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What to plant

Local pros offer tips for the hottest trends in gardening this spring.

The coneflower is easy to care for and attracts birds and butterflies.

The coneflower is easy to care for and attracts birds and butterflies.

Whether you plug ’em and plant ’em yourself or use the services of a landscaping professional, by now, you are likely salivating over the chance to enhance your garden. After all, the crocuses have bloomed and the daffodils have sprouted, and it’s hard to resist the siren call of flats of flowers or displays of fresh green shrubberies.

We asked some local landscapers what trends they expect to see this spring in Tulsa gardens.

Hot colors

The No. 1 color for 2012 is Tangerine Tango. (TulsaPeople’s resident design guru says this is the new trend in home color, too.) For the garden, though, you’ll find it in petunias, hibiscus and impatiens, Southwood Nursery designer Tena Houghton says. In fact, she notes, bright colors rule. Along with the traditionally popular top three — purple, pink and red — gardeners can add pop to their patios and porches with pots in “atomic colors,” such as bright green, yellow or orange. 

Plant it black

As a counterpoint, dark, black or burgundy foliages, such as black mondo grass, have gained popularity as a way to provide high contrast. And they last year round.

Feed the birds

Once upon a time, your great-grandmother may have created a landscape that would attract birds, butterflies and bees, and included berry-producing bushes in her mix. If the birds didn’t nibble it all away, she used the fruit for pies and jellies.

Well, fruit trees and berry bushes are coming back into fashion. 

Nurseries are growing “some really nice-looking blueberry bushes so that the bush itself, and not just the fruit, is attractive,” Houghton says.

Similarly, propagators may have hybridized beloved flowers, such as the coneflower, to enhance certain aspects of the flower. But it turns out garden favorites are actually more attractive to wildlife in their original form. Guess Mother Nature knew better.

Outdoor living

Everything old is new again, and that includes front porches. Shaded, furnished porches where homeowners can connect with their neighbors are returning, Houghton says. Builders are again adding larger, more visible front porches or retrofitting older homes to include them.

Of course, backyard living areas remain popular, local landscapers say. The number of complete outdoor kitchens with elaborate barbecue grills is expected to grow 20 percent to 25 percent over the next five years, Houghton says. 

Landscaping trends

The landscaping industry has changed over the last decade, including plants and materials, says Jamin Johnson, owner of Tulsa Tree and Landscape.

“Specialty tree growers have been able to graft and combine and do crazy things with everything from weeping redbuds to weeping crabapples to taking an entirely different tree and putting it on another tree’s root system to develop fantastic new hybrids,” Johnson says.

But when planning landscaping, homeowners should “be careful as well,” he says. “A flowering cherry may not be suited for our zone, while a flowering crabapple will.”

Don’t abandon Oklahoma’s native trees and plants, which may have been given a different look or effect through creative techniques, Johnson says.

Landscaping rules

1. Prepare your soil. Remember, Tulsa has all types of soil combinations. Find out what your soil needs and provide it. “Get good soil cultivation from the start,” Johnson says. “Amend the soil correctly — 18 to 24 inches deep.”

2. Water as needed. It’s not just the torrid summers that require attention to watering. In all seasons, roots continue to grow, “so you want strong root development for them to be able to withstand the harsh Oklahoma weather,” Johnson says.

3. Don’t rely on Mother Nature to provide all the water. Homeowners should give trees and shrubberies a good soaking, three to five days a week. Trees benefit from less frequent but longer periods of watering. Watering time may vary. Although native trees and plants are better suited to Oklahoma’s sporadic and extreme weather, he says, supplemental watering will increase their chances of survival.

Please don’t plant …

After several years of extreme weather, Tulsa landscapes have taken a beating. Many have lost established trees and shrubbery. If you are in this camp, you may feel a little skittish about replanting. What should you avoid? Arborvitaes (evergreen trees and shrubs of the cypress family).

“In the nursery, they are fine, but take them out into the landscape and they cannot handle extreme hot and cold,” Johnson says.

Arborvitaes are popular because they are cheap and fast-growing. But if you replant them two to three times, “you’ve spent more on them than you would have getting the right tree,” he says.

Consult a landscaper. Ask for growing instructions and double check that information against other sources.

“We don’t educate our clients as well as we think we should,” Johnson says.


Well, what should I plant?

Perennial expert Annette Thompson and designer Tena Houghton make recommendations.

Top 15 for sun

Aster especially  “Raydon’s Favorite”: With a spring shearing, it will be smothered in lilac blooms in late fall (October); mildew-resistant; topnotch for end-of-season show

Dianthus (pinks): Fragrant; heat-tolerant; drought-tolerant; long, long blooming; pretty blooms; perfect edging; ever-blue-green

Hardy hibiscus: No maintenance; loves sun and will take more than average water; wow factor with huge flowers from June to frost

Nepeta (catmint): Super easy care; low water; long-blooming and overall performer; scented foliage; can shear once for compactness

Peony: Both herbaceous and tree; outstanding colors and beauty; many fragrant; loves the sun; really tough for such a soft-looking plant

Salvia gregii (autumn sage): Hummingbird magnet; low maintenance; no problems; long, long season of bloom; loves heat; a tough cookie

Stokesia (Stokes’ aster): Evergreen; repeat blooming; white, lavender or purple blooms; easy to care for; something a little different

Teucrium (germander): Summer-tough performer; deep green and dense — excellent for an edging; let it flower (pink) or not; drought tolerant

Caryopteris: Looks good from spring through fall; soft blue blossoms starting in August; no pest/disease problems; low water needs; attracts butterflies

Coneflower: Many colors and sizes; butterfly magnet; fragrance; long, long bloom; seeds for birds; easy care and more

Coreopsis: Mostly yellows; all fabulous; low maintenance; many tolerate many different conditions; attracts butterflies; pretty, pretty, pretty

Gaillardia “Arizona Sun”: Bright color all spring through fall; heat-tolerant; attracts butterflies; low maintenance

Rudbeckia: Heat-tolerant, sun to shade, nearly dry to even damp; for birds, butterflies and bouquets

Salvia May Night: Striking purple spikes spring through fall with some deadheading; heat-tolerant; attracts butterflies

Tall garden phlox: Beautiful colors; short to tall types; fragrance; attracts butterflies; easy maintenance; mildew-resistant varieties

Top 10 for shade

Aquilegia (columbine): Pretty blue-green mounds of lobed foliage through the summer with tall spikes of spurred blooms in all colors

Astilbe: Beautiful ferny foliage from spring to hard frost; tolerates moist conditions; striking flower plumes in late spring/early summer

Dicentra “Luxuriant” (bleeding heart): Soft-mounded blue-green foliage with many spikes of small heart-shaped pink or white blooms; will flower all summer; no problems

Fern: Tolerates morning sun and moist conditions; durable; some evergreen

Hardy geranium (cranesbill): Some dainty, some larger; foliage has fall color; blossoms in many shades of white, pink and blue; no problems and easy care

Heuchera (coral bells): Mostly evergreen foliage; lots of color from foliage with bonus of flower spikes in late spring; no problems; great hosta companion

Hellebore: Perfect! Evergreen; starts blooming in March, when you need it the most. 

Hosta: The workhorse of the shade garden; all sizes; all shades of green, blue-green and variegated; fragrant blooms on tall stalks in summer

“Solomon’s Seal”: Beautiful arches of green and white foliage; in spring, white teardrop blooms; lovely under trees; easy care

Tiarella (foamflower): Relative of coral bells; foliage usually has deep red veins; flowers for a much longer period with small bottle brush spikes.

Editor’s note: Thompson and Houghton are both with Southwood Nursery.




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Justin Fuente

Justin Fuente

Head football coach, University of Memphis