What do you suggest for my first perennial experience?

clay_belleMarch 11, 2008

I am a NeWbIe at this and I spend HOURS of my day (which should really be used for housekeeping)searching the net for plants. I would like to put some perennials in my front yard that will grow in VERY alkaline clay soil. Seriously people, it's short of being mud. I'm in a brand new housing development (the kind that throws up houses in a month or two) and they basically scraped all the good dirt off when the graded the land.

I have some run of the mill daylilies (that I swear would grow in a bowl of water!) that are doing excellent! I also have the standard hedges they put in... I would rather not keep them.

I would ultimately like to have a front yard that is filled with;

Small leafy bushes/ornamental grasses

Flowering plants

Hosta

Butterfly/bee/bird attracting plants.

*deep breath in and sigh*

That's all!

Thank You Thank You Thank You!!!!

=D

Rebecca

P.S I am sorry if I am being a pain the the pitoooey.

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Dibbit(z7b SC)

Hey, we all began somewhere, some when - this is yours. Kudos to you for not settling for whatever the builder left behind, and for knowing there is something better!

The very first thing I would do is to get as much compost as you can and work it into your soil - it will work wonders in improving the condition of the soil - lightening the clay and buffering the alkilinity. Building raised beds will provide for good drainage - bring in topsoil (IF it is good and not full of more clay and weed seeds) as you can afford it, but avoid the "topsoil" that looks like it is half potting soil as it better suited for pots and not in-ground growing. Raised beds can help a lot with poor soil and poor drainage - as many plants can be killed by wet at their roots as are killed by being too dry.

Look into your local chapter of the Native Plant Society - those are the plants you want to encourage if you want butterflies. You need nectar plants as well as host plants for the caterpillars, so do your reading.

I would strongly suggest you get a copy of the Southern Living Garden Book - it is slightly superficial, but I use it as a reference all the time for plants that will grow in my area - it is pretty comprehensive for the old stalwarts, but doesn't come out in a new edition (the newest one is 2004) often enough to have the newest and latest offerings. Look into other regional garden books - from the library if your budget is tight - leaving the more money for plants! You can learn a lot about what plants will grow where, under what conditions, from books, and maybe you will kill fewer plants than otherwise - I certainly have killed off my share.

I would also get on the mailing lists for as many mail-order catalogues as you can. BUT, I can't emphasize strongly enough to, before you order, check out any of them with the Garden Watchdog - there are a number of BAD companies out there with very attractive catalogues, who send poor plants, wrong plants, dead plants, and simply take your money and run. That said, there are many more that are reliable and helpful, so don't avoid mail-order.

Do be a little careful as well of offerings at local nurseries or big box-stores - again, there are good ones and bad ones. I have seen plants offered as perennials that ARE perennial, but only along the coast, or in Florida, not here in NE SC.

OK, to get to plants you might like - I assume you like the daylilies, so you can get more - some of them will rebloom, once or more over the course of the summer. You can also look into bearded irises - some of them MAY rebloom.

If you don't mind spending some time next spring reining in the spreading tendencies, you can look at black-eyed Susans, cone flowers, monarda, achillea, Anise hyssop, Virginia spiderwort, etc. All of these are natives, some went to Europe and came back improved, with new colors or other attributes! There are also many attractive grasses, native and imported, which can add informality, stature, a temporary hedge, a natural look, etc.

Asclepias (milkweed or butterfly weed) are a good native for butterflies. Dill/fennel is another butterfly host. Gauras are nice, and come in many colors. Lantanas are another good plant - some are more perennial than others. Shasta daisies, selected phlox, various sages, and Lamb's ears are other plants to consider.

Enough - you will have lots to look up! Since I am not too familiar with extreme alkaline soil, some of these may falter, but I believe most of them are quite capable of growing well for you, especially if the soil has lots of added compost or is made into raised beds and amended.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2008 at 9:27PM
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sissifriss(7B)

sounds like my soil. Really adding to the dirt is great. Newspaper helps bring earthworms to the soil and aids in making it better. I have done the sandwich approach with newpaper compost and mulch and it works well although slowly. It can be frustrating, but in a couple years you will see a great difference. For now I have had sucess with blue fescue, monkey grass, mondu grass. Pampass grass, purple fountain (not perennial here). Japanese Blood Grass, and prarie grass. Boxwoods do well and I prune them to make them more interesting. Nandina and holly also do well. For flowers that is more tricky I have really struggled with this before ground was improved. Hostas do well, watch out for slugs. verbana, black eyed susans, cannas, lantana is sketchy on overwintering, but dose well. shasta daisy, salvia, phlox loves it. flowering thyme, snow on the mountain, periwinkle. Crape myrtles (bush types) do well. Burning bushes. I could go on, but some ideas to start with. Roses also seem to do well for me. Also annual vines include morning glories and moonflowers. Carolina Jasmine also does well. Lavender hates it therefore I give up. Good luck

    Bookmark   March 11, 2008 at 10:20PM
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nannerbelle(8A)

Hi Clay belle!! I lived in Indian Trail and Matthews area for many years and I'm very familiar with the soil you are speaking of. Raised beds are a huge bonus there! I had great success in a Matthews neighborhood with digging down about 6 to 8 inches and tilling in good rich potting soil. I had a red clay base there. I then could plant basically anything and had great success. My herb garden did wonderful, same with veggies in the back. I planted 3 tomato plants that fed 4 houses all summer long! Fountain grasses also did really well, Asian Lillies, annuals of all kinds, and several others that aren't in the front of my mind right now. My hostas also did really well, huge to the point of almost filling the bed structured for hosta and annuals. Mungo grass also did well along with liotrope (sp). Bottom line, put time and effort into conditioning that clay!! I had a lavender rose that reached over the top of my one story house! I planted it in a conditioned bed then mixed 1/4th Peat moss and the rest potting soil in the planting area to the depth of the roots. Now my next house in Indian Trail, I had NO luck with except for a couple of well placed elephant ears. I gave up the second year ( I hated the house and it was a rental) and went strictly with condtainer gardening on a 2 acre lot! I had yellow clay (bull tallow) with streaks of blue potters clay there and hated it!! There was zero top soil, I had a landscaping company come out and they said to call Blue Max and the dump trucks of topsoil to establish a decent yard. I did condition a couple of beds around the front door and annuals did really well there. Good luck to you and let us know how this works out for you!! :-)

    Bookmark   March 11, 2008 at 11:31PM
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aisgecko(7b Raleigh)

The best thing I think is to come up with a basic plan with room for variation. Pick a few plants for the bones and continuity, then tuck others in according to your whim.
Keep in mind that hostas don't like full sun, especially late afternoon sun, and may need some protection. There are a few varieties that tolerate it if you MUST have them but don't have a shady spot.
I'd look at Salvias (they attract hummingbirds, not sure about butterflies. Many of them are carefree and long blooming. There's lots of easy perennials like coreopsis and coneflowers, and penstemons. I'd encourage you to look at long blooming perennials and some foliage plants to fill in with to keep constant color, as some of the showier plants are very short lived.
I'd also add a rose bush or two because they can bloom from spring to fall, given the right bush. In this I'd be careful with your selection to find one that blooms continuously and is disease resistant. Probably not a hybrid tea, since they often are prone to black spot. I have a wonderful white bush rose that blooms all summer and never needs spraying for anything! Too bad it wasn't named.
If you really want butterflies you need to avoid spraying as much as possible, and you need to contend with chewed up plants some if you want to host them. Have fun!

    Bookmark   March 12, 2008 at 8:19AM
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betsyconnolly(7/8)

Try Crinums - Cemetary lilies. two will turn into ten in no time. Best if left alone and allowed to crowd in a space. Monarda - Bea Balm is also a good one. Homestead verbena, iris, crocosmia, and viburnum do well in my acidic soil. Just dump all grass clippings in area you wish to have a garden for one year. Plant there the following year and mulch.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2008 at 1:22PM
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Tammy Kennedy

go to a swap in your area! you'll get to see what's being traded (all sure bets for the area) and get some great starts for your garden as well as advice. you may even meet someone who'll mentor you.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2008 at 4:45PM
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tooslim

My votes for bullet proof plants:
Grasses--pampas, redfountain, zebra.
Coneflowers, blackeyed susans, repeating lillies like StellaDoro & HappyReturns, butterfly bush and Homestead verbena (butterflies love these last two, don't cut back the verbena until early spring to aid in it overwintering), hostas, Autumn Joy sedum. Knockout Shrub rose (blooms and blooms, no spraying, no problems!).
Agree with SouthernLiving Garden book--great for basic info. And avoid advice from big box garden people, majority are absolutely clueless. Find a good nursery, read books and local garden columns, listen to local garden radio shows.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2008 at 4:37PM
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nannerbelle(8A)

Just thought of this Claybelle. Go over to Kings Nursery in Stallings. They have a great selection, nice plants and knowledgeable folks working there. I bought a lot of my stuff from them including some container plants I moved with me last year and I have now. Take your time and walk thru all the greenhouses there, they have one at the back that had a lot of very unique plants, a lot of tropicals in that one. I have to drive up to Monroe this weekend, and if it's nice, I may stop in there myself! :-)

    Bookmark   March 17, 2008 at 9:46PM
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sloppy_joe(8A/7B NC)

First -- have fun! So much gardening is about learning from your experiences -- so remember what you do. Also, learn the light conditions of your yard -- figure out how much light things get (roughly -- you don't need a timer or anything). Adding compost now can only make things better. If you use good compost, you don't need much other fertilizer -- it has everything plants need.

Now to your question...the 'butterfly bush' is a pretty hardy & easy to grow plant that will attract the hummingbirds and butterflies.
I always like to plant herbs -- rosemary is pretty tough and forgiving.
You'd be surprised at how easy some roses are -- do your research first on varities for your area that are disease & pest resistant -- New Dawn (climber) and Mr. Lincoln are two that come to mind.
For shade, hostas and ferns go well together, as do a myriad of other shade-loving plants. I usually buy things that are at least hardy to zone 8 -- sometimes zone 9 -- to account for occassional heat. Some plants just can't take a hot/dry summer, but you'll learn and quickly find your favorites and what works & doesn't. Your experience in your yard will be best.

To get pictures & ideas, order some free catalogs from sites and start sorting what you like/dislike -- then find things for your yard. Good luck & have fun!!!

    Bookmark   March 17, 2008 at 10:07PM
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amateur_anna

On the note of perennials, what is the flower that is currently blooming (RDU area) which is clustered dark green with delicate light purple/grey flowers? Could I still plant these? Thx for the help!

    Bookmark   March 18, 2008 at 10:04AM
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Tammy Kennedy

Anna, where did you see the blooms? It sounds like it could be hellebores from your description, but i've never seen those planted by roads or massed in common landscaping. or perhaps it's phlox divaritica? Can you give us an idea of how tall the plants is how big the leaves are, how big the flowers are, etc? Whatever it is, if it's a perennial, you can certainly plant it now, but unless it's in bud or blooming when you buy it you won't get blooms this year. If it's an annual it's most likely too late for this year, but you can always plan for next.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2008 at 10:16AM
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deirdre_2007(7)

When I lived in MA, I thought I was a fantastic gardener. Everything lived and I had a superb green thumb. I worked full-time and I had two kids. I was a rock star. I moved to NC, am now home with the kids fulltime, so I should have more time to garden, and my gardens should prosper . . and they don't.

The clay soil is a humdinger. Everything takes so much more care to grow. I amend and compost like crazy. And you know what? In the end, I've stopped trying to grow exotic plants and although they may be common, at this point I'm tired of all my hard work not growing to fruition, that for this year at least I'm going to stick to the basics.
My garden this year will consist of verbena, lantana, salvia, vinca, dianthus and my roses. If I plant anything new this year, I want it to be deer resistant and drought tolerant. I'm leaning towards milkweed because we have lots of butterflies and my girls love watching them play in the garden. Maybe next year, if the drought is better and with my daughter in Kindergarten, I'll plant some more "exciting" stuff, but for me, something that lives and blooms, is totally awesome to me!!!

    Bookmark   March 18, 2008 at 10:59AM
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amateur_anna

Tamelask-

I do believe it is a hellebore. I would say it is about 3 feet tall with dark green leaves in the same configuration as a rhododendrum (but not as "stiff" of a leaf). The flowers are the size of a pansy flower and this muted lilac color- with almost a little gray in it. Thank you for your help!

It is growing in a garden surrounding the walkway in between the Duke nursing school and the Hanes House. Even though it is out of my way, I walk through there on my way to work just so I can see their beautiful plants :)

    Bookmark   March 18, 2008 at 1:44PM
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Tammy Kennedy

Sure sounds like a hellebore to me! I usually bring a bunch of seedlings to the raleigh swap in spring and this year will be no exception. Just know they take about 3 years til they get to flowering stage (they are slow, and as a consequence, expensive). Also, fyi, they come in a range of colors from green, pink, white, rose, plum and any shade between, either plain or more often with pretty freckles inside. They even have yellowish ones now and doubles, but i'm not partial to either. There are lots of other species of hellebores that are interesting as well.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2008 at 5:20PM
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Tammy Kennedy

Forgot to say, they'd be a great beginner's plant because they are easy as pie! They can handle dry shade, unlike so many other things, but can also deal with part sun. Pretty hard to kill, really.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2008 at 5:31PM
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jqpublic(7b/8a Wake County NC)

Ones that have done great for me are Four O'clocks and Balloon Flowers.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2008 at 1:21AM
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ncdirtdigger(7b)

Right around the corner from you is Construction Supply (on Pleasant Plains Rd near Potters Rd) they sell compost (both Mushroom and Hardwood) by the yard. If you have access to a pickup truck you can pick it up a yard at a time (a yard is about all a 1/2 ton pick up will carry without upgraded springs/shocks) or they will deliver for a fee. A yard of compost will cost $25 +/-.
If I had only one piece of advice for you it would be to improve your soil. Once you get that right, a great number of plants will thive for you.
Another good investment is the little Honda 4 cycle tiller. The Honda cost more than the others (most of which are those smelly, noisey, 2 cycle types) but will hold up far better (trust me, I've learned the hard way) and the 4 cycle engine doesn't pollute as much and is not that annoying high pitched scream.
I use a mattock (similar to a pick) to break up the soil, then I add the compost and some soil conditioner and Plant-tone fertilizer and an extra handfull of superphosphate and mix it all together with the tiller. Let it settle, either with a good rainfall (hopefully we'll have some this year) or a good spray from the hose, prior to planting in it.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2008 at 11:00AM
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karen__w(z7 Durham, NC)

Anna, it's definitely Helleborus x hybridus there along the walkway. I decided I needed a walk more than I needed lunch so I swung by this afternoon. Like Tammy said, there should be plenty of seedlings at the spring swap. You know, if you're close enough to walk by Hanes House, you're close enough to walk over to the Gardens. There are tons of hellebores blooming on the hill overlooking the goldfish pond and Terrace Gardens and along the walkway behind the wisteria arbor. Trillium, hepatica, and bloodroot are in bloom in the Native Plants Garden, too.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2008 at 3:30PM
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