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Need help choosing plants for my small garden

Posted by bunnywafer 7a (Northern VA) (My Page) on
Sun, Mar 13, 11 at 20:08

Hello all,

I'm really hoping someone can point a newbie in the right direction. I moved into a new townhouse last year and the front garden needs some major TLC. My experimental gardening last year wasn't overly successful. I don't really know anything about gardening, so would love some ideas on what plants to choose. Here is some basic info about my garden space:

Location: Northern Virginia

Zone: 7 (7a on some charts; just south of 6/6b)

Direction: Faces South

Sunlight: In sun most of the day, from sunrise until about 4:30 PM

Soil: clay like

pH of soil: alkaline; pH 7-8.5

Size of space to be planted: approx. 10 ft long x 4-5 ft.

So, I'm looking for ideas of plants to look at that will thrive in those conditions. Some additional considerations/strong preferences of mine:

Evergreen: (HOA requires all foundation plants be evergreen, though not everything in the garden has to be)

Low-maintenance: I know myself, I will not tend to a garden every day or even every week. If I have a plant or two that requires weekly watering during dry spells, I could handle that, but I don't want to be watering or pruning often.

Perennial: I'd prefer to get a good looking garden of perennials so I don't have to replant every year. I plan to use pots/containers for any annuals or biennials I want.

No berries: I'd prefer plants with no berries or very few berries; I just tend to think they make a mess

Multi-season interest: I'd love a variety of plants with multi-season interest. I'm probably going to get a tree that will bloom in spring (for a different area of the yard), and I figure I'll have flowers in pots in the spring; so plants that have interest in summer and fall would be great. I do have 2 plants already that are supposed to have winter interest (one is a rhodedendron I think and the other is one of the few things I planted last year that did's some form of a camellia; though both of these did not begin to bloom until late February...I thought they would bloom earlier than that).

Smallish size: Given the small confines of the space, I need plants that will stay or can be pruned to stay relatively small

Last year I planted some small evergreen things that did well (a few cypress, and some cute green and yellow thing. I'm sorry I don't know the names of all these plants for you). I planted Russian sage too which I LOVED the color and smell of, but now it is ugly and getting overgrown by some ornamental grass that I must not have completely uprooted last year).

I would absolutely love some thoughts on plants to look for that meet my many criteria. And if I'm being completely unrealistic in my desires, please let me know that too! :)

Things I've thought about: hostas, rosebushes, korean dwarf lilac, I'd probably get more of the cute green and yellow bush if I knew what it was :)

Thank you so so much in advance!!!

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Need help choosing plants for my small garden

The best thing to do is to take your requirements (and a photo of the area wouldn't hurt either) to a better local nursery and ask for their suggestions. They will be able to provide you with a listing of plants that will suit both your locale as well as the various growing conditions you offer.

There's a good many smaller evergreen plants that will fit this situation. Boxwood, junipers, dwarf mugo pines, euonymus (may be your green and yellow shrub) are among them. Daphnes (often semi-evergreen) also appreciate more neutral to alkaline soils. And lots of deciduous shrubs - various viburnums, potentilla, lilacs, spiraeas, ninebarks, wiegela, etc. Lots to choose from.

Perennials will up the maintenance requirements compared to shrubs. They will require attention with regards to dividing, deadheading, cutting back seasonally, perhaps even staking. And any plant newly planted - drought tolerant or not, shrub or perennial - will need routine deep waterings frequently during its first couple of growing seasons. And this needs to be done on the plant's schedule, not yours :-)

One thing I'd recheck and that's your soil pH. If you have camellias or rhododendrons growing in that area, I doubt it is as high as 7-8.5 you think. These two plants are acid lovers and simply will not thrive in a pH that high. If your pH is more in the neutral to slightly acidic range (6.0-7.0), which would be much more common for your area, then your plant choices increase substantially.

Retest for pH, making sure you are using distilled water (not tap water) for the solution.

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