Look for ‘two-fers’ for your garden; hear more at PLANT WNY event

blood twig dogwood Midnight Fire
Bloodtwig dogwood Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ is a good “two-fer” because you can get months of color. When the leaves fall, the bark is yellow, transitioning to orange and red. That provides color in the winter. Photo courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Home gardeners aren’t planting acres and acres of gardens anymore, so we have to get more out of the few plants we choose to include in our landscapes, Kerry Ann Mendez told me in a phone interview.

The award-winning garden designer, author and lecturer noted that the two largest age groups in our country now are millennials and baby boomers, and both groups are choosing smaller spaces. Millennials are gravitating toward urban settings rather than sprawling suburbs, and baby boomers are downsizing or “right sizing” their homes and landscapes as they get older.

If you’re going to have fewer plants in your landscape, look for “two-fers,” Mendez suggested. These are plants that have at least two features to recommend them. They go twice the distance in your garden.

For example, if you want color in your yard, look for plants that not only have colorful flowers, but add color through their foliage or berries. Some plants even have interesting color in their stems and bark.

One example is bloodtwig dogwood Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’. After the leaves have fallen, the bark is yellow at the base and transitions up to orange and red. You get months and months of color.

Mendez will provide more great tips in two talks during PLANT WNY‘s daylong Education Conference on Friday, Feb. 2 at Salvatore’s Italian Gardens, 6461 Transit Rd., Depew.

In addition to professionals, this program (Friday only) is open to Master Gardeners and advanced gardeners. The material may be too advanced for beginners.

Mendez will present “Landscape Plants that Save Time, Manpower and Money” and “Eye-popping Flowering Shrubs Steal the Show!”

She will sell and sign her books at the event. Her most recent book, The Right Size Flower Garden, focuses on exceptional plants and design solutions for busy and aging gardeners. Available at the beginning of February will be her newest book, The Budget-Wise Gardener. Her other books are The Ultimate Flower Gardener’s Top Ten Lists and Top Ten Lists for Beautiful Shade Gardens: Seeing Your Way Out of the Dark. 

She also offers webinars through her website.

More examples of “two-fers”

The seeds on this switch grass, Panicum virgatum, not only look attractive in your garden, they provide food for birds. Photo courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden

Mendez focuses on workhorse plants, time-saving gardening techniques and sustainable practices, so you’ll notice these themes throughout her presentations and writings.

Another example of workhorse plants or “two-fers” are switch grasses, which are in the genus Panicum. Also look for grasses in the genus Schizachyrium such as little bluestem.

These ornamental grasses are tall and have feathery flower heads, so they look great. But they’re also native to North America and provide seed for wild birds. That saves you money on bird seed, plus you don’t have squirrels jumping on your feeders, she pointed out.

When choosing plants, consider whether the plant is friendly to birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

“It’s not just about us anymore,” Mendez said. “It’s not just about me and how happy I am when people ogle my garden. Many people now understand that we have to take responsibility and be good stewards of our planet.”

Save time and money

If you want to save time in your garden, plant shrubs, Mendez said.

“There’s so much less routine maintenance,” she said.

You don’t have to water or fertilize shrubs as much as you do for perennials and annuals. Unlike annuals, you don’t have to keep replanting shrubs.

While you’re at it, skip the annuals in your containers, or at least use them sparingly.

Fill your containers with perennials and overwinter the pots, she said. If you want, tuck a few annuals into the pot among your anchor plants in the spring. But when you use mostly perennials, you don’t have to replant all of your pots every year.

“Freedom reigns!” Mendez said.

She suggests that if you want to overwinter perennials, choose plants that are hardy down to two zones colder than the zone you’re in. (Find your garden zone here.)

Mendez lives in Zone 5 in Maine (similar to the colder parts of Western New York) and leaves her pots out on her deck to overwinter. A problem she encounters is when her pots get covered in snow, then the snow melts and the water freezes. A layer of ice covers the soil in her pots, which is like having the plant’s roots submerged in a pond.

To prevent that, she said, set your pots so they stay tilted rather than remain level. That will let the water run off.

She noted that new kinds of containers are coming on the market that can help gardeners in several ways. Some have thicker sides to better insulate the roots of plants that you want to overwinter. The pots are lighter weight so that gardeners can move them around easily. And a time-saving feature that some containers have are better reservoirs so that you don’t have to water them as often.

An example of a species tulip is Tulipa linifolia. It’s short, but instead of dying back after a few years, it spreads. Photo courtesy John Scheepers Beauty from Bulbs www.johnscheepers.com

A final way to save time and money is to choose species tulips, also called botanical tulips or wild tulips. Unlike hybrid tulips, which grow reliably for only about three years, species tulips will not only come back, they will spread, Mendez said. You can use them to naturalize a large area. After a few years, you don’t have to replace bulbs you lost; you have more bulbs and more plants than you started with.

Species tulips aren’t as big and showy as hybrid tulips, but you can plant them in a sweep and have a beautiful display.

While some gardeners may see the shortness of species tulips as a drawback, they are “two-fers” for other reasons. For one thing, they’re deer resistant, Mendez said.

Another advantage is how quickly their foliage dies back. You don’t want to cut the leaves off spring bulbs until the leaves are completely dead because the leaves are replenishing the bulb. Unfortunately, those floppy yellow and brown leaves look unattractive in the garden.

What’s nice about the leaves of species tulips is that they die back and disappear fast. Your garden can be cleaned up sooner.

Species tulips aren’t the only spring bulbs that have foliage that disappears quickly. Look for miniatures– ones that grow less than 10 inches tall. An example is the daffodil Tete-a-tete, which is bright yellow.

10 Comments on “Look for ‘two-fers’ for your garden; hear more at PLANT WNY event

  1. thank you so much, i sure will let them know! i tell everyone i know that loves gardening to sign up with you!

  2. Kelly, I’m not sure who carries species tulips locally. Since you don’t plant them until fall, you have time to tell your favorite garden centers that you are looking for them. If they know there is customer interest, they will be happy to carry them.

    Thanks for your kind words! And when you’re at your favorite gardening business, please let them know that Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com is where you come to find local products and services. You want to find these companies, they want to find customers, and I want to find more advertisers to help my bottom line. Win-win-win!

  3. love the two-fer plants…it’s all i look to get and plant! i don’t think i have anything that i’ve planted because i thought it was “pretty” without benefiting the birds, bees, or butterflies! i would like to know more about species or wild tulips! is there a site you would recommend of where i could look/buy them or a place? i’ve tried regular tulips before, but apparently the squirrels love those bulbs! as for the new look? new look, old look, doesn’t matter…just keep feeding the wonderful information you do!

  4. The problem appears to be with ‘Internet Explorer’, as the layout looks fine using ‘Google Chrome’. I checked out formatting for a few more articles, and the format problem when using ‘Internet Explorer’ appears confined only to this article and the previous one – ‘Our New Look’.

    Otherwise everything looks great.

  5. Stephen, thanks so much for letting me know. Can you tell me how you are viewing the stories? If you’re on a computer, what browser are you using? If you’re on a mobile device, what kind of device. I can’t see the problem from my end, and more details would help me solve the problem. Thanks!

  6. I like the new look, but I noticed that the text of the last two stories extends to the right, beyond the text box, bleeding into text/images in the right column.

  7. I’m so happy to have Buffalo-Niagara Gardening back! The twofer concept is a wonderful and practical idea! Thank you, for sharing this.

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