Delaware Plants of 2017

Every year the Delaware Nursery and Landscape Association selects an herbaceous plant (usually a perennial that dies back to the ground each winter) and a woody plant (usually a tree or a shrub) to designate as Plants of the Year.  Plants are selected that will thrive in Delaware’s conditions and that have few disease and insect problems.  If sited properly, these plants are guaranteed to succeed.  These plants are often underused in the Delaware landscape.  So, if you purchase one of these plants, you will be a trendsetter in your neighborhood.  The 2017 selections were just announced at the Delaware Horticulture Industry Expo in Dover.

Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Standing Ovation’

‘Standing Ovation’ little bluestem is a warm season grass with blue-green spikey stems and leaves. Leaves have a purplish caste at the base.   Fluffy, light-catching seed clusters appear in late summer/fall.  In fall, little bluestem turns an apricot color that brightens the winter landscape.  ‘Standing Ovation’ has sturdy blades that are thicker than most bluestems, remaining sturdy even in richer garden soils.  ‘Standing Ovation’ with its sturdy habit and excellent fall color makes a good accent or mass planting in a perennial or shrub border.  Cut back in early spring to make room for new emerging leaves.   Little bluestem is a great addition to a meadow.  If you are managing a meadow and want to add some interest, buy a few ‘Standing Ovation’ little bluestems to spark up your meadow.  They can also be planted in a garden bed, but be careful about rick soil.  While ‘Standing Ovation’ can tolerate garden soils, most little bluestems do best in sterile, non-organic soils (i.e. the kind we have throughout Delaware if we aren’t working hard to improve the soil).

‘Standing Ovation’ little bluestem looks fantastic throughout the year. Photo credit: North Creek Nurseries

Taxodium distichum

Bald cypress is a pyramidal, deciduous conifer that grows 50-70 feet tall.  It thrives in average to wet soils, preferring sandy soils, but tolerating anything from dry conditions to standing water. Trunks are buttressed at the base, often developing knobby root growths, called knees, when grown in water. Soft, yellow-green needles turn an attractive orange/cinnamon-brown in fall. Purplish green cones mature to brown.  Bald cypress is a striking specimen tree for a variety of large areas since it tolerates a wide range of conditions.  You can see lots of bald cypress in Trap Pond State Park in Laurel, Delaware.  You can canoe or take a pontoon boat out into the water to see the most northern natural collection of bald cypress trees.  Remember, these trees are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves in the fall.  So, don’t get out the chain saw when the needles begin to drop.  They are conifers and most conifers are evergreen so you would not be the first person to think the tree had died.


Bald cypress turning coppery in the fall. Photo credit: Rick Darke

Bald cypress needles and interesting cone. Photo credit: John Frett

Visit a garden center in Delaware this spring and pick up one or more of these great plants for your garden!

Fall Leaves – Asset or Annoyance

Of course they are an asset.  Just consider the rich soil of a forest.  Leaves fall naturally and decompose on the forest floor, where they return nutrients for plant uptake and provide organic matter to improve soil structure.  But, when leaves coat the lawn or, in my case, the patio, they can be an annoyance.  A few weeks ago after I had carefully swept and raked both patios on a Saturday, the weather turned cold and windy.  My husband looked out on the patio on Sunday morning and decried “You didn’t do a very good job raking the patio yesterday!”  There were about 4 inches of leaves covering the entire surface.  Haha – grit teeth.  He was kidding, of course, but the chore still required repeating, so — annoyance!

Leaves can’t be allowed to cover the lawn for too long, because they exclude light and prevent the lawn from thriving.  But they can easily be raked into nearby landscape beds and gardens.  If you don’t have enough garden space to accommodate all your leaves, you have two choices.  Either plant more beds (much more attractive and better for the environment than lawn anyway) or compost your leaves.  If you are lucky enough to live within the city of Newark, the city will compost your leaves for you.  Just rake them out to the road and a truck will come and suck them up!  You can pick up composted leaf mulch from the pile on 896.  For those of us outside city limits, we can chop leaves up with a lawn mower or leaf vacuum. They will shrink dramatically in size, making them easier to store.  When they decompose, they provide rich mulch for next year’s beds and gardens.

Leaves can also be used to protect tender plants.  I have been using a wire cage filled with leaves to protect a fig plant that is marginally hardy here for several years now.

Cutting back perennials is another fall garden task.  The more you cut back in the fall, the less you need to do next spring.  But, be sure to leave some perennials with attractive structure to make the winter landscape interesting.  Echinacea seed heads with caps of snow are beautiful and contain seeds to feed birds.  There are many perennials that get beaten down by the winter weather and won’t require much, if any, clean up next spring.  It is important to remove weeds before they go to seed or seed heads from aggressive plants you want to control in your garden.  I have a nice patch of cup plant (Silphiumn perfoliatum), which I love to see bloom in the back of my perennial border, but if I don’t remove the spent flowers, I will have a border that is nothing but cup plant.  In other areas, I want the aggressive plants to spread.  A patch of sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) has been spreading in a section of the garden where I want it to take over, so I don’t cut them back until spring, after they’ve dropped their seeds.

Our warm weather has made fall garden tasks a pleasure.  You still have time to rake those leaves into your beds, prune back aggressive perennials, pull a few weeds, pick up sticks and branches the wind brings down and then enjoy a warm fire with the kindling you gathered.


Fig with wire basket of leaves for winter protection.