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Into the Garden: Plant this, not that

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This new year, I'm making a resolution to plant more native, noninvasive plants. I haven't always been diligent about this in the past, and when a plant causes problems later in its lifecycle, I often realize the reason is that it doesn't belong in my garden.

A gardening friend sent me a great list, produced for the Garden Club of Virginia's 2011 Annual Meeting Horticultural Display, which shows a nonnative landscape plant that can be replaced by a more eco-friendly specimen. The display was called "Plant this, not that!" and each garden club in the state provided samples to show the similarities between the natives and nonnatives.

As an introduction to the display, the group explained that many of the state's native birds are in decline because of loss of native habitat for the specific caterpillars that feed young birds. Nonnative plants do not offer breeding ground for native butterflies, and 97 percent of Virginia's birds require insects -- not seeds -- to feed their young.

A few caught my eye, mainly because some are species that I planted in my yard long before I understood quite what I was doing. For example, the Augusta Garden Club suggests planting a Shadbush (Amelancher carnadensis) instead of a Pyrus calleryana (Bradford pear). I'm ready to cut down the Bradford pear that was a housewarming gift back in 1990 -- it drops more seedlings than I care to pull. And there are so many crossing branches (again, they grew too tall before I really knew what I was doing!) that the structure is getting more unsound every year.

Instead of the strip mall staple burning bush (Euonymus alata), the Loudoun Garden Club recommends planting a pawpaw tree. The Garden Club of Danville recommends this old-fashioned favorite instead of the European privet (Ligustrum vulgare).

The tree's distinctive growth habit, the appeal of its fresh fruit, and its relatively low maintenance needs once established are causing a comeback in the old favorite. Only container-grown pawpaws should be transplanted; use of bare-rooted pawpaws is not recommended because their fragile root hairs tend to break off unless a cluster of moist soil is retained on the root mass.

A couple of other substitutes for burning bush suggested in the list include spice bush (Lindera bensoin) and red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifulia).

English ivy can become invasive, and the Hillside Garden Club suggests Dutchman's pipe vine (Aristolochia family) as an alternative. Sweetspire (Itea virginica) was another ivy alternative.

Instead of the now-common Buddleia davidii (butterfly bush), it's recommended to plant the swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).

I know a few local gardeners who planted wisteria to grow atop an arbor, and the heavy plants broke the study arbors after a couple of years of growth. Optional plants to Wisteria sinensis include Phlox divarata, geranium Maculatum, ilex glabra (inkberry), amsomnia Tabernaemontana (bluestar), wild columbine, Calycanthus floridus (sweetshrub) and Wisteria frutenscens.

Instead of Japanese honeysuckle, it was recommended that we plant passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) or New England aster. Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is another alternative to the invasive Japanese honeysuckle.

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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