With the planting season upon us, many of us are starting to think about what flowers may be the best for our gardens and pollinators. We may have started to look into floral mixes or even flower starts, but probably there are too many choices and now we’re overwhelmed and don’t know what to do. In previous posts, we talked about the importance of diverse floral choices and how appropriate native species are when choosing plants for pollinators. There is, however, an extra twist that is becoming more mainstream in this story and today I want to talk about it. Let’s chat about local ecotypes, what they are, what they contribute, and how to get them (and how to not get them).
What are local ecotypes?
In a few words, local ecotypes are native plant species that have a genetic background typical for the local region and adapted to it. I know, there were a lot of technical words in that sentence, so let me break it down to make it easier to understand.
Like all organisms, plants have lineages that reflect their ancestry. In the same way that we as humans are genetically more closely related to members of our own family than to those of other families, plant populations are also more closely related to other plants of the same species that live close to them. From a genetic point of view, this means that plants that come from regions close to each other will tend to have more similar genetic characteristics than those from regions far apart from each other. This genetic makeup specific to a given region is what we call broadly a local genotype.
As you look out your windows onto a wintery scene are you missing the colors, shapes, and forms of your summer garden?
No need. If you want to be delighted rather than depressed with your views, plan now to add some winter interest to your garden with color, texture, and form.
Let’s start with texture. Adding plants with interesting bark textures ratchets up the “wow” factor in a landscape. Personal favorites are the shaggy bark of river birch and the mosaic bark of crape myrtles. Both have striking multiple trunks and crape myrtles range from 3 to 30 feet to fit any landscape. Other trees have smooth bark, furrowed bark or bark like an elephant’s trunk. Mix it up. The excellent book, “Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs,” includes bark photos in each plant profile.
With needles short or long, spiky, clustered or drooping, evergreen trees boast appealing texture. Seeing Norway spruce’s kimono sleeves dusted with snow makes you really, really want one.
But trees aren’t the only plants that tout texture. Think shrubs, ornamental grasses, and perennials. I can’t walk by a leatherleaf viburnum without stroking its coarse, deeply veined leaves. Ditto for holly’s glossy leaves.
The seed heads of ornamental grasses and perennials also can add striking texture. The snow-capped seed heads of coneflowers and Brazilian verbena look especially fine.
Now, let’s pop some color into your winter garden. You’ll find it in the crimson branches of red twig dogwood and the berries of hawthorns, hollies, and winterberries. But red isn’t the only color you can cultivate.
Some junipers tinge purple in the winter or hold onto their summer blues. Tan ornamental grasses contrast well with snow and add movement when stirred by the wind.
Crabapples dangle yellow, orange, and red fruits while viburnums show off berries of red, purple, black, or blue. And most evergreens are, well, green.
Mother Nature stocks her palette with softer colors. Grey rocks sport green lichen. Wood ages from brown to grey. Use natural materials to add color and beauty to walkways, benches, fences, and accents.
Suffuse your garden with your favorite colors. In the European garden Kiftsgate, the owners carefully placed splashes of bright blue. It adorns a bench, garden gate, and more to perfect effect. So grab your paintbrush.
Now, let’s talk form. Mixing shapes creates a well-designed landscape, but those shapes are most noticeable in winter when deciduous trees have dropped their leaf dresses. What do the bare bones of your landscape tell you? Look for shapes – round, square, triangle, oval, pillar, vase, and teardrop – and add what’s missing.
If your landscape is filled with lollipops – round balls on sticks like maples – then add something layered and wider like a dogwood, triangular like a spruce, or columnar like an arborvitae. Weeping forms improve every garden.
When garden designers tell us to plan for the view, they mean the views from both the inside and outside. So look out your windows and imagine what you want to see. Then make it happen.
By Annette Cormany, Principal Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Washington County, University of Maryland Extension. This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media. Read more by Annette.
This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media.
Before deciding what plants to buy, determine what you want your overall landscape to do for you. Are you an avid gardener, have an active family, or want a landscape that doesn’t require a lot of maintenance? The answer indicates how you will use or interact in your landscape and that helps guide your plant options.
Included here are some functions that plants can perform in the landscape and the outdoor spaces where you would use them.
Many plant problems in the landscape could be avoided by choosing the right plant for the purpose and the site. Many insects and diseases are opportunists, taking advantage of plants that are stressed and aren’t healthy enough to fight back.
Whether your landscape plants are having issues with insects, diseases, lack of blooming, or just overall poor performance, chances are that they were not suited for the location in the first place. Improper planting practices or other non-biological factors can contribute to problems and will be addressed in another blog post.