Practice No. 9 Use Best Adapted Variety

Practice No. 9. Use Best Adapted Variety

Many people buy plants through catalogs, the Internet or at local suppliers thinking all the plants offered for sale will grow well in their garden. This is not the case even in nurseries run by the best plantsman. Plant suppliers appeal to a wide clientèle whose gardens contain many different micro-niches and soils.

It behooves the gardener to be knowledgeable of the micro-niche the plant is intended. In other words, plant selection should be made for specific locations and purpose within ones climate/soil perimeters.

It's easy to be bewitched to purchase a plant in full, glorious bloom. I think we've all been caught, plant in hand, wandering through the garden wondering where to put it after returning from the nursery. Here's a plant checklist I compiled for myself to insure the plant selected would fit my gardening management statement and purpose.

Plant Checklist for the Texas Panhandle

  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 7 (0° to +10°) or Zone 6, (-10° to 0°)
  • AHS Heat Zone 8, 90 – 120 days above 85°
  • Water requirements – low
  • Planting location – sun or shade, windy or protected
  • Soil requirements – clay, caliche or sandy soil
  • pH requirements – alkaline
  • Other factors to consider:
  • Mature height of plant
  • Mature width (spread) of plant
  • Mature shape of plant
  • Tolerates saline soil
  • Foliage or flower
  • Bloom season
  • Bloom duration
  • Flower or foliage color
  • Amount of care required
  • Will this plant be invasive?

It's spring time, chlorophyll is surging through our blood -- we're eager to buy plants. Checklist in hand, determination to one's guidelines takes a thrashing when faced with row upon row of sweet scented brilliantly colored flowers, beguiling our senses. Flowers are timed to bloom as soon as they hit the nursery or home improvement center. Seeking to remain steadfast, resist the temptation and follow your plan.

Explore for Plants

I've spent a lot of time reading plant tags, making notes for further research before buying. Today, plant research can be done on location, on the spot, with smartphones or other handy devices, leaving few reasons for errors in selection (assuming plants are tagged correctly).

After spending a good deal of time in planning, design, soil preparation and hardscape installation, plant selection should not be rushed either. Local availability is just one option for buying plants. Catalog and Internet purchases with reputable suppliers is quite reliable, allowing you to find the exact right plant for the location. Visiting nurseries out of town in areas of similar climate and soils is one of my favorite pastimes for finding garden gems. I prefer to buy locally, but if local nurseries won't stock the variety of xeric plants needed, I have no qualms in going elsewhere.

Using Botanic Latin.

A cursory knowledge of botanical Latin, to me, is essential when it comes to plant selection. Walking into a nursery and wanting to buy a sage could present a challenge of choosing among 20 or more species and varieties of plants in or out of the Salvia genus. The Salvia genus, common name sage, contains anywhere from 700 - 900 species and named varieties or cultivars. Adding to the confusion, many plants are called sage, but not classified as a Salvia, such as Russian Sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia.

Still in the Salvia genus, my favorite plant is Salvia greggii, 'Furman's Red', reliably cold hardy from Zones 5. Let say you wanted a pink variety, S. greggii 'Big Pink' is cold hardy from Zone 7, while S. greggii 'Pink Preference' is cold hardy from Zone 6. Knowing the specific binomial of the variety you choose could make a difference whether it will survive in your micro-niche or not.

Of course, cold hardiness is just one factor. Soil type, pH, moisture requirements (including humidity), heat requirements are all factors – there are salvias native from deserts to high water-use areas, tall salvias, short ones, compact or bushy and in all colors. Choosing plants within a genus or plant family (plant allies) for desired characteristics to suit your micro-niche and design/style is possible and a well practiced technique by successful gardeners. You may not end up with the same plant you originally intended, but it should be the right plant in the end.

Finding the best adapted varieties in vegetable gardening is similar to ornamental gardening. Vegetable varieties used to be even more numerous than today with prized seeds grown year after year in each locale passed on to families and neighbors. Hundreds of seed catalogs existed with thousands of varieties available before giant corporations bought them up, losing thousands of varieties in the process. Seeds of one variety could grow well in your garden, but perhaps not even the next county over, which had their own prized variety.

Pest and disease resistant varieties are available for many vegetables and flowers. Catalogs will note whether a variety is resistant to a particular problem. Tomato disease resistance is noted with initials such as F is for Fusarium wilt, V for Verticillium wilt and N for root knot nematode. Choosing plants that are disease resistant is usually safe and reliable. Cornell University provides horticultural information for the home gardener, including vegetable varieties resistant to a number of problems.

Having lost connections over the past half century, when you rediscover local seeds, it is something to be preserved. Plant and seed selection is similar to the joys and thrills experienced by plant explorers. Enjoy the journey!