Presents are still wrapped beneath the tree, and Santa has yet to spread his holiday cheer. But soon, gardeners' mailboxes all around town will be filling with seed catalogs and beautiful photos of what is to come next season. As you sort the mail and dream of lively, greener gardens, here are a few plants you may wish to include in your landscape next season. Called Pride of Kansas Plants, these 2006 winners have proven to perform well here in our harsh, unpredictable Kansas climate.
Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus)
This large eastern Kansas native tree makes an excellent shade tree. The open canopy allows for air movement and filtered light. The tree is pH tolerant and adapts to a wide range of soils and soil conditions. In open areas, it can grow up to 100 feet tall, but normal heights are 50 feet to 60 feet. The leaves are compound with 1- to 3-inch leaflets. The yellow fall leaves give way to an interesting winter bark that has beautiful dark curving ridges. The species produces male and female flowers on separate trees. Female trees will produce 5- to 10-inch-long leathery, dark-brown pods filled with small seeds resembling coffee beans. The male trees are fruitless and are produced by tissue culture or cuttings. They may be more preferable for urban landscapes. For both stress-tolerance and beauty, the Kentucky coffeetree is an exceptional choice for shading a Kansas landscape.
Knock Out Rose
Knock Out has received a lot of attention since its introduction in 2000. The round, full shrub grows to 3 feet tall and wide. It produces a profusion of single red flowers nonstop from spring through fall. Easy to grow, it performs well in a wide range of soils and conditions. Better yet, Knock Out is self-cleaning, meaning no deadheading. It is black spot-resistant, mildew-tolerant and extremely hardy in zones 5 and 6. Through much of the growing season, the leaves are mossy green with blue hues. As cooler weather sets in, however, the foliage turns purplish green, creating a striking contrast with the late-season blooms. Largely maintenance-free, Knock Out can be trimmed in spring to promote density and an even more tidy shape. To keep the flowers large and abundant, feed the plant monthly with a high-nitrogen fertilizer.
Switchgrass is a vigorous, upright perennial grass, native to the Kansas prairie. Most cultivated varieties grow 3 to 7 feet tall and have flat, glossy leaves and underground rhizomes. Swichgrass blooms from July through September, producing delicate flowers that create a haze effect from a distance. As the foliage turns light yellow in fall, seedheads produce shiny, reddish, teardrop-shaped seeds that change to a golden yellow and bronze. Switchgrass is very tolerant of poor soils, drought and wet feet. And it's perfect for naturalizing or making a transition from formal to natural areas. Used as a background planting, it offers size, fine texture, and both food and shelter for birds. To help this plant perform to its fullest, cut it back to 6 inches high in early spring and fertilize it once lightly as growth begins.