5 ways to make your garden stand out this spring

Spring means another season of garden envy. But this year, there’s no need to settle for jealousy of your neighbor’s perfectly manicured lawns, colorful flowers or lush greenery.

We asked local gardening experts and enthusiasts to share the best ways to brighten up a barren landscape, ward off pests and stay on top of gardening trends.

Go for native plants

The use of native plants — those naturally occurring in a particular region — has been growing in popularity for years. Rather than importing exotic species from foreign lands, gardeners increasingly turn to native flora for their low-maintenance sensibilities, environmental friendliness and aesthetic appeal.

“People think that you have to get Asian plants for pretty plants,” says Pat Greenwald, a master gardener for the University of Maryland Extension in Howard County. “But if you choose carefully, native plants are very attractive, and they are good landscapers.”

Greenwald uses native trees like dogwoods, redbuds and star magnolia to pepper her three-acre property in Sykesville. The flowering trees are certainly beautiful, but they’re also naturally hardy.

“They are used to the soil,” says Georgia Eacker, coordinator of the master gardener program. “They are used to this environment. The temperatures and the strong events we have — wind, snow — native plants are used to this piedmont environment. They are less likely to demand high maintenance.”

Eacker says native plants attract insects, birds and butterflies that benefit the area.

“They allow you to maintain the healthiest environment you can,” she says.

It’s healthier for people, too, says Greenwald.

“It’s safer to me being out there with things that do not want a lot of chemicals. It’s the environmental thing to do,” Greenwald says. “By maintaining the older species we are maintaining the biodiversity — the gene pool of plants that was meant to be here.”

Gardeners can find native plant recommendations at extension.umd.edu.

Plant the color purple

Purple-hued plants have always had a strong standing in the garden world. But when ultra violet was named Pantone’s color of the year, purple took on added importance.

Violet plants such as coleus inky fingers, fragrant lavender, long-stemmed lilies and lighthouse purple salvia (a tall, bushy variety) are best bets for gardeners who want to get in on the trend.

Nancy Bellaire, horticultural chairperson for the Howard County Garden Club, says the coleus — with its deep-purple finger-like leaves edged in green — is particularly versatile.

“You can pretty much put that plant anywhere,” she says. “It is the right accent. It’s like putting the right bracelet with your outfit.”

Bellaire is a fan of using purple plants and flowers like butterfly-friendly allium millenium, the Perennial Plant Association’s 2018 plant of the year, and pairing them with yellow flowers.

“They are complementary colors,” says the Woodbine resident. “It really pops when you use that together.”

Whether you like lighter-hued flowering plants or darker foliage, purple should be used sparingly, Bellaire says.

“You don’t want your garden to be depressing. Do you want to have a Gothic garden, or do you want to have the elegant little black dress?”

Stagger blooms by season

Gardens don’t have to look their best in spring.

Bellaire and Joanne Winters, another member of the Howard County Garden Club, like to plant flowers that bloom successively, rather than all at once. “You want something that gives you a constant surprise,” Winters says.

For the spring, there are plenty of bulbs, such as daffodils, irises and tulips.

“They bring a lot of colors to the garden,” says Winters, who lives in Columbia.

For summer, choose lilies — perennials that come in a number of colors. For the fall, circular, warm-colored mums grow in abundance and are ideal for pairing with pumpkins and autumnal decor displays.

“Hearty mums will get through the winter,” Bellaire says. “Plus, you don’t have to buy mums every year. You just cut them back halfway at the end of June.”

Fend off deer — naturally

Many parts of Howard County — particularly heavily wooded areas — are a haven for plant-and-flower-eating deer. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the county has about about 50 per square mile.

Winters found out the hard way: When she first planted day lilies, deer immediately gobbled them up.

She soon started planting daffodils and the grass-like liriope, which repulsed deer.

“I’ve had good success with daffodils,” she says.

Bellaire recommends avoiding flowers and plants such as geranium, cherry trees, lilies, persimmon and elderberries — she calls those “deer candy.” She also recommends consulting with the Rutgers University database of deer-resistant plants (online at njaes.rutgers.edu/deer-resistant-plants).

“Deer don’t like herbs like sage may night,” she adds.

Use these deer-repellent plants to border your other plants to discourage the animals from eating them.

“They act as a wall,” Bellaire explains. “They don’t like the smell and taste. Things that are herbal are not good for deer.”

But she warns that these plants aren’t always enough to prevent the deer from eating them.

“If the pressure of the herd gets too much, they’ll pretty much each anything,” she says with a laugh.

Say hello to hydrangeas

When it comes to shrubs, hydrangeas are the most popular, according to Bellaire.

“They’re extremely trendy,” she says. “They have exploded onto the garden scene. And the variety is incredible.”

Winters touts their color variation and versatility in appearance.

“They give a lot of color in the summer and in the fall when they dry back, they look like dried plants,” Winters explains.

Winters prefers the low-maintenance oak leaf hydrangea, which remain in smaller bushes.

“The flowers on them are interesting and unusual,” she says. “There is a largeness to the flower and a shape to them that I like.”

Bellaire prefers the mop head hydrangea, which are typically found in abundance near Ocean City.

“They’re often pink, blue or white. You associate them with going down to the shore,” she says.

Hydrangea paniculata, meanwhile, are good for grounding a garden without overtaking the other flowers. This smaller variety is typical among the gardens of large historical homes in the south.

“They have been tinkered with to make them heartier,” Bellaire explains. “People up north can now enjoy them.”

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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