As told to Hannah Lee
Where do you start if you want to build a beautiful, natural landscape?
Scott A good design. There is so much to consider from a drainage, sun vs. shade, aesthetics vs. function [standpoint]. A good designer can help you with all of this and make sure the plan you come up with makes sense and will meet the goals you are looking for
Sheldon First, identify the existing conditions. Where do you have sun or shade? Where is it wet, normal or dry? Plants need to be matched to the correct growing conditions.
What environmentally friendly practices should every homeowner live by?
Sheldon In order to have birds, the biomass needs to be at least 70% native. Use native ground covers so you don’t have bare ground that can wash away or become filled with weeds. Don’t try to grow grass where it won’t grow well.
What’s the best way to prep your yard for summer?
Sheldon When you water plants or lawn, water deeply and less frequently. This encourages the roots to grow deeper where they will find the water to handle hot and dry weather.
We had a very wet winter – what’s the best way to prevent a yard from turning into a permanent mud pit?
Scott No way to prevent this sometimes with the frequency and amount of rain we have had, but a good place to start is to reduce the amount of water flowing into your lawn and beds by piping gutter downspouts underground so that water can be released elsewhere on the property.
Sheldon Make sure you grow plants everywhere you can. Plant roots can grow deep into the soil, helping to break it up so it can absorb more water. If you have areas that stay wet, give up on the lawn and plant something that loves wet soil. There are many native shrubs and perennials that thrive in wet areas. The leaves will transpire, helping to remove the water from the soil into the air. Lawn grasses have notoriously shallow roots and therefore do little to help with wet soil.
What do bugs leave alone?
Scott Sterile plants usually … It depends on the type of bug. Flowers attract pollinators, and diseased or ill-conditioned plants attract pests. Ensuring your plant has great drainage and soil will decrease its pest attractants. Flowering, fragrant plants tend to increase bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and other pollinators.
Sheldon If your garden isn’t being eaten, then it’s not part of the environment. The No. 1 food for baby birds is caterpillars. Caterpillars eat plants. You also have to have caterpillars in order to have butterflies. So, we don’t want to only plant things that don’t get eaten. The more people plant native plants, the less pressure there will be on the food chain.
What advice do you have for treating common pests, like Japanese beetles?
Sheldon With regard to insect pests, we prefer not to use chemicals more than necessary. Usually healthy plants aren’t as susceptible to insect damage as plants under stress. If you can fix the underlying problem causing the plant to be stressed, then the damage is usually minimal. As said before, you have to have caterpillars in order to have butterflies, so expect and even welcome them eating your plants. They will usually recover. Chemical sprays will often kill caterpillars, bees and other beneficial insects. If a pesticide must be used, use what are called systemics. These are taken up into the “system” of the plant so only what feeds on the plant is killed. This should be a last resort.
What’s deer resistant?
Ann Nothing is deer proof! Young deer will taste most anything. But agave, agastache, perovskia, rosemary, thyme, oregano, ornamental grass, columbine and digitalis are rarely browsed by deer.
Sheldon The lists vary as to what they won’t eat, and different herds seem to eat different plants, although many are a favorite to all of them. I have recently seen deer eating things that used to be considered safe. The problem is, the more we plant things they “won’t” eat, the hungrier they get, and the more they move to things they would prefer to not eat. But many native plants survive some browsing from deer because they have adapted for centuries. The more we destroy natural areas and the food [deer] like, the worse the problem will become.
What are some easy, colorful yard plants to purchase?
Ann For annuals – geraniums, Vinca, Angelonia, Lantana, Pentas, Begonia, Coleus and Caladium. For perennials – daylilies, catmint, ferns, black-eyed Susan, Shasta daisy, Dianthus and Agastache. Aurora For shrubs – abelia, Itea, Florida Sunshine Illicium ([make sure to plant in] shade), Weigela and Spirea. For trees – if you have a shady [backyard], few trees are more colorful than Japanese maple trees. For fall color – Itea, Fothergilla, witch hazels, pistache, red maples, Parrotia persica and dogwoods have great color.
Sheldon No plant is easy to grow if it is planted in the wrong conditions. So my answer would be, “It depends.” North Carolina has a wide range of weather, [and] native plants are often adapted to our changing weather conditions. The North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill focuses on native plants and has a lot of resources for information about native plants. The more you match the plant to how it would grow in nature, the more success you will have.