Do your homework when selecting new plants, grass

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I have written before about people trying to grow plants in the Augusta area that might have been fine in other parts of the country like Mich­i­gan, California or Penn­syl­vania but are not meant to be planted in the Augusta area.

Today I am going to share with you some similar instances from the past two weeks.

A couple of Sundays ago, a woman in my Sunday school department asked if I minded if she asked me a question. I never mind, so I told her to fire away.

She showed me pictures from her phone of some small fir/spruce-looking trees she had planted in cutouts on her front porch. She said that they had gotten all kinds of brown foliage and didn’t look good. I asked if she knew what they were. She had the tag in her pocketbook and showed it to me. It was Colorado blue spruce. I don’t remember which cultivar.

I told her that was the problem; they do better in cooler climates.

About that time, longtime and well-known Augusta landscape architect Roger Davis walked up and I asked, “Roger, have you ever known Colorado blue spruce to do well here?” He said, “No I haven’t.”

If you check the hardiness zone, it will say the trees will grow as far south as zone 7, which splits the Augusta area. But they are native to the Rocky Mountains of the West, and our climate is a lot different here. To make matters worse, the woman’s front porch faces southwest so they get the afternoon sun.

Another case was last Sunday, but let me start by backing up just a bit.

About a month ago, I noticed a neighbor had begun to water his front lawn probably at least twice a day, much more than was needed for established grass. He has a mix of centipede and St. Augustine. Last week I noticed new grass growing up in bare and thin places. This yard has fairy ring, so in spite of constant replanting of new sod by the previous owner, it always winds up dying out in those places. I knew by the look of the new grass that it was either fescue or perennial ryegrass.

Last Sunday, while in the driveway washing my car, the man at this house was in his yard with a bag and a small hand rake. I assumed he was planting more grass seed. Sometimes I hesitate about giving unsolicited advice, but this time I approached him. He is originally from Asia but moved here about a year ago from Boston.

I asked him what he was doing. He said planting grass. I asked what kind. He showed me the bag and it was tall fescue. I said, “I hate to tell you this, but it will not survive here as a permanent grass. It will do fine now until next spring, but when it gets hot next summer, most, if not all of it will die due to the heat.”

He then told me that the man at the store he bought it from told him it would do fine. I reiterated that yes, fine for several months, but that is it.

The moral to both of these stories is to do your homework before you plant something. If there is just a little element of doubt, ask several people you know who might be good gardeners and even do Internet searches. Of course you can always call my office or your local Extension office.

When it comes to fescue, many people try to grow it in the Augusta area because that is all they knew where they came from. And they love the fact that it stays green over the winter. But for 99 percent of us, it just won’t work. There are always a few exceptions. I have a Master Gardener friend, originally from New Jersey, who lives in Evans and grows it with some moderate success. We make jokes all the time about his fescue lawn.

About the Colorado blue spruce, the woman who asked about it, along with others, couldn’t believe that a store in Augusta would sell a plant that doesn’t do well. There are always micro climates that are more conducive to growing certain borderline plants, and those people have some success. As far as putting them in these planters on a porch, you might look at them as something to plant in the fall and keep until the following spring, then discard them, like a seasonal plant.

Just keep in mind that tags on plants can be somewhat deceiving. I don’t know how many times I have told people when something says full sun, it doesn’t necessarily mean Augusta full sun.

Another thing to do before planting is to look around and see how much of something is growing around here that you want to plant. If you don’t see any or very little that should be a sign that you might want to avoid it, especially if you aren’t an experienced gardener.

Stores have a year’s guarantee to return a plant if it dies. But most people are not interested in wasting time on a plant that doesn’t last very long. Naturally, there is no warranty on dead fescue grass.

REACH SID MULLIS, THE DIRECTOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA EXTENSION SERVICE OFFICE FOR RICHMOND COUNTY, AT (706) 821-2349 OR SMULLIS@UGA.EDU.

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