Several years ago I heard a horticulturist say that plants at the garden center are a lot like kittens and puppies. They are little, cute, you want to take them all home, and often you are unaware of what you are actually getting.
Even avid gardeners may succumb to the new and exciting flower or foliage, only to discover later the plant is disease-ridden, unable to survive Kansas winters or too big for its planting space.
Researchers and professional organizations in the horticulture industry are trying to take some of the guesswork out of gardening. One program to help consumers make more educated decisions on plant selection is called Pride of Kansas. Pride of Kansas is sponsored by K-State Research and Extension, the Kansas Forest Service, the Kansas Nursery and Landscape Association and the Kansas Arborists Association. Pride of Kansas plants are selected based on the plants’ performance in research trials and feedback from professionals across the state.
One tree, one shrub and one perennial are chosen each year. This year’s Pride of Kansas plants are Shumard oak, boxwood and catmint. Here is a little on each of these plants.
Shumard oak: According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Quercus shumardii is native to eastern Kansas and the eastern half of the United States. The tree is 100 feet tall or more at maturity, so think ahead about planting location.
One characteristic I especially like is that Shumard oak grows more quickly than most other oaks, but it still has the strength and form of an oak. It is listed as a moderate-to-fast grower depending on soil quality and water availability.
Shumard oaks produce acorns about one inch in diameter. Fall color ranges from orange to deep red and is brighter than most of the oaks.
Boxwood: Several species of boxwood (Buxus) are appropriate for this area. There are more than one hundred cultivars available. Often used in hedges and foundation plantings, boxwoods have small, glossy green leaves. They handle shearing and pruning well and are sometimes used in topiary.
I think boxwoods might be the ultimate kitten at the garden center. They look like cute little green meatballs, often in 1-gallon pots because they grow quickly. However, many varieties of boxwood are 4- to 6-feet wide and tall at maturity. Read the label and give them room to grow or plant a compact variety.
Although native to Southern Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa, boxwood are well-adapted to our climate. North Carolina State University reports that boxwood may have been introduced to the United States as early as 1652. Boxwoods are not reported to be invasive.
Catmint: While we are talking about kittens, I will try to explain the difference between catmint and catnip. Both are species within the genus Nepeta. Catnip is specifically Nepeta cataria. Catmint may refer to multiple other species of Nepeta.
The other key difference between catmint and catnip is that catnip is often considered weedy and sometimes described as invasive. Catmint is less aggressive and has a more desirable appearance.
You might confuse catmint with sage, salvia, blue-mist spirea, or even butterfly bushes. Catmint has brilliant purple flowers born along erect stems. At a distance, it appears as an airy purple mound and blooms repeatedly through the summer. Catmint is also very drought tolerant.
Previous Pride of Kansas years’ winners:
Trees: Lacebark elm, Chinkapin oak, Caddo maple, English oak, Kentucky coffeetree, Bur oak, Eastern redbud, Shantung maple, Prairiefire crabapple.
Shrubs: Southern blackhaw viburnum, Tiger Eyes sumac, Leatherleaf viburnum, Common ninebark, Knockout rose, Dwarf Oregon grapeholly, Butterfly bush, Dwarf Korean lilac, Emerald Triumph viburnum
Perennials: Sedum, Russian sage, Karl Foerster feather reed grass, Butterfly milkweed, Switchgrass, Hibiscus, Hosta, Purple coneflower, Black-eyed susans