Q: I live in the end unit of a row of five town houses in Apex. The front of the units faces northeast with a parking slab in front of all five. Between the front porches of each unit and the parking slab is a bit of ground measuring about 8 feet by 12 feet. Recently, the five conical Bradford pear trees growing in this small plot were removed because the roots seem to be pushing up the parking slab.
What would you suggest planting in this area? A tree would be nice that wouldn’t block the porch views. And something evergreen to relieve the monotony of the five units. Maybe some kind of holly? Is there a shorter variety of crepe myrtles? But nothing with an invasive root system to threaten the parking area or the porches.
Carol Klein, Apex
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A: There are certainly some smaller crepe myrtles – really everything from small shrubs and up. “Pink Velour” is one with bright pink flowers and a relatively upright habit to about 12 feet tall. Great fall color, bark and decent powdery mildew resistance make it a good selection for your spot. Another suggestion would be “Tokyo Tower” Chinese fringetree. It is an exceptionally tough, upright growing small tree with masses of white spring flowers. Neither of these are evergreen so you might consider a sweetbay magnolia, which has the bonus of nicely fragrant flowers.
Plants for summer sun
Q: We have a planting bed at the northwest corner of our house, where the paved driveway meets the house. Every June, July and August it gets pounded with unrelenting afternoon sun as well as heat from the nearby pavement. The other nine months of the year it sits in bright shade. Can you recommend some plants (evergreens, perennials and vines) that would thrive in that tough environment? We have some that survive, but they take a beating during the summer and look terrible.
Angela Harris, Raleigh
A: As long as your shade isn’t too dark, you should have success with a wide variety of sun-loving, summer-flowering perennials. Many of these plants will grow fine in light shade but really prefer that bright summer sun in order to flower well. I’d also look for plants that can grow in sun to shade. Wax myrtles, osmanthus, mahonia and boxwoods are just a few of the many evergreen shrubs that should flourish. I would avoid spring-flowering perennials and Mediterranean-type plants, like flowering sages.
How to store seeds
Q: What is the best way to preserve garden seeds (left over from seed packets as well as newly saved seed from this year’s harvest) and what is the best container to store them in? Does it matter as to the type of seed, say tomato seeds versus zinnia seeds, and how long can I expect seeds to remain viable for planting?
Lee McCollum, Nashville
A: This used to be so simple – store your seeds in old film canisters. With the advent of digital cameras, we lost those great little seed containers, though. In general, you want to store seed in an airtight container, whether it’s a plastic Tupperware-type container, waxed paper envelopes or plastic bags. Seed will remain viable longer if it is kept in a cool, dark spot that does not suffer from fluctuations in temperature – refrigerators are great for this. For best results, dry your seed after harvesting it for a week or two before storing it. Some seed, like camellias and oaks, will not tolerate drying out and cannot be stored for any significant length of time. Most garden vegetables and flowers have no issues with storage. With proper treatment, seed can last for quite a few years, but each year the seeds will lose more and more viability.
Mark Weathington is the director of the JC Raulston Arboretum at N.C. State University in Raleigh. Info: jcra.ncsu.edu. Please send your garden questions, including the city where you garden, to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Common name: Chinese Sassafras
Botanical name: Sassafras tzumu
Family: Laurel (Lauraceae)
Category: Medium tree
Primary uses: Shade tree, pollinator tree
Dimensions: 35 to 55 feet tall, 18 to 30 feet wide in 20 years
Culture: Full sun to light shade; moist, well-drained soil.
Bloom time: March
Bloom color: Yellow
Hardiness: zero degrees (USDA hardiness zone 7)
General attributes: Chinese sassafras bears late winter to early spring flowers in clusters of small gold blooms at the tip of each branch. The leaves emerge with a touch of burgundy before becoming large and green with the typical sassafras foliage shapes: oval, mitten-like and tri-lobed. Sassafras has separate male and female plants, so the blue-black fruits are rarely formed unless two trees are grown near each other. On occasion, typically male plants will put out some female flowers and form fruit. Fall color is spectacular and among the best for Southern gardens. After the leaves drop, stout yellow-green branches provide some measure of winter interest.