- Everyone wants a gorgeous yard. But sometimes the lush dream you envision just doesn't thrive where you live. How do I know what's best for my area?
- Chris: People move around the country and they don't know what to plant. When you move into a new location, drive around your neighborhood and see what has grown well in other peoples' yards. Take a picture of whatever bush, tree, perennial that you like and bring it to the nursery -- it's so easy nowadays with your phone -- and just show it to somebody who works there.
- What are some of your favorite easy-to-maintain plants for different regions?
Northeast: As far as the Northeast goes, where I live, a couple staples: Hydrangeas grow great here because they love the soil. Ornamental grasses go great in the Northeast. They hold up well to the elements. Maidenhair fern, coral bells... iris. Iris grow like crazy in my yard, and black-eyed Susans the same.
For evergreens, I love hollies in this area because of the red berries in the winter. In the northeast you have the harsh winter so it's nice to have some green and any kind of color you can get. And leyland cypress and golden cypress for color -- golden cypress almost looks like the sun is setting on it. The northeast brings you into Illinois and all the way through that swath of the north -- these plants go really well straight across to the west.
Southwest: A great way to get color -- because there's always water bans in the Southwest and a lot of times it's 110 degrees -- succulents grow really well there. You can get sneaky color from succulents. They grow in all different shapes, colors and sizes. It's really hard to kill a succulent.
- I don't know... I've done it, Chris.
- Chris: Really?! Most of the time with succulents you overwater them rather than underwater them. That could've been what you did wrong. [Water them] every two weeks. They're a desert plant so they look good with pea stone all around them. Very drought tolerant.
Also agave, which is bigger. Salvia does well there, prickly pear (it's in the cactus family), and primrose. Also ornamental grasses are good because they're drought tolerant.
Southeast: The southeast is a different climate all to itself. It's more humid -- almost a rainforest in the summer. Hibiscus grow great in the south. We were down in Florida a month or two ago and the hibiscus down there are just incredible -- they're almost the size of a serving platter. Crested iris... comes in all different types of colors. Aster is another one that does well in that climate. And rain lily and woodland phlox.
- Are these all easy to maintain?
- Chris: Yes, they're pretty easy to maintain. I try to look for native plants. If something's native to the area, what it tells me is that long before we got here, it would've done well here. Which means there was no irrigation, there weren't any fertilizers... people pruning them, they were just growing. On the Cape, lowbush blueberry were here long before us and once we leave there will be blueberry long after us. In Florida, the hibiscus will still be there whether you plant them or not. Succulents will always be in L.A. and Texas and Arizona just because they grow well there.
- Growing sustainably is a big trend these days. Why is it so important in gardening, and how can we all be more earth-friendly?
- Chris: I like to try to be sustainable in my plantings. I don't want to waste resources on putting something that requires a lot of my care, a lot of the homeowners' care, a lot of fertilizers and water, because you're wasting a lot of money on a plant when you can get something similar that's native.
You can try to grow a tropical hibiscus out here, but nine times out of 10 it's not going to make it through a cold winter. So it's a waste of money, time and effort. You're just better off going with native things that will not only grow well, but will spread. I'm looking at my garden right now and I'm going to have to weed out black-eyed Susans. They grow so well here. So don't waste your money on plants that are hard to maintain when you can get something that's native and will seed itself.
You can even split them. I just split a bunch of hostas and donated them to this place because I have too many in my yard right now. Same thing with catmint -- things just spread and then you can give them to people. A lot of people around here share plants and flowers, and it's nice because they're all native and grow well.
- What is the best time of year to plant this stuff? Any cost-saving tips?
- Chris: The spring and fall are great times to split plants and thin out gardens. You want to make sure you do it before the plants start flowering. So like right now, the lilacs are blooming, so don't move lilacs now. But right now the hydrangeas aren't blooming here, so there's another good thing that you could split right now. And hydrangeas cost like $40 for a five-gallon container and they're no more than two feet off the ground. I have a whole bunch in my yard that I'm going to split. So I'm going to save probably $200 in hydrangeas and bring them to my brothers' houses and share them.
Some parts of gardening, if you're smart about it, you can save money or even make money. A lot of people around here sell excess flowers. I could put all these black-eyed Susans into a little pot and sell them for $5 to people, you know? At the nursery they go for $15!
- What about vegetable gardens? Do you have to have a certain climate, or can anybody grow veggies?
- Chris: Anyone in the U.S. can grow them. You just have to start at different times. In Florida they could plant tomatoes in February, and in North Carolina they could do it in March. Then in New England you have to plant tomatoes in May. So it just depends on when the weather gets warm enough to plant outside. That's when you do it.
Tomatoes and cucumbers, zucchini, corn... they grow great in the sun. Some of your herbs don't need full sun. But veggies and herbs are more high maintenance -- except for rosemary. For some reason rosemary grows great anywhere. I was in Dallas about a month ago and they use rosemary as hedges. The weirdest thing. They're like, this is rosemary -- and I'm like, oh, this is just a hedge! For the most part my herbs and veggies, I have in the full sun.
Chris Lambton's Top Regional Landscaping Picks
Chris Lambton is host of HGTV's 'Going Yard' and a professional landscaper, gardening and lawn care expert based in Cape Cod, Mass. He is co-owner of E. Lambton Landscaping with his brother, Erik. Keep up with Chris on his Facebook page or on Twitter @ChrisLambton13.
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