The experts at North Carolina Cooperative Extension and North Carolina Nursery & Landscape Association have selected their 2012 Showstopper Plants; five “must have” plants able to thrive in any Carolina garden.
VINE: CAROLINA JESSAMINE
Born in the South, the Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is a perfect native vine for Carolina landscapes. Admired for its sweetly scented canary yellow flowers, the vine puts on a show from February to April with clusters of 1 1/2 inches long golden trumpet-shaped blooms and narrow, glossy evergreen foliage. Carolina Jessamine can be trained to arbors and trellises, and is often found in wooded areas growing up tree trunks. The jessamine has a modest growth rate, taking three to four growing seasons for the vines to cover an average-sized arbor. Watch out, this landscape plant will become 20 feet or taller when allowed to grow untrained. Older Jessamine vines can become top heavy or sparse. This can be remedied by pruning the vines soon after they finish flowering.
SHRUB: ‘MISS RUBY’ BUTTERFLY BUSH
Thanks to the plant breeding efforts of Dr. Dennis Werner, NC State University has released a series of new and improved butterfly bushes. ‘Miss Ruby’ (Buddleja ‘Miss Ruby’ PP 19,950) was selected because of its compact habit and remarkably vivid, rich pink flowers. Some say the magenta blossoms are more vibrant than any other buddleja variety being sold. The plant has an upright, globe shape with numerous lateral branches. It’s perfect as a specimen plant in the landscape or used in a mixed border of plants. Although considered compact in habit, this new cultivar will reach a height of five feet so give it plenty of space to grow in full sun with good soil drainage. In return, ‘Miss Ruby’ attracts butterflies in abundance.
SHRUB: ‘POCOMOKE’ CRAPE MYRTLE
“Truly amazing” are words used to describe the dwarf ‘Pocomoke’ Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica x fauriei ‘Pocomoke’). Released by the U.S. National Arboretum in 1998, this crape myrtle features deep rose-pink flowers in mid to late summer. Perhaps the greatest attribute is its mature height; growing only 20 inches tall with a spread of 35 inches. ‘Pocomoke’ thrives in the same conditions of a typical crape myrtle plant. Plant it in full sun to ensure a beautiful floral display in July and August. Like all crape myrtles, ‘Pocomoke’ is a deciduous shrub, meaning it drops its foliage each autumn. Drought- and disease-tolerant, ‘Pocomoke’ is ideal in large mass plantings or in small groups to create a low-growing hedge.
SHRUB: ‘OAKLEAF’ HOLLY
One of the more exciting introductions into the world of hollies is the ‘Oakleaf’ Holly (Ilex x ‘Conaf’ PP 9487). This evergreen beauty is a chance seedling from another well-known holly, ‘Mary Nell’ and is one of five hollies introduced in the mid-1990s. The evergreen foliage is an attractive medium green color with a lighter colored leaf edge. ‘Oakleaf’ will reach a height of 14 feet to 20 feet. Its eight-foot spread makes it ideal for evergreen hedges or planting in mass for screening purposes. This “showstopper” is attractive enough to use as a specimen plant. Grow in full sun or in very light shade.
TREE: CHINESE FRINGETREE
What kind of plant is tough as nails, has gorgeous foliage and flowers consistently every year? It’s the Chinese Fringetree (Chionanthus retusus). Native to Korea, China and Japan, this deciduous tree displays clusters of showy white blooms that appear like fringe each spring. Sometimes grown as a large shrub, Chinese Fringetree can develop into a modest sized tree growing in height from 18 to 35 feet. Plant this Asian native in a location with full sun or partial shade. The leathery foliage looks best when grown in some light shade, while the flowering is heaviest when planted in full sun. Like many white-flowered plants, the Fringetree looks especially pretty planted in front of a dark evergreen backdrop. Its adaptability to our varied soil types makes it well suited for most Carolina landscapes.
To learn more about these plants, visit extensiongardener.ncsu.edu.