Dear PoP – What Should I Plant?

Photo from PoPville flickr user fromcaliw/love

“Dear PoP,

I just moved down to the Washington, DC area and have a nice little rowhouse in Columbia Heights. We have a small plot of land, but unlike my place in NYC, I have a tiny little plot of land out front and a porch. I’d like to try my hand at gardening. I am curious if you or any of your readers have tips about gardening in DC. What flowers work well in this climate during the spring/summer/early fall? Where are some good gardening places to visit for supplies and meet fellow flower enthusiasts? Any general tips or inspiring gardens in the city I can check out?”

I know we have some dedicated gardeners who read this site so I’m also looking forward to learning what works best for DC?

32 Comment

  • If your yard is sunny plant herbs. Not only are they beautiful but you can eat them. Whatever you do plant something that comes up year after year on its own.

  • Inspiring gardens: Definitely visit the National Arboretum (azaleas are exploding right now), the United States Botanic Gardens (near the Capitol building), and Dumbarton Oaks (enter at 31st and R NW – definitely worth the price of admission).

    The Garden District at 14th and S NW is a nice neighborhood garden store.

  • saf

    In town, I like Garden District.

    For a big big big place to go, I love Behnke’s, on Route 1 by College Park:

    Also, this weekend, the Franciscan Monastery Garden Guild is having a plant sale:

    Also this weekend is the annual National Arboretum plant sale:

  • While I love supporting local businesses, go to garden district only if you want to be exploited. Seriously, they charge 3 to 4 times what others charge. You could try local hardware stores, like Stronsiders (or however you spell it)… there is also a garden place on 9th and M I believe…

    If you are shaded, you cannot go wrong with hydrangeas.

  • Thank you saf! I will definitely take advantage of these sales this weekend!

  • Go grass-free…

    If you have sun, knockout roses are hard to beat. Last year ours bloomed continuously from late April to mid-December.

    If you have a shadier yard, I second the recommendation for hydrangeas.

    Then mix in some perennials and annuals…plant things that love heat and humidity. If you can rig an irrigation “system” – a soaker hose with a $30 timer, your flowers will love you for it.

    My favorite garden place is Gingko Gardens at 911 11th St SE on Capitol Hill – the employees really know plants and give great advice. Second-fave place in DC is Johnson’s near Tenleytown.

    If you need inexpensive annuals, head to Home Depot. Buy only “fresh off the truck” since anything that stays in the store more than 48 hours is probably really suffering…

    Good luck, and happy gardening!

  • Gingko Gardens on Capitol Hill is a great place. Nice selection (much better than Garden District) and very helpful staff.

  • DC Urban Gardeners yahoo group is a good resource, I also think the staff at Johnson’s and American Plant Nursery are pretty knowledgeable.

    I’d recommend going with native plants. NPS puts out a publication that includes where to find native plants.

    You might look into the DC Dept of Environment’s RiverSmart Home program – it includes BayScaping (along with shade tree planting and rain barrels)

    And today’s living social deal happens to be $30 worth of products from the Garden District for $15.

  • GiantSquid

    It all depends on what kind of sun your yard receives over the course of a day. When you’re able, look at the areas you want to plant at several different times in a day and see if it’s full sun, partial sun, or shade. You don’t want to plant a shade loving plant in the sun or vice versa, they’ll be doomed to fail. Also, what kind of terrain are you covering? If it’s a rock-type garden or wall, you can plant mosses, creeping phlox, and other low-growing plants that will look great. If you have open beds, you can plant bushier plants that will fill up the space. Think about height differences too. You can put taller plants like daylilies in the back and shorter ones, like primroses or marigolds, in the front. Do you want anything to climb? That’s a great way to create depth. I just planted honeysuckle earlier this year and can’t wait to get a climbing rose for another fence section in the back. Just make sure if it’s against a house, to use a trellis. Many climbing plants, if not pruned, can damage brick and other house materials.

    If it’s shady, I’m a big fan of hostas. Full sun, I love the daisy-looking plants like black-eyed susans, bachelor buttons, echinacea, shasta daisies, marguerites, etc. I also finally planted a small Japanese Maple tree and took advantage of the Casey trees rebate. Another suggestion, is to use perennials for the bulk of planting because they’ll come back every year, usually multiplying, and then use annuals for edging, planters, and pots.

    Ok, I’ll stop now. Can you tell I love to garden? I need to get my veggies into pots soon. Lastly, I go to Frager’s on Capitol Hill, 11th and Penn, SE. I know it’s probably a little more expensive than a big box store, but it’s close, you can ask all kinds of questions and get great, helpful, answers.

  • Living Social has a 50% off coupon for Garden District today:

  • Things you can’t kill around here: hosta (so many different varieties – perennials, but they die back in the fall); liriope grass (I prefer the variegated – perennials, and stay green all year); azaleas, as mentioned; boxwood shrubs; crape myrtle (great showy small tree – very Southern).

    As someone who grew up going to Behnkes with my mother, I would say: stay away from their azaleas. They look great when you buy them, but don’t always do well after that. My favorite place now is Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville, Murlin (take 50 out toward Annapolis).

  • I plan to go out to Merrifield Garden Center in Fairfax, VA in a few weeks to give my little front yard a grass-free makeover. Their website looks great. Has anyone been there?

    • Merrifield is great. They are a little on the expensive side but their staff is top notch and I haven’t found a better selection. It is a hike out to Fairfax, but worth it in my opinion.

      If you dig on swine, there is a little shack in the middle of the facility that serves pretty good pulled pork sandwiches.

  • I like Johnson’s Florist & Garden Center, the store is on the intersection of Wisconsin and Van Ness. They had pretty much everything I needed.

    Plant some herbs – They are easy to maintain and always useful.

    Grow some Mint, it grows very easily, spread really fast and you can have a lot of it from just one plant. Edible, tastes good, you can make mojitos and will give your garden a minty fresh smell ^_^

    I also have cilantro and use a lot in my cooking.

  • Is Old City Green any good? I wanted to head by there on my way home from work… Somehow I’ve spent two weeks not being able to get sweet potato vines (which also do real well here).

  • I have a somewhat related question.

    I need to cover my 200 sq ft front yard with 4″-6″ of organic topsoil before putting in new sod. Problem is my yard (I think like many people’s) is elevated six feet from street level with no option of running a wheelbarrow up the slope (there are steps and stone walls). And as a row house…no option from the back either.

    Has anyone figured out a way to move/place 3 cubic yards (nearly 6000 lbs!) of topsoil on an elevated front yard? Can you blow it in?

    All suggestions welcomed!

    • When I worked for a landscaping company, we’d lay a large, long board up the steps and get a running start with a wheelbarrow-load of whatever type of material we were moving. Took a little practice, and wipe outs were incredible (especially when you were trying to get in the back of a dump truck and didn’t quite make it w/ a barrow full of stone).

  • Second on the crepe myrtles. They love the heat, give you beautiful blooms in August, very robust. You can get them real small and keep them that way or let them get big.

  • I would suggest planting any mint in a container, unless you want it taking over your front yard. Don’t get me wrong, I love mint. It’s just better to keep it where you want it.

  • Also a fan of Gingko’s and Frager’s on the Hill.

    Cone flowers are a great durable plant that keeps coming back.

    Speedwells also are great and they’re perennials that don’t need a lot of work. Bees and butterflies love them.

  • If you just want some inexpensive plants go to Home Depot or Lowes.

    If you want long term plants go to . They are absolutely the best in the area. They will even deliver and plant trees for you if you don’t have a truck.

    They also have all hardscape items you need as well as any specialty items you could only dream of purchasing.

  • Just wanted to say to the person who mentioned sweet potato vines- they won’t be out at the stores for quite awhile- much more of a warm weather plant. If you dig them up in the fall after the leaves have died back and keep them loosely covered with soil, you can plant them again in the spring and they’ll reward you by coming back up late June/July.

  • Walk around the neighborhood and look at other similar yards. Consider the overall streetscape as well. Watch out for things that will overgrow the space. Plant shrubs & trees in the fall.

    I love American Plant on River Road- always helpful and knowledgeable staff

  • How about some poppies and HQW? No really, the basics I’ve seen work (as boring as it may be)…daffs and tulips in spring, irises, then coneflower and black eyed susans. Sprinkle in some antique brick, phlox, cedums, boxwood, perhaps a cherry tree, and of course a water fountain.

  • I wonder if some folks could suggest some plants that can handle dog urine. I have a very small space right on the side walk and dogs just destroy everything I plant.

    • Not very exciting, but liriope is a tough plant. And depending on the amount of sunlight, creeping phlox might also be a good bet

      • …and if you don’t want only liriope, you could plant a knockout rose or other thorny rose in the middle and it will keep dogs out of the box. The liriope can take any dog pee from the side, but at least dogs won’t get inside the box. This is basically what we planted in our tree box.

  • Semi-related, the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival is coming up May 1st and 2nd. Great fun and worth the trip up to the Howard County Fairgrounds. Go early, catch some sheep dog shows, pet some bunnies, buy some yarn, AND there is always a big local nursery with a huge stand – specialized in local/regional plants.

    Another recommendation for full-sun – lavender bushes. The hotter and drier, the more they seem to thrive. And the bees go crazy for the summer blossoms.

  • Despite some bad press for Garden District here, I’ve found their staff to be super helpful in helping me with landscaping ideas for a shadier yard. And I walked by yesterday and their outside area is absolutely overflowing with plants right now.

  • Nature by Design in Alexandria is the best, closest source for native plants, and you won’t get confused and end up with what is actually an invasive weed in our area (e.g., English ivy, burning bush) that most of the other nurseries will happily sell you. Natives are the best way to go if you’re interested in a yard that is more than just aesthetically appealing. Unlike most of the exotics that are so popular around here (e.g., crepe myrtles), natives will also provide the birds and the bees with a little something. Read the “landscaping philosophy” on the Nature by Design website to learn more about the advantages of going native. I figure that if we care about the environment (as many gardeners seem to do), we need to try to restore our own little plots of it as best we can.

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