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Gardening Problem Spots
Gardening Problem Spots
Published by Porterbrook
Default Gardening Problem Spots


Frank W. Porter
Porterbrook Native Plants

Spring is here. I can feel it in my bones. Robins have returned to mate and search for earth worms. The plants also know that the weather is changing. Trees and shrubs are budding out, and some of the perennials are showing signs of new growth.

Now is the time to make preparations for the new growing season. How many of you have ever had your soil tested to determine its level of acidity or alkalinity? You can purchase a kit at your local garden center or send a soil sample to your Extension Agent. Once you have determined the pH value of your soil, you simply need to pick the best plants for your site.
Ideally, every garden would have the proper soil, sufficient rainfall, and virtually level ground. Unfortunately, most gardens have less than ideal conditions. Regardless of the problem spots in your garden, every gardener can have ample blooms and healthy plants. The secret is to grow wild. Use native plants that are adapted to your area and will grow successfully in the right conditions.

In all likelihood, your garden soil is slightly acidic, having a pH between 6.2 and 6.8. Now is the time to take a walk through your woods or in one of the natural areas in your vicinity and identify acid-loving plants. If you are unfamiliar with how to identify wildflowers, I urge you to obtain a copy of Lawrence Newcomb, Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide. You will quickly learn to identify wildflowers and become quite familiar with their growing requirements.

Your next task is to determine any problem spots in your garden or landscape. One of the most frustrating conditions is ground that remains wet throughout the growing season. Rather than go to the expense of having the area drained or filled with topsoil, it makes more sense to select native plants that thrive in these conditions. The choices are extensive. Iris versicolor, Iris fulva, and Iris schreveri provide vivid color and will stabilize the soil and will hold back excessive moisture. Lobelia cardinalis and Lobelia siphilitica offer bright red and blue flowers respectively. Spiranthes cernuum is a native orchid with white flowers that will colonize a wet area. Asclepias incarnata enjoys wet feet, and will produce pastel pink flowers. If there is sufficient sunlight, Filipendula rubra will tower over the other plants and produce cotton-candy pink blooms that look like plumy clouds.

At the other end of the spectrum is soil that remains dry. Surprisingly, there are a large number of plants that do quite well without a steady supply of water. For areas that have dry soils and partial shade Elymus hystrix (Bottlebrush Grass) makes a wonderful backdrop for wildflowers. Iris cristata can serve as a groundcover, especially in-and-around protruding rocks. Dodecatheon meadii (Shooting Star) sends up stems whose downward-facing flowers with white petals and gold stamens gives the impression of a meteor shower flaming towards earth. Silene stellata (Starry Campion) reaches above its neighbors and produces deeply fringed white flowers. Coreopsis verticillata (Thread-leaf Coreopsis) enjoys dry sandy, gravelly or rocky soil and has finely divided leaves with light yellow flowers. Aster macrophyllus (Large-leaf Aster) and Aster divaricata (White Wood Aster) can create beautiful colonies with clusters of large white flowers.

For those of us who live in southern Ohio and West Virginia, hillsides and slopes are all too familiar fare and can be difficult places to garden. Spring showers quickly run off, leaving the soil dry and frequently quite thin. Erosion from wind and rain can damage existing plants and even cause mudslides. And yet, there are native plants that are equally tough and can meet the challenge of gardening on slopes. Creating a rock garden is one way to handle these growing conditions. Beginning at the bottom of the slope, start to fill in between rocks. Sedum nevii (Nevius’ Stonecrop), Sedum glaucophyllum (Cliff Stonecrop), Sedum telephoides (Allegheny Stonecrop), and Sedum ternatum (Wild Stonecrop) form a mat of low-spreading compact rosettes with flowers that range from white to pink. Porteranthus stipulata (American Ipecac) and Porteranthus trifoliatus (Bowman’s Root) each have bright white flowers with foliage that turns reddish in the fall. Planting these two species together extends the bloom period as the latter flowers two weeks later. Asclepias quadrifolia (Four-leaved Milkweed) is the earliest of this species to bloom and has delicate umbels of magenta pink-to-white flowers. The leaves are in whorls around the stem. To extend the bloom season, plant Aster linarifolius (Stiff Aster). Its foliage resembles Rosemary. And its dark blue flowers add color in late summer and early fall. Taenidia integerrima (Yellow Pimpernel) has a delicate appearance with lacy umbels of tiny yellow flowers.

Problem spots do not have to diminish the joy of gardening. Look at them as challenges to enhance the gardening experience. Using native plants is the first step in that direction. Mingle native trees, shrub, wildflowers, vines and grasses to transform your garden into a small natural area.

This article was first published by the Marietta Register
By biigblueyes on 09-29-2009, 12:26 PM

Very nice article, Porterbrook. I like the "glass half full" philosophy you have. It's not a problem, it's an opportunity.
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By BooBooBearBecky on 10-03-2009, 03:42 AM

Great Article Porterbrook.

I really like that you give a brief description of each plant's appearance and where it likes to be planted. Very helpful.

I have a few tough garden problems spots (slopes, dry areas, etc.) and I'll be applying your advice next growing season.

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