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These plants love poor soil

Poor soil and occasional drought conditions… Does that mean a dull, scrappy or even non-existent landscape? That’s a problem that worries many readers, judging by my e-mailbag.

But the answer is No. Even if you have poor soil and a potential drought from time to time, you can still enjoy an attractive and colorful landscape.

Here are a couple of potential solutions if these are issues you are dealing with in your garden.

Sedum Black Jack PP16736
This variety of Sedum is quite new and really is spectacular. It has the deepest, dark purple foliage imaginable. In fact at times it can look almost black as the color deepens towards the end of summer.

Black Jack is easy to grow and is hardy in most parts of the country. It has thick, succulent leaves that can store water, and because of this it is drought tolerant. It actually prefers poor soil, as long as it is well-drained and located in full sun to partial shade. In fact, if planted in rich soil, it tends to become lanky and open.

It is a perennial with an upright growing habit (unlike some “sprawling” sedums) and develops sturdy stems that support the 8 inch flower heads. Expect it to reach around 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide.

If you want to maintain its compact growing habit, I suggest you divide your Black Jacks every three to four years. You’ll find that older plants tend to split in the center if they haven’t been divided. If you want to know how to divide plants like this, you are welcome to send me an e-mail at [email protected] and I’ll reply with a brief “how to.”

If you are “blessed” with poor soil but would like a rich-looking easy-care perennial, Sedum Black Jack could be worth a look.

Gaillardia Fanfare PP15892
It’s hard to believe that this flamboyant and colorful perennial prefers poor soil but that’s the case. It is heat-tolerant and will do best in full sun. In fact, given too much shade it will tend to flop over.

I particularly like the unique look of the blooms, with their dark centers surrounded by a ring of yellow-tipped red tubular petals. The grower who introduced me to this variety called Fanfare a “blooming machine,” putting forth its unusual flowers from early spring right through into the fall.

Fanfare is ideal for borders or mass plantings, and its compact shape – one to two feet high with an 18-inch spread – makes it an ideal container plant. A container or two of Fanfare near the kitchen door could provide you with some nice displays of cut flowers, too.

I should point out that “poor soil” for Fanfare doesn’t mean heavy clay. Fanfare prefers well-drained moist soil but is very tolerant of drought conditions and requires very little care beyond deadheading spent blooms to prolong blooming time.

Grass Miscanthus Allegro
If you are somewhat inexperienced as a gardener, or even an absolute beginner, this could be a good plant to develop your green thumb with a very good chance of success.

Music lovers will recognize the word allegro which means “a quick lively tempo” so you would guess correctly that this plant has a fast growth rate.

Allegro is a perennial ornamental grass that is robust and sturdy as well as fast-growing, making it a good choice for a hedge or an ornamental border. It has a distinctive, feathery look that sways in the breeze and sports red blooms in August and September. If you’re a little more adventurous, you can use it as a backdrop for plants with darker shades of color and foliage in a large mixed border.

Best of all for newbie gardeners, Allegro can grow in virtually any soil from loose sand to heavy clay and doesn’t even require particularly good drainage. The only maintenance required would be an annual haircut about 8 inches from the ground.

Great gardens don’t always need great soil!

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to [email protected] and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org

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