Landscape Shrubs

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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Landscape shrubs are the ballast of a flower garden, whether you grow them as a hedge, strategically placed specimen plants, or to flank either a deck or porch steps. Depending on the climatic zone--from USDA zone 2 in Pinecreek, Minnesota (-40° F as a winter low) to zone 10 in Naples, Florida (40° F)--your choices will vary. A number of landscape shrubs have what amount to "cousins" in counterpart climates. Whereas lilac does well in the north, for example, crepe myrtle does well in the south.

Rhododendrons are a good example of a plant that enjoys cooler temperatures. A classic set of instructions for amateur gardeners in the southern states follows four simple steps. First, buy a rhododendron. Second, plant the rhododendron. Third, watch the rhododendron die. Fourth, replace the rhododendron with a holly. The fact is, however, you don't need to surrender that easily. A number of resilient rhododendrons will happily survive the heat and humidity of southern summers. The best locations are partially shaded.

First, however, you need to prepare for these cold weather shrubs and then plant them appropriately. Clay soil is not good. These plants need a loose, fertile, acidic (pH 4.5 to 5.5) soil rich in organic matter. The heavy red clays of Georgia will kill rhododendrons in shorter order than Sherman's march to the sea. In planting, dig a hole at least 10 inches deeper and twice as wide as the root ball. Mix pine bark with the soil and do not tamp the earth once the shrub is planted.

Rhododendrons for the Southern States

Most rhododendrons in the south will reach about five to seven feet after ten years. While they're for the most part tolerant of the sun, they'll fare best in dappled light or shade. The red-blooming rhododendrons you're most likely to have success with include Cynthia, which is especially hardy and doesn't mind direct sun. Vulcan is a deep brick red and one of the most popular in the region. Caroline, Trude Webster, and Anna Rose Whitney are among the pinks. Van Nes Sensation is also pink and especially fragrant. Toward the purple end of the spectrum, try Anah Kruschke or Roseum Elegans, which grows quite rapidly and is especially hardy.

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