Sunday, January 4, 2009


This is my first blog, so it may be a little awkward. I wanted to give a quick summary of native plantings over the last couple of years and ask for some suggestions/comments.

I live close to the top of a ridge with rocky, clay soil on about 1/4 acre near Coatesville, PA and have a fairly large back yard with about half shade and half sun. I have put in a row of 21 Rhododendrons now 4 years old across the back boundary. These are now about 6 feet tall and have become pretty well established. I have also set up 2 elliptical islands in the back yard - one with a japanese maple at each end, 2 mountain laurels in the front and 3 red stem dogwoods across the back. The other is newer and has a little 2 yr. old Franklinia at one end and a gray dogwood at the other with 3 red stem dogwoods across the back and 2 new Fothergilla bushes sort of front and center. One problem I would like to solve is how to use some native grasses which I love. I'm not sure how to use them in islands and have been trying to see how others use them: as screens? as borders? as just ornamentals, or just a backdrop in large islands.

The front yard is the newest attempt to give the house some curb appeal. I planted 3 young river birch around the circular edge of the island and after mowing the grass very closely, I covered the grass with an old flannel sheet and covered the island with pine bark mulch. Right before winter came I did get 2 nice Oak Leaf Hydrangeas and 3 dwarf Sweetpepper bushes (Clethra sp.) in the island to provide interest and color. As per Catherine Smith at Redbud Native Plant Nursery on PA Rt. 352, I planted the young river birch no closer than 10 feet apart around the roughly circular island periphery. I did get all these plants in the ground before it froze and it seems that fall plantings actually do a little better than spring plantings.

Last year I was able to plant several Viburnums (Nannyberry, Cranberry viburnum, etc) Chokecherry, and Elderberry along with a Tupelo tree (Nyssa sylvatica) in the back yard, and they are all doing well although they are very small...they had a good first year. Thanks very much to Maureen Carbery of WildOnes (Our SE PA branch of Habitat Resource Network based in Michigan) who organized our plant purchase from Octoraro and Northcreek Nurseries. Thanks to her also for organizing the blog mechanism.

I would love to hear any ideas/suggestion and especially the experiences of other native plant folks.
Rich Clark