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Let your yard work for you: 5 plants for year-round interest

by Timber Press on February 1, 2013

in Design, Gardening

The silvery thistles of Eryngium planum follow a striking overwintering rosette of glossy heart-shaped leaves. Photo: judywhite

The silvery thistles of Eryngium planum follow a striking overwintering rosette of glossy heart-shaped leaves. Photo: judywhite

When it comes to our yards, we’re not greedy, we just want it all.

High-impact, low-maintenance, budget-friendly. Easy to find, easy to grow. Hardy and pretty.

Is that too much to ask? Not with powerhouse plants.

Powerhouse plants are the overachievers of the plant world, offering more than one season of interest, allowing you more time to enjoy them. They are multiple plants in one, saving you money, making the most of limited space, or enhancing the diversity and intensity of larger yards. And you won’t have to travel the planet, most can be found at your local nursery.

Here are 5 powerhouse plants, the hardest of the hardworking, that never take a day off.

Early in the season, the foliage of Eryngium planum is prettily marked with its pale veins and forms an impressive mound; later, a mass of blue flowers takes over. Photo: judywhite

Early in the season, the foliage of Eryngium planum is prettily marked with its pale veins and forms an impressive mound; later, a mass of blue flowers takes over. Photo: judywhite

Eryngium
Eryngo, sea holly

  • Perennial
  • Winter rosette
  • Spring foliage
  • Summer flowers
  • Fall seedheads
  • Most are striking over a gravel mulch, or integrated with other perennials. The taller American species make fine specimens.
  • All insist on plenty of sunshine, and enjoy soil that is neither too rich nor too wet in winter. They are tolerant of dry conditions once established, and many are unexpectedly hardy.
  • Taller types need discreet staking using short bamboo canes, while smaller, multibranched types are better supported with twigs.
The foliage of 'Magic Carpet' never stops changing and 'Goldflame' combines yellow foliage and pink flowers. Photo: judywhite

The foliage of ‘Magic Carpet’ never stops changing and ‘Goldflame’ combines yellow foliage and pink flowers. Photo: judywhite

Spiraea
Spirea

  • Deciduous shrub
  • Spring shoots
  • Spring and summer foliage
  • Summer flowers
  • Fall foliage color
  • Effective in spring with daffodils in yellow and orange combinations, and with dark-leaved elderberries behind to help show their colors.
  • Happy in most soils that are not waterlogged or parched. Most enjoy full sun but if scorched in summer, a little shade will help. Scorching happens most often when plants are dry.
  • Nip off the fading flowerheads, leaving the foliage to develop fall color. For the best foliage color, or to renovate, cut back very hard in spring.
The first signs of 'Variegatum' are these dramatic new spring shoots and the bright variegation and large flowers of 'Striatum'. Photo: judywhite

The first signs of ‘Variegatum’ are these dramatic new spring shoots and the bright variegation and large flowers of ‘Striatum’. Photo: judywhite

Polygonatum
Solomon’s seal

  • Perennial
  • Spring shoots
  • Spring and summer foliage
  • Summer flowers
  • Fall foliage color and fruits
  • Ideal in the middle ground of the shade garden, especially with ferns.
  • Best in moist, humus-rich soil, but P. odoratum var. pluriflorum ‘Variegatum’ does surprisingly well in dry shade once established.
  • Cut back the old growth before spring and ensure that those dramatic new shoots are not hidden by neighboring plants.
Fall colors and summer lacecaps of 'Moonlight'. Photo: judywhite

Fall colors and summer lacecaps of ‘Moonlight’. Photo: judywhite

Schizophragma
Asian hydrangea vine

  • Deciduous vine
  • Winter stems
  • Spring to fall foliage
  • Summer flowers
  • Fall foliage color
  • Best trained to climb a tree trunk and left to show itself off uncluttered. Large hostas or smaller to medium rhododendrons can be planted near the base to hide what may sometimes be bare basal stems.
  • Make a good planting site at the base of a tree by digging as large a hole as possible between the tree’s roots and adding a fertile soil mix. Can be grown on a north wall but flowers better in more light. Dislikes very limey soil. Slow to settle after planting, but determined.
  • After planting, tape shoots to the tree trunk to encourage them to climb. No pruning needed unless the plant becomes too large.
The richly colored flowers of 'Profusion' and the yellow fruit of 'Golden Hornet'. Photo: judywhite

The richly colored flowers of ‘Profusion’ and the yellow fruit of ‘Golden Hornet’. Photo: judywhite

Malus
Crabapple

  • Deciduous tree
  • Spring shoots
  • Spring or summer flowers
  • Summer and fall foliage
  • Edible fall fruits
  • Crabapples can make splendid specimen trees and are good along boundaries and in corners, but beware their dense shade. A mature tree is an ideal host for a rambling rose.
  • Happy in sun or a little shade, and in any soil that is not waterlogged.
  • Support is important for newly planted trees. Disease can be a problem; although never fatal, it can slow the development of newly planted specimens, so be prepared with a fungicide.
  • Crabapple varieties are grafted onto roots that can control the eventual size of the tree. An increasing range of rootstocks is available, so it always pays to check labels and take the advice of a good nursery to be sure your tree will mature to the size you need. ‘Everest’, for example, on a dwarfing rootstock, will mature at only about 4ft./1.2m in a large container.

~~~

Every aspect of a plant, from its emerging spring shoots to its lofty maturity, has the potential to inspire interest and admiration—or just to bring us pure color. —Graham Rice

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