Stillwater News Press


July 5, 2014

Grow! 07-06-14

It’s good to branch out

Sometimes it can be hard to step out of your comfort zone. This is true for clothing selection, restaurant choices and even the types of plants and shrubs you put in your landscape.

There are many “tried and true” selections gardeners feature in their landscapes year after year, and if you like those plants, that’s great – keep them. They certainly are beautiful. But every once in a while it can be good to take a botanical leap and branch out a bit.

One of the trees I’ve seen overused in Oklahoma landscapes is the Bradford pear. While many people enjoy the shape and look of this tree, another option to consider is the paperbark maple. Although the paperbark maple doesn’t have the show of spring flowers like the Bradford pear, its other charms and sturdy structure make it a far superior landscape tree. The paperbark maple provides year-long interest in the garden, from its soft, blue-green summer foliage with silver undersides, to its brilliant red fall colors. One of its most striking features is the cinnamon-red exfoliating bark that provides a dramatic color and texture throughout the winter.

Nandina is another plant that gets used often in landscapes in the area. Instead, consider the euphorbia blackbird. With handsome purple foliage that darkens to nearly black in full sun, the euphorbia blackbird is a wonderful alternative to the smaller nandina cultivars. The evergreen foliage persists throughout the winter, and abundant heads of chartreuse bracts stand atop reddened stems in mid-spring providing a magnificent show of color. As an added bonus, euphorbia blackbird has demonstrated excellent heat tolerance.

Many gardeners select daylilies for their gardens, especially the “Stella de Oro.” However, a great alternative is the red hot poker. Also a drought-tolerant plant, the red hot poker is a long-blooming perennial which displays playful spikes of orange blossoms continuously from summer through fall. The tubular flowers stand above the foliage and are a favorite of hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. The low-growing grass-like foliage won’t crowd out neighboring perennials.

Adaptable to most soils, is a low-water use plant and enjoys full sun, the Blue Balloon® Bluebeard is a more exciting choice over spirea. Besides, Blue Balloon® Bluebeard is just fun to say. This plant is simply bursting with blooms, and the sphere-shaped shrub is covered with deep blue flowers from early summer through fall. There are short flowering branches at the base of the plant to bring the blossoms all the way to the ground. The flowers attract butterflies and bees to the garden and also work well in cut flower arrangements. Place this little beauty in borders for a low-maintenance, season-long display. And did I mention Blue Balloon® Bluebeard is fun to say?

Kimberly Toscano is assistant extension specialist and host of the OETA television program Oklahoma Gardening, which airs at 11 a.m. Saturdays and 3:30 p.m. Sundays, and assistant director of The Botanic Garden at Oklahoma State University.

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