Description: Cherished in the South as specimen or hedges, camellias boast winter to early spring blooms that look like roses from a distance.
Recommended: Japanese camellia (C. japonica) grows slowly to 10 to 15 feet with red, pink or white blossoms. Sasanqua camellia (C. sasanqua) is denser, less formal and a bit less cold-hardy, with white, red or pink single or double flowers that bloom in late fall or early winter.
Growing tips: Plant in spring in deep, rich, acid soil in partial shade against a warm wall or in protected areas. Sun burns camellias and shade reduces flowering. Mulch each year with leaf mold or shredded bark.
Description: Popular since Colonial times for their grace and charm, the common or English box (B. sempervirens) ranges from a dwarf, globular shrub to a 15- to 20-foot tree. It’s very susceptible to salt, snow damage and winter dieback, and a combination of nematodes and fungus is ravaging many of Baltimore’s boxwood collections.
Recommended: The littleleaf box (B. microphylla) is a smaller species from China, Japan and Korea with paler green leaves. Japanese box (var. japonica) is taller with large leaves and an open habit. Korean box (var. koreana) has smaller, duller green leaves, grows to 2 feet and is one of the hardiest boxwoods, good for hedges or topiary.
Growing tips: Plant in well-drained soil full of organic matter. Tolerates full sun but handles sun, wind and temperature changes better in part shade.
Description: Emblematic of the South are the evergreen summer flowering species of magnolia trees, particularly the Southern or bull bay magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) with large lustrous, leathery, dark green leaves and fragrant, creamy, saucer-like 6- to 12-inch blossoms. Foliage burn occurs here during harsh winters.
Recommended: Cold-hardy cultivars include ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty,’ with 6-inch flowers and small leaves; and ‘Little Gem,’ also compact with small leaves, that blooms late in the season, even into October and November.
Growing tips: Plant in full sun to partial shade in deep, loamy, slightly acid soil. Keep moist and mulched after transplanting. Container-grown trees planted in spring do better than balled-and-burlapped ones. All prefer undisturbed soil.
Description: Evergreen azaleas came to the United States from Asia in the early 1800s while most deciduous azaleas are native to the southeastern United States. These more shade-tolerant azaleas didn’t receive much attention until gardeners caught on to the easier maintenance and greater success rate of native plants.
Recommended: Deciduous: Piedmont azalea (R. canescens) is the Southeast’s most common native azalea, growing to 10 to 15 feet with sweet-scented pink flowers that bloom from early spring to midsummer. Sweet azalea (R. arborescens) grows to 8 to 20 feet and has white flowers with pink stamen and a heliotrope fragrance.
Evergreen: Kurme group of hybrids have a variety of double flowers that open in early spring. Yak rhododendron (R. yakusimanum) is a Japanese species that grows to 3 feet tall and wide with rosy pink buds that open to white flowers.
Growing tips: Needs good drainage and acid soil rich in organic matter. Mulch to conserve moisture, but not close to the stem. Partial sun or light shade is best; deciduous species need more sun than evergreens. Protect from drying winds and direct sun in winter. If necessary, prune just after flowering.
Description: While the sparkling understory eastern North American native tree (C. florida) is what we picture when we think of dogwood, it is being threatened by the fungal leaf and stem anthracnose.
Recommended: The Japanese or Chinese dogwood (C. kousa) is apparently anthracnose-resistant, blooms a month later, spreads eventually to 20 to 30 feet tall and wide and has white or rose bracts. Chinese dogwood (C. kousa var. chinensis) has large free-flowering blooms with bracts that turn pinkish as they mature.
Growing tips: Ordinary soil and light shade are best. Do not overfertilize and do not plant in hot, dry, full sun. Mulch and water regularly.
Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)
Description: The Baltimore area strains this plant’s limits. In colder areas of Baltimore County, tops sometimes winterkill and may need severe pruning in spring. Available as a mid- to late-summer blooming shrub in a variety of brilliant colors or small tree. Some reach 20 to 35 feet, while new cultivars are only 2-by-3 feet.
Recommended: Hybrids are popular and more mildew-resistant than other varieties and feature beautiful peeling bark and flowers. Popular hardier cultivars include ‘Natchez’ (white), ‘Tuscarora’ (deep watermelon), ‘Tonto’ (red) and ‘Sioux’ (pink).
Growing tips: Plant in full sun in moist, well-drained, loamy soil. Tolerates heat and drought once established and withstands heavy pruning and blooms on new growth. If winterkill strikes, tree can be cut to the ground and treated as a shrub. Looks striking in a border or as a foundation planting or to shade a patio. Excellent planted in groups or allées.
Description: A member of the dogwood family, this small genus of Asiatic evergreen shrubs is easy to grow, does well in shade and has handsome, leathery, often variegated leaves.
Recommended: Japanese aucuba (A. japonica) usually grows to 6 to 8 feet with glossy, dark green leaves (scarlet berries on female plants only), and is good for brightening dark corners or as an unusual hedge. Also recommended are variegated cultivars ‘Variegata,’ ‘Gold Dust,’ ‘Sulfur’ and ‘Mr. Goldstrike.’
Growing tips: Best in partial shade, in moist, well-drained soil. Variegated ones need some shade all year but most can tolerate dry soil, heavy clay, pollution and salty wind. Easily propogated by rooting cuttings in water.
Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens)
Description: With glossy, evergreen leaves, the fragrant yellow state flower of South Carolina blooms on a vigorous 10- to 20-foot vine native to the Southeast, and may rebloom sporadically in late summer and fall. Useful as a screen, with support, or as ground cover.
Recommended: The common species works well. Best not to plant them in gardens with children because plants and flowers are toxic when eaten.
Growing tips: Plant in full sun with moist, average to rich, well-drained soil. Tolerates partial shade but blooms best in sun.
Fig (Ficus carica)
Description: While the common fig is best grown in warmer climes, it can grow here as a shrub if sited properly. Blossoms are unspectacular, but the large foliage is interesting. Foliage and fruit litter, along with winterkill, make it messy.
Recommended: ‘Brown Turkey’ or ‘Green Ischcia.’
Growing tips: Like camellias, figs are best grown in a protected location or against a wall in full sun. Figs tolerate dry soil.
Description: While the common honeysuckle vine (L. japonica) and some of the shrub species are too invasive, others are not and work well on fences, as groundcover to hold banks, in wildlife gardens or as screens (with support and pruning).
Recommended: Trumpet or choral honeysuckle (L. sempervirens), native to the eastern United States, is a 10- to 20-foot vine, deciduous or semi-evergreen. Its flowers attract hummingbirds and bloom in early summer and sporadically into fall. Also: the yellow-flowered form (L. s. f. sulfurea) and scarlet trumpet honeysuckle (L. x brownii), a hybrid that climbs to about 12 feet with oval, blue-green leaves and slightly fragrant flowers.
Growing tips: Easy to grow, honeysuckle adapts to almost any relatively moistureretentive, well-drained soil. Plant in full sun for best blooms. Also grows in heavy shade and leafs out before taller plants.
Description: A single species of evergreen shrub from China, nandina has a graceful habit and delicate foliage that is often bronze red when young, and again in the fall. It is hardy and easy to grow with striking red berries that last through winter.
Recommended: Heavenly bamboo (N. domestica). The large shrub of the same name grows 6 to 8 feet, has better berry production than the dwarf cultivars, and is grown for foliage interest and soft habit.
Growing tips: Although it tolerates ordinary soil and partial shade, nandina produces the most berries in moist soil and full sun. New compact cultivars require no pruning.
Description: These Eurasian shrubs, some of which are evergreen, can thrive for a number of years and then die for no apparent reason. Daphnes are expensive and sometimes fussy but worth growing for their fragrance.
Recommended: Fragrant or winter daphnes (D. odora), a dense rounded shrub, up to 4 feet high, has rosy purple or white flowers in early spring. Also ‘Carol Mackie’ (D. x burkwoodii), a semi-evergreen shrub, grows to 3 feet with cream margins and pale pink flowers. Best not in gardens with children because all parts are poisonous.
Growing tips: Plant in partial shade in well-drained soil that is neutral and stays cool and moist at the roots. Keep pruning to a minimum.
Tea Olive (Osmanthus)
Description: This group of evergreen shrubs and trees with dense, glossy foliage has minuscule blossoms that are often fragrant far out of proportion to their size. Often mistaken for holly, osmanthus is ideal for hedges, espaliers, screens or in long walks and entryways where the fragrance can be appreciated.
Recommended: Fortune’s osmanthus (O. x fortunei) grows slowly 15 to 20 feet high and is good for hedging. False holly (O. heterophyllus) has intensely fragrant white flowers that bloom in early to mid-autumn. ‘Goshiki’ is a spectral rainbow that grows to 6 feet.
Growing tips: Easy to grow in acid, moist and well-drained soil in partial shade. Although it can be grown in full sun or partial shade, the foliage may burn if exposed to winter sun and wind.
If in doubt about a plant for your area, call the Home & Garden Information Center, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Maryland, College Park, 1-800-342-2507.