Archive for low maintenance plants

Resistance is Futile-Plants that take over your landscape

Resistance is Futile-Plants that take over your landscape.

 

This blog is about attractive plants that take over your landscape.  They are tempting and for sale at most garden centers.

Star Trek The Next Generation came out 20+ years ago but I was busy building my landscape design practice and raising a stepdaughter so I missed the whole thing.

Maybe I’m just going to seed as I recently watched all seven seasons in short order. I encountered the Borg and was impressed with their ability to take over a universe. The Borg remind me of certain plants that will happily assimilate your entire garden and need to be avoided. 

Here’s a list of plants that are as devastating as the Borg and good at propagating their own kind without any assistance. They have an aggressive spreading growth habit and yet they are still sold at most nurseries and garden centers in spite of their thuggish nature. Be warned.

Foliage of houttynia 'Chamelon', is an aggressive spreader in Portland Oregon gardens.

Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’ Photo Source

Here is a beauty of a beast: Houttuynia

Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’ –  I’ve never known anyone who (once it was planted ever managed to get rid of it. It is famous for aggressive roots that will grow through other plants and overpower them. It can seed although it hasn’t in any of my clients gardens because I never use it.  Look at how cute the variegated leaf  is!

Aggressive Japanese Bloodgrass in Portlands' Raleigh Hills residential landscape design

Japanese Bloodgrass, Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’, can spread indefinitely

Japanese Bloodgrass Spreads

Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’ or ‘Rubra’- Japanese blood grass is a spreader but it can be dug out and eventually (as in years of work later) be banished but don’t sacrifice your time to this plant…you will be sorry!!

Aggressive Ribbon Grass in NW Portland parking lot is well contained by boulders.

Ribbon Grass, Phalaris arundinacea

Ribbon Grass is on the Fence

Ribbon Grass, Phalaris arundinacea, is a plant that can be very difficult to eradicate but if a designer suggests it for a contained area that doesn’t mean they are a newbie.  It is planted in a parking lot that I frequent. It’s been trapped there over 9 years and has not escaped. I myself have never used it in a design but it is very very low maintenance.   Here is an article regarding success in killing the ribbon grass. 

Front yard of North Portland Row House is lost to Aspens aggressive growth habit.

This stand of Aspens (Populus tremuloides) started out as one trunk!

Aspen Trees

Aspen trees, Populus tremuloides, are beautiful in a forest but not good for tiny city plotsOne tree will become many and fill your soil space with invasive roots that lift walkways, invade foundations and water lines and leave companion plants with no water or nutrition. See this great article from designer pal Beth Goodnight regarding the evils of aspen and some alternative suggestions.

Keep Mint in a Pot

If mint gets away from you – you will never get rid of it. Some people plant it in a pot and keep it on a concrete patio. The roots can escape from the pot and once it spreads in your soil you will have it forever so I never set my pot of mint into a planting bed. I like having mint for soups but it is strictly a container plant. 

Japanese Anemone in Portlands' Grant Park neighborhood in low maintenance residential garden design.

Japanese Anemone is beautiful but travels fast

Japanese Anemone and Bishops Weed in the Right Spot Only

Japanese anemone, Anemone sp., should only be used by experts. This one is very very seductive and over the top beautiful. It travels by root which is the problem. I like to use it in very low maintenance planting plans/landscape designs and in parking strips where it is easily contained. It doesn’t seem to invade the lawn so I’ve used it in plant borders too.

Bishops weed, Aegopodium podagraria, should be planted by people who know exactly what they are in for. It can be contained in the parking strip or a low maintenance planting where you have nothing but shrubs. Large shrubs with bishops weed as a ground cover can be a functional landscape choice. If I use it I have a rule:  You are not allowed to ever give a start of it to a friend.      

There are, of course, many plants besides my short list that should be avoided or used with caution. These plants are the stars of this blog because they are so attractive, tempting and readily available at your local garden center.

Wire Vine – Friend or Foe

Garden Design PortlandWire Vine – Friend or Foe?

Do you have a structure you need to cover and don’t mind occasional pruning?

Do you like plants with interesting color, texture and tiny leaves?  I have your plant.  Wire vine – Muehlenbeckia

Here are 4 ways to use wire vine.

Wire vine on an arbor and gate.

This entry gate has a definite hobbit landscape feel to it.  The wire vine growing on this rustic gate and arch creates a very unique look and is very easy care. All they need to do is trim it. It is mindless easy pruning and if it gets away from you it’s easily remedied by whacking it back to about 6” tall. If you don’t like trimming plants on a regular basis, this is not your plant. (Muehlenbeckia Complexa in photo)

Wire vine cascading down a wall

Garden Design PortlandHere is a photo showing a hot tub surrounded by a rock wall. It’s just a rubble style rock wall so no one painstakingly picked which rock to go where for the art form. It’s good looking with wire vine planted at the top of the wall.  The results are a cascading curtain of delicate looking foliage. The burgundy black stems add color to the winter view from the hot tub and softens the view of the wall. Another benefit, they don’t have to pull weeds out of the rock crevices because the wire vine does not share well with other plants. No weeding sounds like low maintenance to me. (Muehlenbeckia axillaris ‘Nana’ in photo)

Garden Design Portland

Wire vine as ground cover is only for hobby gardeners

Only use wire vine as ground cover if you are happiest out playing (working) in your garden.  Wire vine will try to grow right over the other plants and climb up the trunk of this lovely June Snow Dogwood (pictured). This photo of Muehlenbeckia axillaris is from a designer pals personal landscape.

Two kinds of wire vine

There are two kinds of wire vine and I find they get mixed up often at nurseries much to my annoyance. One is evergreen with slightly larger leaves  –  Muehlenbeckia Complexa. It’s also called Garden Design PortlandMuehlenbeckia complexa ‘Big Leaf’. This plant is less cold hardy than the smaller leafed type so could die in a bad winter but I’ve had it last for years in some client’s gardens.

Garden Design PortlandMuehlenbeckia axillaris ‘Nana’ has the smallest leaf but is not evergreen. In late fall the leaves turn a bronze orange (which is attractive) and fall. This wire vine will become drought tolerant and tolerates freezing temperatures best.

Sun or light shade

I grow wire vine in a variety of sun situations. They don’t thrive in deep shade.  I plant them in full morning sun or a mix of am and pm sun. I’ve placed it in full west facing afternoon sun where it gets dappled shade from trees or shrubs by 3 pm.

I would not grow it on my house but a garden shed is fair game.

Trim often or cut back by 4/5th’s at least once a year.  How you trim it depends on what you are using it for. If I grew it on a gate, I’d treat the stems and leaves as if they were fur and just shear it back to 1″or 2” thick.  If it’s in a pot I’d cut all the stems back to 2″ at least once a year.

Drought Tolerant Landscaping with Manzanita Plants in Portland

Drought Tolerant Landscaping with Manzanita Plants in Portland

Why am I excited about using Manzanita in my Portland landscape designs? 

Manzanita shrub in Arbor Lodge landscape. Landscape Design in a Day

It’s the water

To advocate the use of Manzanita is to advocate the use of drought tolerant plants. Happily we landscape designers are encountering more clients these days who want a low water landscape or want a completely drought tolerant yard. I can advise about the site conditions drought tolerant plants require and select attractive plants that meet the curb appeal test in addition to drought tolerance.   

Unique look 

Manzanita flowering in Woodlawn neighborhood of Portland - Garden Design

Manzanita flowering in Woodlawn neighborhood of Portland – Garden Design

It’s a new look for the landscape. My younger clients are done with  rhododendrons and azaleas, which are somewhat over used here. While Manzanita has attractive flowers, it is the whole package, foliage color, shape of plant, bark color and flower that is creating the popularity. I’m especially happy with the boost these plants give to the winter landscape. 

Fusion of modern style with NW Natural  

These plants are too naturalistic for formal landscapes but they look great with modern and craftsmen homes.  Style-wise Manzanita fit nicely with NW natural,  Mediterranean or even a southwestern look.  We get strong foliage contrast with  leaf blades (Yucca or ornamental grass), tiny needles like dwarf conifer,  heather (calluna type), lavender or fat leafed succulents like hens and chicks or sedum palmeri or other sedums.

New kinds of Manzanita to use in landscapes 

Drought tolerant Manzanita in Portland garden design as foundation plant.

Drought tolerant Manzanita in Portland garden design as foundation plant.

The fact that we now have more than one kind of Manzanita we can use can be laid at the feet of a handful of people who have crossed different kinds of Manzinita to produce plants that can thrive in our rich Willamette Valley soils.  They then tested the plant in different soil conditions and identified the plants that can handle life in an non irrigated garden or landscape.

When I started my Portland landscape design practice in the 1990’s there was a native Manzanita tree from the Oregon coast that “sometimes” survived here. They are so beautiful that I was tempted.  Still “sometimes” was not good enough for my designs.  I needed cold hardy Manzanita ground covers, shrubs, and small trees that would thrive here in the Willamette Valley and there weren’t any. Now I have them!!! 

Less weeding 

This benefit could take some time to realize.  Manzanita leaves contain a substance that discourages weeds. Leaves that shed from the plant should be left in place. It takes several years for these small leaves to build up enough of the substance in your soil to be effective. 

Pruning tip

Portland Residential Landscape DesignerOne of the common mistakes with Manzanita is to underestimate the width of the shrubs and small trees. Most cannot be pruned heavily and can be rendered so unattractive by pruning that tries to contain them, they will be removed. If you have no pruning skills (and most people don’t) be sure to place these plants where they have room to mature with yearly tip pruning only. 

Where to find these plants? 

While Xera Plants, Inc. and Cistus Nursery are the primary resource for retail, there are the Hardy Plant Society Sales (spring and fall) and tried and true mail order plant resources. If you are wanting drought tolerant landscaping and need a landscape designer contact me, I love to design with Manzanita. 

 

Pruning Nandina easily for Portland residential landscapes

Pruning Nandina easily, the perfect low maintenance plant, for Portland residential landscapes

Low Maintenance Shrub (Nandina) for Portland Residential Landscape DesignI promised I would follow up from my last blog about Nandina domestica – Heavenly Bamboo and how seriously low maintenance they are.  I’ll give you my easy pruning trick for Nandina and you’ll be all set to use this shrub, a low maintenance year round beauty, in your Portland landscape.

What’s the problem with shearing Nandina?

If it’s so easy to prune why do we see so many sad looking Nandina out there? People try to prune them like a boxwood hedge.  Boxwoods have a typical shrubs’ woody structure and little tiny leaves.  They can be sheared and look pretty good.  Nandina are a multiple cane plant with a compound leaf composed of many oval shaped leaves.  The best way to ruin their appearance is to shear them into little round balls or squares.

Ugly Nandina in Portland Landscape Need Pruning TipRestore leggy sparse leafed Nandina plants

These photos illustrate embarrassing ugly examples of Nandina out there in commercial and residential landscapes.  These sad plants at my local bank have not been pruned at all.  If yours look this bad, hold off on tossing them.

Portland Landscape Designer's example of poor pruning techniqueWe could correct these ugly leggy Nandinas’ appearance in one year by applying the pruning technique I have illustrated here.  These Nandina domestica ‘Gulfstream’ could look amazing with regular irrigation and pruning once every year or two.

My drawing “Fix Leggy Nandina” illustrates restoring a Nandina that has developed leggy bare canes (or stems if you like).  It has no foliage at the base of the plant.

The Cool Trick to Pruning Nandina

The simplest pruning technique is to cut 1/3rd of the canes to the ground and call it done.  This technique will get you a much better plant once the new canes sprout. I control the height by selecting the tallest canes to remove.

You can take your easy pruning a step farther and select another 1/3rd of the canes and cut them at different heights.  If you only have 3 canes to work with it would look like my “Fix Leggy Nandinas” illustration and in one year it would have a new cane with leaves on it sprouting from the ground and the stem you cut back would have new stem and leaves above where you made the cut.

When to Prune Nandina

You can prune nandina any time of year here in the Pacific Northwest.  I like to remove canes to use for holiday table decoration in the winter but only from a robust plant with lots of canes.  I  prefer to do restorative pruning (such as in my illustration “Fix Leggy Nandina”) as early as March or as late as May.

How to Prune Dwarf Nandina

The technique is mostly the same, but dwarf varieties like ‘Firepower’ need almost no pruning to contain height and if they get enough sun, they rarely get leggy.  The plant can get too wide so I like to thin a few canes out at the bottom (or up to 1/3rd of my canes) every year to keep the plant from ever getting too wide. This allows the little plant to continue serving as a colorful year round foundation plant for the long term in your landscape.     Here is a good video to illustrate pruning the dwarf varieties.

 

 

Read my previous blog about Nandina “Colorful Four Season Plant”

Colorful Four Season Plant for Portland Residential Landscape Designs

North Portland residential landscape design for year round colorColorful Four Season Plant for Portland Residential Landscape Designs

I like to use Nandina as a colorful four season plant for my Portland landscape designs.

Advantages

The foliage is colorful year around.

Very low maintenance plants if you know the cool pruning tip.

They are easy to prune successfully so you can keep them for years.

Nandina varieties fit multiple diverse needs in the landscape because they can be small (18″ to 24” tall) or up to 8 feet tall.

They thrive in half or full day sun.  Deer don’t typically eat them.

Colorful Four Season Plant for Portland Residential Landscape DesignsDisadvantages

People prune it wrong and then it’s so ugly they remove them – this is so easy to avoid.

It’s not a successful shade plant and will look leggy and sparse in the shade.  They will look so bad they will be removed.

People think Nandina is drought tolerant and they don’t water it in the summer……….this ends badly.

Nandina (from China) doesn’t feed our native insects; therefore, overusing it limits food for our native bird population.  I like to select at least a few native plants for companions.

Is this plant overused? Some garden designers snub the Nandina plant because it is used in commercial landscapes. Nandina is useful to my Portland residential landscape design clients who want low maintenance landscapes.  With the right plant partners Nandina can sparkle in a home landscape.

North Portland residential landscape design for year round colorHow I Use Nandina in Garden Designs

Nandina domestica – Heavenly Bamboo (not related to Bamboo)

There is a variety of Nandina to fit every landscape:

  • 6 to 8 foot tall  ‘Moyers Red’ or 4 to 6 foot tall ‘Plum Passion’ dress and soften an expanse of fence, hide the hot tub or garbage area nicely
  • 2 to 4 foot tall ‘Sienna Sunrise’, ‘Moon Bay’ or ‘Firepower’ work well in foundation plantings and entry areas.

Use a tape measure on planting day, assume the size info on the plant tag is being modest and give your plant more room to grow.  Some varieties of Nandina will grow 3 to 4 feet wide.   To keep your Nandina from getting too wide, I suggest pruning out entire canes at the base of the plant once a year.  For varieties that are listed as 3 to 4 feet wide, plant it at least 30 inches off your path.

A new variety called ‘Blush’ is typically 24 inches tall and 18 inches wide. The evergreen leaves turn an intense claret red and hold their color for months, longer and redder than other Nandina. ‘Blush’ was designed for the southern United States where it is fully drought tolerant. In Portland, all varieties of  Nandina including ‘Blush’, requires irrigation in summer. Multiple articles on the net enthusiastically state ‘Blush’ is drought tolerant but they do not mean here in the NW.  In the high humidity of an Alabama summer I too am probably drought tolerant…..Mint Julep anyone?

North Portland residential landscape design for year round colorPlant Partners

I love to combine Nandina with textured or needled plants that contrast with the narrow Nandina leaves.  Dwarf conifers, (Pinus mugo ‘Sherwoods Compact’), heather  Erica carnea ‘Adrienne Duncan’ or ornamental grasses like  Opiopogon (black mondo grass)  work well.  NW native plants, like salal, sword fern and huckleberry give  contrast and good looks.  They also provide food for native insects and for our birds who must eat native insects for food.  Pairing Nandina with typical cottage garden plants disappoints my aesthetic; there isn’t enough leaf contrast.

How to prune Nandina

The key to success with Nandina is learning how to prune it which is all about thinning the multiple canes (or stems) of the shrub.  Read more in my next blog or check out this u tube video I found to get you started.