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When planning out a design for your landscape, plant selection is certainly not your first task, but it is one of the most gratifying as the heart of your outdoor vision begins to take shape. In many parts of the southeastern United States your site map may reveal mixed results. If you have some strongly sunny areas, some heavy or dappled shade, and both hot summers and occasional long spells under the freezing mark, you will need a variety of hardy plants, especially if you are planning to minimize irrigation.

You may also decide to emphasize in your landscape plants native to the area, or at least to North America. It’s a growing trend, and if you have any Master Gardeners in the house or the neighborhood, it may almost go without saying. Native plants are well adapted to the local climate and soil conditions, so they require minimal irrigation and maintenance once established. They provide ground cover and other resources to animals that have lost a great deal of habitat, hosting butterfly chrysalises and providing seeds and fruits to birds and other animals. They can also prevent the spread of invasive exotic plants that choke out natives and other plants.

Happily, many plants native to the United States are not only hardy when planted there, but attractive as well. They will help you design a landscape that looks right at home in its surroundings. Here are four natives that will provide a foundation for your design. The Eastern redbud tree (Cercis canadensis) sports an abundance of small pink or lavender flowers in spring, beautiful large heart-shaped leaves, and interesting pods in the fall and winter. They are so well adapted to the surroundings that they spread with ease, so there may be a limited amount of maintenance in digging up baby trees annually. They are effective as an understory tree at the edge of woodland, or as a specimen and shade tree over a patio. You may spend a little time in spring sweeping up fallen flowers, but they’re so beautiful that you may not choose to unless there’s rain on the way. Once they are established, there is no reason to give them water and they’re unlikely to need fertilizer.

Rhododendrons and azalaes belong to the genus Rhododendron. Many varieties are native to the United States, including Rhododendron catawbiense, which is the classic mountain roadside rhododendron in the Appalachian Mountains that can live in other locations as well, as long as it gets some shade. The native azaleas are typically deciduous, but are less particular about soil and water than the evergreen hybrids, typically bloom a bit later, and add gorgeous fall foilage to the lower story of the landscape. Most demand some sun, but the varieties’ needs vary, often making them perfect in well-planned groupings in areas of the landscape with mixed sun and shade.

Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida is the hardiest perennial variety) are perhaps the prototypical perennial of the American South. They come back after years of neglect, they bear gorgeous yellow flowers in the summer, and they are very happy to bake in the sun with no more or little more water than the rain gives them. And a variety of insects and birds, including the beautiful goldfinch, adore the black-brown seeds in the central cone.


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