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Find Plants for Tough Sites

Have you ever fallen in love with a plant that you know in your brain won’t grow in your garden but your heart made you buy it anyway? You bought that sun-loving plant and planted it – full of hope - in your shady garden. Didn’t work out? Unfortunately, wishing, and even tender loving care, can’t make a plant grow if it is in the wrong garden space. Fortunately, this article tells us about a resource that can help you find just the right plant for even tough garden sites.

Janelle Rietz-Kamenar, Dakota County Master Gardener

Find Plants for Tough Sites

Over my many years of gardening, one of the most important, yet difficult lessons that I seem to have to re-learn time and time again, is that a plant will thrive best if it is planted in a location where it gets the type of sun, moisture, and soil required for its species.  It is so tempting fall in love with a sun-loving plant and convince yourself that you can make it grow in your garden – the one that is all shade. Unfortunately, wishing, and even tender loving care, can’t make a plant grow if it is in the wrong garden space. 

For those of us whose gardens consist of poor soil conditions or natural landscape impediments, it is especially difficult to find plants that will be successful.  So, how do you know which plants will thrive in your clay or sandy soil or on your steep backyard slope?  Finding the right plants for your area can be challenging, but not impossible.  Fortunately, the University of Minnesota Extension has produced a free, easy and thorough reference guide that can help you meet the challenge. Click on this link to access “The Best Plants for 30 Tough Sites,” written by Minnesota Master Gardeners and Extension Educators Mary Meyer, Deborah L. Brown, and Mike Zins. 

The reason why I like this guide so much is that it provides extensive lists of plants and their characteristics for those areas that can be limiting.  Rather than waste money buying plants that do not fit your situation, use this guide to find plants that can grow successfully.  The reference guide covers:

  • Alkaline Soil

  • Annuals 3 Feet or More

  • Annual Vines That Grow Quickly

  • Boulevard Gardens: Perennials and Small Trees

  • Broadleaf Evergreens 

  • Clay Soil

  • Cold Tolerant Annuals

  • Compacted Sites: Trees

  • Crevice Plants

  • Deer Resistant Plants

  • Dry Soil: Annual Foliage Plants, Shade or Under Trees and Trees

  • Fragrant Annuals, Perennials, and Shrubs

  • Indoor Low Light

  • Knot Gardens

  • Lakeshore Native Plants

  • Long-Blooming Perennials

  • Rain Garden Plants

  • River Banks and Canoe Public Access Areas

  • Self-Seeding Perennials

  • Septic Mound Plants

  • Shade: Shrubs, Small Trees, and Tall Perennials

  • Steep Slopes

  • Trees That Produce Minimal Litter

  • Under a Black Walnut Tree 

While the guide does not show a picture of each plant, it does provide you with a place to start looking.  I have used this guide many times and I hope it helps you find that perfect plant for your landscape. 

Photo Credit: (All Creative Commons) (1), University of Minnesota Extension (2), (All Creative Commons) (3)

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