Updated Website Resources on Best Bets for Particular Uses

By Mary Free, Extension Master Gardener

The Waterwise Garden in Simpson Gardens, Alexandria, Virginia. Photo © 2011 Mary Free

Have you ever encountered a troublesome area in your landscape and wondered if plants could solve the problem, and, if so, which ones? Which plants would help improve the texture or fertility of your soil? Which plants would perform best in an area that dries out quickly or remains wet too long? Which natives would attract the most pollinators to your garden when you have little room to plant at all?

As a supplement to the Tried and True Native Plant Selections for the Mid- Atlantic fact sheets, the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia updated the Best Bets: Plants for Particular Uses in the Mid-Atlantic (found under Plants on the menu bar). The Best Bets recommend groups of plants that can help you address specific issues or a distinct set of growing conditions on your property. Although the plant lists are not exhaustive, they do reflect the local experience of Master Gardeners.

Tried and True Cover Crops

Field peas (Pisum sativum subsp arvense) in November in the demonstration Organic Vegetable Garden. Photo © 2015 Judy Salveson.

Best Bets to Enrich Soil (Part 1) (Part 2)

This  two-page fact sheet focuses on cover crops, which are often used as transitions plantings in crop rotation or before establishing more permanent landscaping. They can improve soil texture, water filtration, or fertility. Many store nitrogen in the soil, which promotes growth of later plantings. Cover crops also can be used in barren areas where soil is depleted, compacted, or eroded, or serve as green mulch in beds.

The fact sheet features cover crops that Master Gardeners have used successfully at the MGNV demonstration Organic Vegetable Garden located in Potomac Overlook Regional Park. It describes the attributes of each plant as well as when it should be planted and when it should be cut and/or tilled into the soil.

  • Winter Cover Crops are usually planted late summer to early fall: Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum), Field Peas (Pisum sativum subsp. arvense), Oats (Aveena sativa), Winter Rye (Secale cereale), and Hairy Vetch (Vicia Villosa).
  • Winter Cover Crop Mixtures contain two or more cover crops, often combining the nitrogen fixing properties of legumes with soil-building properties of grains or other plant species.
  • Summer Cover Crops are usually planted late spring to early summer: Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) and Cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata).

Tried and True Native Plants

Best Bets for Dry Conditions

Do you need plants that will grow well in an exposed location or on a hell strip – that desolate area between the sidewalk and the street? We recommend 24 native plants that adapt to drier, well-drained sites and tolerate local rain shortages. Most thrive in sun and heat, although a few prefer locations with some shade. All but one of the 24 recommended plants link to the Tried and True Native Plant fact sheets so that you can learn more about a species’ characteristics and growing requirements.

Best Bets for Wet Conditions

Do you need plants to create a rain garden? We have identified 26 plants from ferns to trees that are well-suited to conditions in low spots that collect water, near downspouts, or along water’s edge. They can help control storm water run-off and ponding by absorbing excess moisture. All but one of the 26 recommended plants link to the Tried and True Native Plant fact sheets so that you can learn more about a species’ characteristics and growing requirements.

Best Bets to Attract Pollinators

Pollinators – bees, wasps, flies, beetles, butterflies, bats, moths, and hummingbirds – are essential for the reproduction of three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants upon which other animals rely for food and shelter and about one-third of the food crops on which humans depend. Yet many insect species are in decline. Whether you have a small balcony or acres of land, you can make a difference by growing native plants that provide nectar and pollen.

We have listed 39 natives, mostly perennials, but also a few shrubs, trees and a vine, that excel at attracting pollinators. Those perennials that were monitored in a three-year Penn State Extension study show how they ranked with regard to total pollinator visits and pollinator diversity. Like the other Best Bets, some of the plants link to the Tried and True Native Plant fact sheets so that you can learn more about a species’ characteristics and growing requirements as well as information about what type of wildlife it attracts.

Pycnanthemum muticum (short-toothed mountain-mint) ranked first in total pollinator visits and second in pollinator diversity among 86 native species in a Penn State Extension study.

Video © 2019–2020 Mary Free

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