Schizachyrium scoparium

2019 – Little Bluestem

 Little bluestem is a prairie grass native to eastern North America that matures at 2-4 feet tall and 1.5-2 feet wide. As the name implies, this upright perennial grass is noted for its blueish foliage that turns a beautiful copper tone in the fall. In August, a purple-bronze flower reaches over the foliage and turns into a fluffy seed head, making it a fantastic specimen for year-round interest.

This plant is very adaptable. It thrives in full sun, and can tolerate deer, drought, erosion, shallow-rocky soil, and black walnut. It looks best when planted in masses, as a border, or in a prairie-like or meadow setting. Cutting back Little Bluestem should occur in late winter or early spring. There are many cultivars of this plant including ‘Twilight Zone’, which has purple highlights towards the tip, ‘Standing Ovation’, which has dark purple and thicker blades towards the base, and ‘Carousel’, which has a lower and broader base.

 

Aronia melanocarpa

2018 – Black Chokeberry

Black Chokeberry is an underused deciduous native shrub, but one that is gaining in popularity for a number of reasons.  Growing from about 2’ to about 6’ in height, depending on cultivar, it is a very tough plant able to grow in a wide range of garden conditions.  It tolerates pollution, salt, drought, insects, diseases, sun, shade, and even deer.

 

In addition to being tough, it is also quite attractive with all-season interest.  In spring, clusters of showy white flowers cover the shrub; in late summer, the flowers make way for clusters of glossy black fruits that dangle from the branches at around the time the leaves have begun transitioning for a fine fall show of red and burgundy; and in winter, after the leaves have fallen, the fruits persist and attract a variety of overwintering songbirds.  These blueberry-sized fruits are also edible for humans and though they are very tart and astringent when raw, they have been processed into a variety of anti-oxidant rich drinks and dietary supplements all around the world.

Black Chokeberry grows with an open, rounded habit with glossy, bright green leaves covering only the top 2/3 of the plant.  Knowing this, it is suggested to plant it in masses and in combination with other plants that will fill in the voids near the base of the plants.

 

Hibiscus moscheutos

2017 – Rose Mallow

The common rose mallow or swamp mallow is an upright shrub-like herbaceous perennial that is commonly found in moist areas such as marshes or lake shores.  H. moscheutos is a member of the Mallow family, Malvaceae.  This plant is unique because you can bring those showy tropical looking hibiscus flowers to the garden.  The flowers are typically a large, beautiful, funnel shape with five separate petals.  Interestingly the stamens and stigma are fused into one structure called a column.  Petals are normally white, pink or red with or some variation in between. H. moscheutos flowers are normally darker towards the middle and can become quite large and showy reaching anywhere from 8 to 10 inches.  Though an individual flower may only last a short period of time, the plant itself continues to bloom through late summer into fall.  The rose mallow can bring quite the accent to any garden and it is recommended to plant a group of 3 or more for a visually appealing effect.

This plant is native to the eastern and southern parts of North America and can be grown in hardiness zones 5-10.  The rose mallow can grow rather tall, reaching anywhere from 5 to 7 feet in a single growing season.  Since it is capable of growing so much it may need to be staked for support.  The optimal growth conditions for H. moscheutos are full sun and moist soils rich in organic matter but, it can tolerate lower quality soils even those containing salt.  It will grow very well in these conditions as long as the soil is not allowed to dry out.  If this plant is being grown in colder regions, one should consider mulch during the winter to protect the roots from frost.  Also it is recommended to prune in the early spring for a bushier growth form.  Japanese beetles have been known to cause damage to the foliage of this plant if left unmanaged.

Rhododendron maximum

2013 – Rosebay Rhododendron

The Rosebay Rhododendron is an evergreen multi-stemmed shrub with dark green foliage and clusters of white flowers. These shrubs grow wild in many mountain habitats where they can form dense thickets that can be up to 30ft tall. A more typical mature landscape size, however, is about 10-15ft tall and 7-10ft wide. The dense growth and evergreen foliage of these rhododendrons make good borders or screens in a landscape. The growing habit is fairly irregular which gives the plant an interesting structure. Because of this unique structure, branches from this plant are often cut and used to make furniture. Rosebay Rhododendrons also have clusters of white to pink flowers that can be made up of as many as 25 flowers, each about 1” across.

Plant this rhododendron in partial to full shade in areas with moist but well-drained soils. While the flowers provide a brief show in spring, the real landscape benefits of the Rosebay Rhododendron can be found in its deep, evergreen foliage creating an ideal backdrop for some of the showier plants in the home landscape.

Kalmia latifolia

2012 – Mountain Laurel

The mountain laurel is an ericaceous evergreen shrub with delicately ornate white to pink flowers. In addition to being one of the harbingers of spring and summer with its late May bloom time, the mountain laurel is Pennsylvania’s official state flower. These shrubs grow 4-10 feet tall with a typical spread of 4-5 feet. Along with the attractive flowers and evergreen foliage, mountain laurels also have very interesting form with a gnarled trucking pattern and dark bark that can be considered ornamental in its own right. While mountain laurel is an evergreen shrub that provides year-round interest with its form and foliage, it is not densely evergreen, and is typically used more as an accent than a screen.

The native range of the mountain laurel extends across the Eastern United States from Maine to Mississippi. They enjoy rocky, acidic soil that is moist with good drainage, but will also tolerate drier soil. Although wild mountain laurels can be found in the native woodland in large groves that sweep across deeply shaded hillsides, they are not aggressive and will not likely seed around your garden. Mountain laurels will grow in sun or shade and are fairly low maintenance. Pruning dead branches and removing old flower heads will give the plant a more tidy appearance, but is not necessary. While many wild birds use Mountain Laurels as a source of food, this plant is poisonous to humans.