Pick the right plants for your Midwestern garden during prime planting season
Every year, gardeners want the latest and greatest plants in their yards and many of them rely on landscapers and favorite garden centers to guide the selections.
Now is prime planting season in the Midwest, and regional experts provided their recommendations for the latest attention-grabbing perennials and shrubs.
Many designers are mixing it up, planting annuals, perennials and grasses in the same container to achieve a long season of color and interesting textures. One design that works well in partly sunny sites features Big Blonde coleus (Solonostemon), which takes on a chartreuse hue in shadier locations.
Bobbie Schwartz, owner of highly rated Bobbie’s Green Thumb in Shaker Heights, Ohio, mixes it with perennials Sweet Tea foamy bells and Banana Boat, a broad-leaved carex. For spots of annual color, she adds Oxalis Charmed Wine, which has large purple leaves, and the dainty blue flower of lobelia.
Schwartz says she’s also impressed with Phantom, a deep purple petunia with a pale yellow star-shaped center. “It performed very well,” she says. “It just kept blooming.” Schwartz mixed the petunia with medium yellow snapdragons for a color echo and Pikes Peak Purple penstemon. “I add any green ornamental grass. You always need something green in there,” she says.
In the suburbs, where houses get bigger and lots get smaller, dwarf shrubs also find a home. When planting real estate is at a premium, small shrubs that also flower can deliver more bang for your buck, says Matt Irvin, vice president of nursery and retail operations at highly rated Salsbery Brothers Landscaping, in Carmel, Ind.
One of Irvin’s favorite options is Proven Winners/ColorChoice Plants’ Lo & Behold Blue Chip butterfly bush, which he calls a blooming fanatic. “It’s a dramatic improvement over other butterfly bushes. It starts in late spring and doesn’t stop,” Irvin says. The Blue Chip shrub’s local popularity is soaring — Irvin sold more than 700 last year. Happy in full sun and well-drained soil, Blue Chip gets about 30 inches tall and wide. It does best when only the branch tips are snipped off in spring rather than cutting the shrub to the ground like other butterfly bushes.
For a larger space, Irvin likes Limelight hydrangea, another intense bloomer with white, densely packed cone-shaped flowers that turn pink as they age. It’s been available for several years, but is still a best-seller for sun or shade. Limelight grows about 8 feet tall and wide. Little Lime, a new introduction, only reaches 5 feet tall and wide, but has the same great attributes as its taller cousin.
Hellebores bred at Ashwood Gardens in England are winners, says Earl Lieske, perennials buyer at highly rated Chalet Landscape Nursery & Garden Center in Wilmette, Ill. These internationally acclaimed perennials come in a variety of options. “They’re selected for uniqueness, perfect form and purity of color saturation. They bloom very early in the season beginning in February or March and last for weeks if not months. They also are deer resistant and add a texture and color to any shade garden,” he says.
About the author: Sometimes known as the Hoosier Gardener, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp lives in Indianapolis. A freelance writer, her work appears in many publications, including The American Gardener. Her latest book, “The Visitor’s Guide to American Gardens,” is available through Cool Springs Press. Sharp, a director of the Garden Writers Association, also speaks about gardening throughout the Midwest.