Know Your Site: The Right Plant for the Right Place

Know Your Site: The Right Plant for the Right Place

Part of Ep. 2001 Curing a Brown Thumb

At a challenging yard in Oregon, Ed Lyon, director of Allen Centennial Gardens, shares his tips for planting the right plant in the right place.  He even has success under walnut trees!  We’ll also learn how to read a plant label.

Premiere date: Mar 03, 2012

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley Ryan:

Okay, we showed you how to buy a plant that will live. Now we're going to teach you how to do a site analysis so that it will live in your backyard. I'm with Ed Lyon, Director of Allen Centennial Gardens on the UW-Madison campus. But today, we're in his backyard in Oregon. And, Ed, this is gorgeous. This is the work of years and years, right?

 

Ed Lyon:

It is not. Actually, we're only in the fifth season here. The reason that it looks like the garden has been around for more years, is because when I moved here I did a site analysis, and corrected problems so that I wasn't dealing with issues right from the start.

 

Shelley Ryan:

A site analysis is really what can make a garden successful.

 

Ed Lyon:

Exactly.

 

Shelley Ryan:

We've both worked in nurseries and greenhouses. I think the biggest question people come and ask is, you know, "I don't know how much sun I have. Is that important?"

 

Ed Lyon:

And it is. That's one of the things that's on that plant label. So people ask. What's amazing is, when you find out that a lot of people really don't know where and when they're getting sun in their garden as opposed to shade until they're really put to the test and asked about it.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Right, I've sent a lot of people home and said I need to know, is it really full sun? That's six hours. You get, "Well, I don't know, it's in the morning." Do a site analysis before you go shopping. Do you have six hours? Is it in the morning? I mean, set a timer out.

 

Ed Lyon:

Yes, and you also need to be watching to see where you have sun and shade throughout the season. Not just throughout the day. Spring sun and shade can be very different from summer, can be very different from fall.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Late afternoon sun is much more brutal than early morning sun. As you said in spring, the trees haven't leafed out, and you have a lot more sun. And, what kind of trees you've got. You've got some real challenges here.

 

Ed Lyon:

Well, I do, but in the same regard the challenge I have is that these are black walnuts. It also has a different kind of shade than, for instance, a heavier canopy tree like Norway maple, for instance.

 

Shelley Ryan:

That's very dense shade.

 

Ed Lyon:

Exactly. Black walnuts actually leaf out every late in the spring and drop their leaves early in the fall. I have, actually, a sun garden at those time periods. I can do spring bulbs in this garden, because the leaves have not come out yet.

 

Shelley Ryan:

But you forgot the challenge part about black walnuts. There's a real challenge connected with them.

 

Ed Lyon:

Exactly, when you buy a home that has black walnuts, you do have to start thinking about what challenge that is, because they produce a toxin called juglone that kills other plants.

 

Shelley Ryan:

It kills a lot of other plants yet you've got a real success story going on here. What's your secret?

 

Ed Lyon:

Well, you have to research and find plants that are resistant to that toxin.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Okay, definitely.

 

Ed Lyon:

Because there are plants that are.

 

Shelley Ryan:

A lot of native species.

 

Ed Lyon:

The other thing that I have discovered that you can do is raise up your garden beds with good friable soils, lots of organic matter that will actually leach the juglone down through those soils beyond the reach of your perennials plants

 

Shelley Ryan:

So, raised beds, soil that looks like chocolate cake here and then you know you've got it right and that's going to help these plant survive.

 

Ed Lyon:

Exactly, it's a great description. I keep adding organic matter every year so that I keep raising up the friability.

 

Shelley Ryan:

A little bit high maintenance but you've got to do it every year. Planting under trees has another high maintenance issue.

 

Ed Lyon:

And that's water. I think many homeowners are surprised when they start doing shade gardening, and they realize they're watering more than possibly even somebody that's doing full sun gardening. But the mature trees that you're trying to garden underneath are actually competing for the moisture that your perennials also need.

 

Shelley Ryan:

More water if you're planting under trees, just in general, more water, more water, more water.

 

Ed Lyon:

You have to keep watch, because you may think you've put an awful lot of water on those perennials, but the trees may have actually taken it first.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Okay, another issue that you've got here that's really kind of neat, because you're in the village and surrounded by buildings. You've got some micro-climates so you can plant more tender plants than I can out in the open.

 

Ed Lyon:

Yes, so many people buy based on zone alone.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Right.

Ed Lyon:

Zone is not the only factor in making a decision on what you're going to buy in plant materials. Somebody like myself that has a micro-climate like I do in my backyard with the fence protection from winter winds, I'll get more snow accumulation in this backyard, as well. I can do plants that other people can't do that are exposed

 

Shelley Ryan:

Such as this one here?

 

Ed Lyon:

Yes, this is a Chamaecyparis obtusa. This is a conifer I would never recommend anybody to do out in an open environment like the countryside.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Right, I could kill it.

 

Ed Lyon:

Exactly. This will burn up, literally, in our winter winds without that kind of protection. Now out front, in my front yard I'm more exposed. I'm right out near the street. Out there, I might for instance do a golden foliage yew, because the yews are tougher and they can take that type of environment.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Okay, one last thing to look at is actually how the house, besides sheltering plants can affect or destroy a garden.

 

Ed Lyon:

Exactly, when I moved here there was this back addition to the house. They had built a raised bed underneath that addition At that time, I thought I was going to put perennial plants in that raised bed. I didn't get that accomplished that first year, and I discovered through the winter there were massive amounts of snow and ice that come off that roof. That stays there for a long time, well into the spring creating a lot of moisture and a lot of adverse conditions for perennials. So what I did instead is I've now created a bed for my tropical plants. They're only going to be in there for a single season. They grow up beautifully, as you can see there.

 

Shelley Ryan:

They're gorgeous.

 

Ed Lyon:

I get lots of color and impact through the summer season, but no issues with plant survivability because of the winter issues.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Because they go into the basement and the snow can fall and stay there.

 

Ed Lyon:

Yeah, that whole area is just barren in the winter and it solves the problem.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So, another reason maybe for some patience and even taking a year to go through site analysis and study your lighting and study your yard.

 

Ed Lyon:

I'm glad I didn't put anything in there the first year.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Good lessons, thank you, Ed.

 

Ed Lyon:

You're welcome. 

 

 

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