Gardeners love to shop for new plants in the spring. And because of our recent ice storm here in Aiken, our “need” to shop for new plants is greater than ever.
We have bare spots in our landscapes to fill, and we also have changing light conditions in our yards because of trees that were lost in the ice storm.
I have three recommendations for you that are small, medium, and large.
The first two plants discussed in this article, the small-sized lungwort perennial and the medium-sized abelia shrub, may be new to you.
The last one, the large flowering dogwood tree, is an old favorite, and we'll discuss some alternative species and hybrids.
Small: Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis)
Lungwort is an underused part-shade to shade perennial with very early red, violet, blue, pink, or white blooms that are not harmed by freeze or frost. They are prized for their striking and sometimes spotted foliage that is evergreen here in the south.
Leaves of some lungwort varieties are spotted with silver or white, and some newer selections have silver or white leaves with green spots or margins.
These plants are low-growing, clump-forming, rhizomatous perennials that grow 9 to 18 inches tall. Plants spread slowly to an eventual spread of two to three feet.
Lungwort can be used as a specimen plant in perennial beds or in borders as a ground cover. The rather odd common name refers to the belief in the 16th and 17th centuries that the plant was an effective remedy for lung diseases.
Other common names include Bethlehem sage, Jerusalem cowslip, spotted dog, and soldiers and sailors. Lungwort is an easy to grow, low maintenance, and long-lived perennial.
The lungwort pictured, 'Samurai,' has been blooming for four weeks in my yard, and shows no signs of stopping.
The genus Abelia is a group of shrubs comprised of about 30 deciduous and evergreen species and many hybrids that prefer a part-shade location here in Aiken.
The most widely grown Abelia is the hybrid Abelia x grandiflora, a 3-foot tall semi-evergreen shrub with glossy leaves and small pink flowers.
There are many popular new hybrid abelias, including kaleidoscope (2- to 2½-feet tall and 3-to 3½-feet wide) with its colorful leaves, and Edward Goucher (5-feet tall and wide) with its beautiful pink flowers.
My favorite is the 'Hopley' variety whose photo accompanies this article. In my yard it is a small plant that is reliably evergreen and compact, and is a colorful standout year round.
The plant photos that accompany this article were taken in my yard on April 9, 2014.
According to Clemson's online Home and Garden Center (http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/), abelias benefit from a pruning at this time of year (late winter or early spring).
They bloom on new wood, so don't worry that pruning now will remove this year's blossoms.
Large: Dogwood (Cornus florida)
I am lucky to live in the Gem Lakes subdivision on the south side of Aiken, and this is a beautiful time of year in our established neighborhood because the dogwoods are blooming.
Dogwoods, understory trees that perform well under a stand of pines, grow to a height of about 20 feet, and can be wider than they are tall.
The lateral growth habit of these trees provides a wonderful area of light shade for gardeners under their canopy of beautiful blooms and leaves.
But the white “flowers” that you're now seeing on the dogwoods are not blooms; they are bracts. You see bracts on other plants as well, including poinsettias, calla lilies, bromeliad and bougainvillea.
A bract is a modified or specialized leaf that surrounds a very small flower. Flowers have four parts (sepals, petals, stamens, and pistils), and a bract is none of these.
So look at your dogwood blooms closely and you'll see small flowers in the center of those white bracts.
Botanists tell us that bracts are usually brightly colored to attract pollinators, and that when closed over the bloom they can protect early flowers from harsh weather and pests.
Our native flowering dogwood, Cornus (C.) florida, is the species most commonly grown in South Carolina, but there are two other species grown here as well, kousa dogwood (C. kousa) that is native to eastern Asia, and Cornelian cherry dogwood (C. mas) that is native to southern Europe and western Asia.
Kousa dogwoods are more sun tolerant than the flowering dogwood, and are also generally more resistant to powdery mildew and spot anthracnose.
The flowering dogwood “blooms” appear before leaves emerge on the tree, and the kousa blooms after leaves emerge.
If you are in the market for a new dogwood, you'll find many choices at area nurseries. Elwin Orton, a plant breeder and Rutgers University emeritus faculty member, has been working on hybridizing dogwoods for 30 years.
A group of hybrids (C. florida x C. kousa) in the Stellar series incorporate some of the best qualities of each parent, and are reportedly more disease-resistant than C. florida, which can be susceptible to dogwood anthracnose.
Regardless of what species of dogwood you purchase, look for one that is disease resistant and will grow in the sun conditions present in your yard.
Upcoming Aiken Master Gardener events
Our annual plant sale will be held on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at Trinity United Methodist Church, 2724 Whiskey Road on the south side of Aiken.
Plants for sale will include sedum, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, hydrangeas, salvias, cannas, and garden mums.
New this year is a “garden gift” area where we will sell handcrafted garden items like stepping stones, mixed ornamental containers, and hand-painted slate garden signs.
As part of our free monthly lunch box lecture series, Sid Mullis, newspaper columnist and Georgia Extension Agent, will give a presentation on “Southern Turf Grasses” at 12:30 p.m. on April 21.
This series of lectures is open to the public, lasts about one hour, requires no reservations, and will also take place at Trinity United Methodist Church.
If you have questions about these events or any lawn and garden topics, call the Aiken Master Gardeners at 803-649-6297 ext. 122; send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit us weekday mornings in our office at 1555 Richland Ave. E.
Pam Glogowski moved to Aiken in 2001 from Janesville, Wis., and has been an active Master Gardener volunteer since 2007.