomum (Silky dogwood)

Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf hydrangea)

 

From the Image Gallery


Canadian wild ginger
Asarum canadense

Lanceleaf coreopsis
Coreopsis lanceolata

Field horsetail
Equisetum arvense

Common buttonbush
Cephalanthus occidentalis

Silky dogwood
Cornus amomum

Oakleaf hydrangea
Hydrangea quercifolia

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