Flame azalea at Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Georgia

Garden Like A Pro with These Spring Beauty Tips

Spring is in full swing! Have you been bitten by the gardening bug but don't know what to grow? April is a great month to visit public gardens in Georgia for ideas about what to plant in your own landscape. It is also a good time to add plants to your garden before hot weather sets in.

There are myriad choices that will thrive, some with a minimum of care. For the best results, and a garden that offers beauty throughout the year, combine both native and cultivated varieties of trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs and annuals.


Crabapple reflecting in the Japanese Garden at Gibbs Gardens
Crabapple reflecting in the Japanese Garden at Gibbs Gardens


When it comes to azaleas, varieties like 'G.G. Gerbing,' 'George Taber,' and the popular Encore azaleas are the "go-to" selections for many gardeners. But don't forget about natives like Rhododendron canescens, also known as the piedmont azalea, Rhododendron flammeum, called the Oconee azalea and Rhododendron arborescens, named Sweet azalea for its deliciously scented flowers.

One of the best late bloomers, the plumleaf azalea, Rhododendron prunifolium is hard to beat, and the butterflies are drawn to its bright red or orange-red flowers in July and August. As a group, native azaleas are mostly deciduous, hardy, resistant to pest and disease problems and easy to grow. Many act more like small trees than shrubs.


Rhododendron canescens (Piedmont azalea) at Gibbs Gardens
Rhododendron canescens (Piedmont azalea) at Gibbs Gardens

Perfect companions

For companion plants, consider trees like Japanese maples or fringe tree, Chionanthus virginicus, and crabapples. At Gibbs Gardens, the native crabapple Malus angustifolia provides a living sculpture in the Japanese Gardens. A few well-placed evergreens will add to the scene and provide interest in the winter, too.

Choice shrubs include Virginia sweetspire, Itea virginca 'Henry’s Garnet,' evergreen anise, Illicium floridanum and Illicium parviflorum, and hydrangeas - natives like oakleaf, Hydrangea quercifolia and ornamental types such as Hydrangea macrophylla, the old-fashioned mopheads, which grace many Southern gardens in shades of blue, pink and white.


Monet bridge with fringe tree and Japanese maples at Gibbs Gardens. Photo by Rick Cannon
Monet bridge with fringe tree and Japanese maples at Gibbs Gardens. Photo by Rick Cannon

Ground layer beauties

Don't forget the ground layer. Ferns that thrive without a lot of "fuss" include natives such as Christmas fern, cinnamon fern and royal fern. A non-native, but one that plays well with others, is autumn fern, Dryopteris erythrosora. A one-gallon plant will quickly spread to cover a 3' x 3' area or more, so make sure to give this tough guy plenty of room. All of these ferns make great companions for azaleas and Japanese maples.

Perennial pleasers lenten rose, Helleborus x orientalis and Amsonia hubrichtii, Arkansas bluestar offer months of interest at Gibbs Gardens. Arkansas bluestar has pale blue flowers in spring and golden yellow foliage in autumn.

Iris are a favorite, and variegated iris in the Japanese Gardens at Gibbs Gardens provide interest for months with their blooms and green and white foliage.


Variegated iris at Gibbs Gardens. Photo by Rick Cannon
Variegated iris at Gibbs Gardens. Photo by Rick Cannon


The native hardy gingers, members of the genus Asarum, make great accent plants in combinations with ferns and other woodland plants. Their distinctive, often mottled, evergreen leaves standout on the forest floor.

Before you head to the garden center, visit public gardens, take photos and observe the plants that do well in your neighborhood or region. Armed with ideas and information you will be ready to plant in your garden this spring.  

Don't miss the native azalea plant sale at Gibbs Gardens in April! 

Published: March 2017
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