Thursday, April 2, 2015

Substitutions - Turn that Frown Upside Down

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Happy spring, everyone!  This time of year, it is always an adventure when sourcing plant material.  The word substitution is thrown around A LOT, partly due to the time of year and the minute to minute fluctuation of inventory and availability, and partly due to shortages of plant material that we are all experiencing.  Before I worked in the nursery industry as a consulting landscape architect, I dreaded that word as much as the next guy because it meant I had to compromise my vision for the project.  But since my conversion from the dark side to the plant world, I have learned to have flexibility in my plant selections and to be open to substitutions because there may be new or better varieties out there that I didn't think about or know about that may actually make the project more successful.

Here are some of my favorite substitutions you should consider that will make your projects and customers happy!

Crimson Sunset Maple (sub for Crimson King Maple)

Image - JFS
A cross between Acer truncatum and Acer platanoides,Crimson Sunset is a great hybrid maple that takes the best traits from each parent species, making it an extremely tough new variety that has better success in a red-leafed maple.  With slightly corky bark that makes is less-susceptible to sun scald and waxy red leaves that are tatter-resistant, this upright oval tree can handle a wide range of conditions.  Plant it with confidence!

Hot Wings Tatarian Maple (sub for Amur Flame)

Acer tataricum 'Hot Wings' is simply one of the most unique mid-sized trees out there!  With an upright oval form and yellow to orange fall color, it's most spectacular and unique feature is the reason to plant this tree.  Hundreds of whirlybirds (or samaras as they are more technically called) emerge in late spring and turn a bright red color in June.  I once had someone ask me what the blooming maple was that we had in the nursery and it turned out to be Hot Wings! It truly appears to have red blooms from a distance, which is a really unique bloom color from a tree in June!  And oh yeah, this tree is tough and can handle most any condition!

Fine Line Buckthorn (sub for Emerald Green Arborvitae)

Love them or hate them, Emerald Green Arborvitae is a very unique plant that fits a very unique profile as far as a skinny, upright evergreen with a very compact mature size.  However, they are incredibly difficult to get established and keep alive and have a high mortality rate in our area, mostly having to do with our heavy clay soils and getting the moisture right with this plant.  And there are not many plants that can be substituted for it.  This is where I like to recommend Rhamnus frangula 'Fine Line' as a possible substitution as it is far more tolerant of a wide range of conditions.  It is not an evergreen, but it has a dense upright branching structure and the bark is a dark cherry brown, giving this plant plenty of winter interest and some screening value.  People often like Emerald Green Arborvitae because of its lush green and soft texture and Fine Line replicates the soft texture with its lacy, long leaves that give a semi-tropical feel to the plant during spring, summer and fall.  And Fine Line fits the same mature size and form, but with far more durability, making it a logical and more successful option.


Flutterby Petite Tuitti Fruitti or Flutterby Pink and CranRazz Butterfly Bush (sub for Lo & Behold Blue Chip)

One of the most popular shrubs of recent years for hot and dry sites has become Lo & Behold Blue Chip Butterfly Bush.  While I am a proponent of all things that draw butterflies, especially the Monarchs, Lo & Behold Blue Chip has not proven to be as great as originally thought due to cold hardiness issues.  Newer dwarf, controlled growth Buddleia introductions from Ball Horticulture and Proven Winners in the past few years are far better performers with great colors and longer lasting blooms.  The Flutterby series from Ball features Petite Tuitti Fruitti and Flutterby Pink, two dwarf to medium sized plants.  Proven Winners' CranRazz has a fantastic bright fuchsia pink bloom that can be up to 24" in length per flower petiole, giving a spectacular summer show. 

Indian Steel Indian Grass (sub for Northwind Switchgrass or Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass)

Image - Hoffman Nursery

With hundreds of grasses to choose from, it is easy to forget about some of the native cultivars, but please don't forget Sorghastrum nutans 'Indian Steel'!  This wider-bladed, steel blue foliage grass is an outstanding clump-forming grass that can handle a wide range of sites, including ones with poor soil.  The seed heads rise above the 3' x 3' grass in summer and produce a loose mass of golden stalks with feathery seed heads to a maximum height of 5'.  In my opinion, this grass combines my favorite attributes of Northwind Switchgrass (color and wider blades) and Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass (golden plumes).

Little Goldstar Black-Eyed Susan (sub for Goldsturm)

Image - Ball Seed
Rudbeckia fulgida 'Little Goldstar' gets a gold star for its performance in our area!  It is shorter than the old standard Goldsturm, but boasts many more blooms and less of an issue with black spot, making it a great introduction that outperforms its counterpart. 
If you have questions about these or other substitutions, one of my favorite parts of my job is to find solutions to problems in the landscape through the use of plants.  I am always happy to discuss your plant needs to find a solution for you and your clients, so call or email anytime!

By Chad Weinand, PLA, LEED AP, Business Development, Loma Vista Nursery

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