The North invades the South again but it doesn’t work with plants

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By Master Gardener, Brunswick County Extension

Many people who move down into Southeastern North Carolina from more northern and colder climates bring with them a preference for plants they grew so beautifully in the North. 

Some of these plants are pass-along plants from family and dear friends. But no matter how much you love your lilac, it will not tolerate the lack of a long winter chill. If you want a happy, healthy small tree with lovely blue flowers, you can plant a chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus). This tree only grows to 15-20 feet tall, can take the heat, doesn’t mind drought conditions and resists pests. 

Another alternative to lilac is the crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia Indica). This beauty comes in a variety of colors and sizes, features colorful autumn foliage and handsome winter bark where lilac is ornamental only in the spring while blooming.

Tulips will bloom once, but not again unless you dig them up each year and store them in your refrigerator for at least six weeks away from all fruit and vegetables, but amaryllis bulbs will bloom and spread for many years. They are dramatically gorgeous and they love the heat. The amaryllis originated in South America’s tropical regions and has the botanical name Hippeastrum.

Paper birch or European white birch does not thrive in the South, but Heritage River Birch is an excellent choice. Its distinctive bark provides visual interest all year-round, withstands even the harshest of weather conditions and has extremely low maintenance. Heritage River Birch trees are loved for their papery cinnamon bark and graceful crown. Their leaves turn bright yellow, telling you that fall is on the way.

Do rhododendrons wilt and die before your eyes? Substitute French hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophlla). This plant loves our climate and flaunts lovely flowers of blue, purple, pink, rose or white for many more weeks than a rhodie does. 

Invincibella Spirit hydrangea is a beautiful new plant that is the first ever pink hydrangea. It’s actually a bright pink and blooms until frost. It is the world’s first pink Annabelle hydrangea. It is hardy and unlike Mophead hydrangeas, it will continue to bloom on “new wood” until frost. It will produce flowers even if the stems die back to ground level in extreme weather.

If you can’t grow delphinium try larkspur (Delphinium consolida), which belongs to the buttercup family Ranunculaceae. Larkspur flowers are almost as complex as orchids. This reseeding annual gives you the same shape and flower colors, but it’s much easier to grow. Instead of maintaining tuberous begonias on life support throughout the hot summer, grow the lovely and carefree angel wing begonias (Begonia coccinea). They provide lots of blooms with little fuss.

If you crave a Colorado blue spruce, you may want to plant a Carolina Sapphire Arizona Cypress (Cupressus Arizonica). Carolina Sapphire is a conical, broadly pyramidal growing conifer with reddish purple flaky bark with spirally arranged blue-silver sprays of leaves/needles. It has a slightly more erect growth habit than most Arizona Cypress. It is a very beautiful specimen tree for those who want something a little different and out of the ordinary. It was developed by Clemson University.

Choosing the right plants for the south is not a difficult task. The hardest part is letting go of the idea of transplanting northern plants to a southern clime. There are so many wonderful cultivars that thrive on hot, humid summers and short, mild winters that the big job comes to limiting your choices to what will fit on your property.

To view a great selection of plants that thrive in our area, visit the Botanical Garden just outside Building N at the Brunswick County Extension Center. 

Send your gardening questions or comments to: Brunswick County Master Gardener Column, P.O. Box 109, Bolivia, NC 28422, or call 253-2610. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if requesting information or a reply. Answers may be printed in this column.