Plants for Changing Weather Patterns

Drought Tolerant Grasses
Talk to any of the Bruss designers about this year and you’ll hear stories of unexpected plant deaths in their clients’ yards. Plants that for years we’ve relied on to perform without much fuss – because we don’t just design for gardening enthusiasts but for novices as well – have suddenly failed following last winter’s punishing polar vortex, an unusually wet spring, and then unforgiving late summer drought. There’s no denying that the climate in the Midwest is changing. We now don’t just have winter or summer but “weather events” – severe temperature drops or surges, prolonged heavy rainfalls or prolonged rain-less periods. We have unseasonable temperatures in every season.

As landscape designers we plan landscapes that will look good for not just a short time but for many years into the future. We anticipate the growth of the plants we select and place them accordingly. We’ve learned what plants will withstand our winters and perform reliably through the heat and humidity of our summers. Our changing climate is forcing us to re-evaluate every plant we use.

New varieties of Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas for everyone!

There was a time when midwestern gardeners had one or two plain, white-flowering hydrangeas to choose from and could only envy those in other regions with more acidic soil who could grow the big leaf hydrangeas that bloom pink or blue. There have been so many new varieties of Hydrangea paniculata (for our region!) introduced in the last decade that we almost have a hard time choosing one over another.

Limelight and Little Lime hydrangeas
Limelight Hydrangea one of the first in our area
Why are these hydrangeas perfect for our area? They bloom on new wood! This means that even if we have a whole winter of temperatures that kill the buds of other flowering shrubs, these hydrangeas will still flower the following summer. That also makes them more forgiving of pruning habits, so if you cut back your hydrangeas in the fall rather than leave the dried flowers up for winter interest, you won’t be sacrificing next year’s flowers.

While hydrangeas aren’t exactly drought tolerant, they can handle less water if not in full sun (especially in the heat of the afternoon). They also seem to be doing well in yards that experience periodic flooding.
Vanilla Strawberry Hydrangea and Quick Fire Hydrangea
Columnar Junipers, reliable evergreen

It’s time to re-think Junipers

When most people think of Junipers, an image of overgrown foundation plantings that practically cover a house comes to mind. Junipers are actually a diverse group of evergreen plants that are tough, drought-tolerant, and even salt tolerant – designers have embraced them anew as our site conditions get more challenging.

Our industry sorts Junipers into three main categories: creeping: (like a groundcover), spreading (like a shrub), and upright (like a tree). When sited in the right place – the right size and growth rate for the allotted space – they flourish and function beautifully.

Little known outside of the industry, creeping junipers are useful as a hardy evergreen groundcover that thrives in hot sun – even alongside the radiating heat of pavement. Plus, they barely blink after getting sprayed with roadside salt all winter. Junipers are an excellent substitute in troublesome situations where deer have feasted on yews and arborvitae. And with so many new cultivars available – many of which are better suited to smaller suburban lots than their predecessors – the design possibilities are rather exciting.

Mini Arcadia Juniper
Upright junipers like Iowa and Mountbatten make excellent trees for creating a privacy screen. Their gray-green foliage balances well with other plants in the landscape and requires little, if any, pruning. Junipers are also an important habitat and food source for songbirds. Their blue berries are attractive to us and to Chickadees, Cardinals, and Cedar Waxwings.

Iowa Juniper evergreen

Grasses for the win!

Ornamental grasses are a group of perennials that are TOUGH! Our native grasses hail from the prairies, able to withstand harsh winter winds, summer droughts, and return anew even after being burned to the ground by fire. They tolerate our clay, alkaline soil. Once established, they perform well through unforgiving heat and little rainfall thanks to their deep root systems.
Pink tinged blooms of Korean Feather Reed Grass
We – and our clients – love the easy maintenance of grasses. Cut them to just above the ground in spring. That’s it. The rest of the time you can just enjoy them – the way they act as a perfect foil to flowering perennials, the way they move in the breeze, the seasonal color changes they undergo in the fall.

Karl Foerster Reed Grass
Because they are so resilient, designers use grasses in challenging spots like parkways (where they get salt spray) and along driveways (where they get snow piled on them and are occasionally driven upon). The many varieties give us ample options in size so we can use them for texture, late-season color, winter interest, and even gentle screening.

Little Bluestem in summer and fall
Bald Cypress

The perfect tree for wet areas

There aren’t many trees that will tolerate or thrive in an area prone to frequent flooding. Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum), however, will love it. Though it looks like any other needle-leafed evergreen in the summer, it’s actually deciduous and will drop its needles in the fall.

Tolerant of our clay and alkaline soil, Bald Cypress develops a reddish, slightly shaggy bark that looks beautiful next to its soft, green needles. Fall color is a glowing russet with shades of yellow; it has a graceful, pyramidal, open-branched habit.

With new cultivars being developed for smaller yards, water-loving Bald Cypress will not only withstand but help absorb standing water. Weeping Willows can say the same, but not with the same elegance or easy maintenance that the Bald Cypress can claim.

Summer and fall colors of Bald Cypress

Know when to hire a professional!

If you’ve tried this plant or that plant with little success, perhaps it’s time to call a pro. Our experienced designers work with you to create and install a custom plant design that will succeed! You can rely on our extensive plant knowledge and regionally specific, time-tested experience developing landscapes in neighborhoods just like yours. Consult with one of our landscape designers by visiting us here:

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