Plants that thrive in Cobb County
One of my favorite nurseries in Marietta is Stovalls off Canton Road and Sawyer Road. Their plants are large, very healthy and affordable. Just remember, though, that their primary customers are landscapers. They get very busy and cannot always give you the personalized service that Pike’s can. But their prices are worth a little inconvenience. They also are not open on Saturdays except in April and May.
Dwarf Azaleas are handy little plants that bloom prolifically in spring and never get more than 1 foot tall and 2 feet wide. They need a little afternoon shade to really thrive. Water regularly, but do not over water and don’t let them get wet roots! Prune immediately after flowering if you have to. And use a slow-release acid fertilizer (for azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons) in mid-March to increase blooms.
Japanese Kerria is a terrific plant BUT only if you put it in the right place. It’s ideal in a part-shade location where it can spread out because it grows quickly and you don’t want to always be pruning it. Just let it grow. In spring you will be rewarded with thousands of yellow ping-pong sized blooms that will steal the show for several weeks. Kerria doesn’t need much – I don’t water mine much, and I don’t fertilize it. But don’t put this in a small garden. At any time, you can prune it right back to the ground and it comes back strong, but make sure you don’t prune it just before it’s about to bloom in April.
Lilacs are hard to grow in Georgia because they need very cold winters to bloom properly. But there are a few kinds that do well here, and Pike's carries them in spring. This is a Josee Reblooming Lilac which never did very well in my garden until I read that in Ohio, they put ashes from the fireplace around lilacs all winter long. The ashes give the lilac the lime it needs! Ever since I’ve done that, mine have been beautiful! Prune to shape only after flowering. Likes regular watering. The best fertilizer is the ashes. Likes full sun, too.
White Lights Azalea – every year I get so excited when the White Lights deciduous azalea blooms under my bedroom window. It is such a treat! It only lasts two weeks but it’s so beautiful. Mine faces northeast, so it gets shade from the hot afternoon sun. Prune immediately after flowering in April because by June, it’s already forming next year’s buds. Fertilize with a slow-release acid fertilizer in early spring. Enjoys regular watering, but won’t die without it.
Carpet Roses, or Drift® Roses, are lovely little plants that like full sun and bloom all summer. However, like all roses, they need a lot of fertilizer, insect control and disease control (they get black spots on their leaves). Bayer makes a great product you can sprinkle around the base, but for these to take off properly, you really have to use it every 5-6 weeks. At least, that is my experience. Cut these way back in the early spring. They do better when they receive regular watering.
These are Strawberry Vanilla Hydrangeas, and I’m sad to say that mine have never turned the strawberry color. They just go from white to brown. It’s been such a disappointment. Every year I hope, and every year I’m disappointed again. If more frequent watering does the trick next year, I’ll be sure and update this description.
The rose I have had the best luck with is called Easy Does It. Provided I give it regular water, and lots of slow release fertilizer every 6 weeks, it just blooms and blooms and does well in almost full sun in a pot by the pool. I cut it way back down in very early spring. Jerry has a customer who says his roses never looked as good as they do with the Nelson’s Rose Food we gave him.
In 2010, I planted 13 alternating white GG Gerbing and pink George Taber Evergreen Azaleas all along my creek in the back. Every year they grow bigger and bigger and the blooms are such a treat in April. A creek bank lined with pine trees is the perfect location for azaleas, because the pine trees give them shade and acidify the soil, and the rain draining down into the creek keeps them moist. Azaleas, however, don’t like wet roots, so you have to be sure they are raised somewhat. Twice a year I rake all the pine needles around the base of the plants and they just love it.
Ferdy Hedge Rose – this is one plant that I am 100% certain that Nelson Plant Food’s Color Star made all the difference. These three bushes languished for years and I even contemplated getting rid of them but this year in early spring I put fertilizer all around them and this was the result! They bloomed for 6 weeks instead of the usual 3.
In early spring, quite a while before other plants, First Snow Spirea comes alive in a blaze of glory for two weeks. I love mine. It’s a full sun plant that gets about 4 x 4, and takes care of itself with no fussing from me all summer long.
I adore my Variegated Weigela. I’ve had a pair of them since 2007, and in 2015, probably because of the Nelson Plant Food, but also because we had such a wet spring, it was covered in blossoms for 6 weeks. It gets 5-6 feet tall and wide so it provides quite a show in April. The leaves are two-toned, hence the name Variegated. It’s just a lovely all-round plant – beautiful in spring, attractive in summer, and requires very little care. I have to be careful, though, not to prune too late or it affects next year’s blooms.
St. John’s Wort, or Hypericum, is a beautiful plant with blue leaves! This was taken in early morning, which intensifies the blue. Cut this back down to a few inches in early spring, and fertilize with a slow-release fertilizer. In summer, keep it adequately watered but it doesn’t like wet feet. It needs good drainage. Mine is in full sun and gets 3 feet tall by 4 feet wide.
The purple bush behind the annual pink lantana is called Blue Chip Butterfly bush. The reason it’s so great is that it is a miniature! It only gets about 18” tall and 2 feet wide. Every spring, I cut it back down to 10 inches, and the panicles and leaves start growing in by May! It does appreciate regular watering and slow-release fertilizer in April and July.
I love my Alamanda, but in Cobb County, unfortunately, you have to keep it in the garage over the winter. For these types of plants that I am just unwilling to part with, Jerry has built me several dollies and I roll the plants in and out of the garage on weekends during the winter. Sometimes, I’ll leave them out for an entire week if the temperature doesn’t go below 40° at night.
For a small space that needs a little tree, you just can’t beat the Bonfire Patio Peach. It is the harbinger of spring – the first tree to bloom! I can’t tell you how it lifts your spirits after months of winter to wake up one morning and see it COVERED in blooms. Then the leaves come in deep red, and over the summer turn to a lighter red, and then green. But the new growth all summer is red, so it’s actually two-toned. My first Patio Peach, however, got scale and died. So I planted another in its place and sprayed it annually with Bayer Insect Control and it has done just fine! It benefits from a tree and shrub fertilizer, and also appreciates water in drought. No pruning needed.
The Mardi Gras Abelia is one of my all-time favorite plants and I put it in as many yards as I can. It surprises me that I don’t see it very often in nurseries. It likes full sun, doesn’t need watering, gets about 3 feet tall and wide, the leaves are multi-colored, it’s evergreen, and it produces flowers in August that last through November. It looks fabulous contrasted with any evergreen with thick, green, dark foliage like the dwarf Hinoki Cypress behind it, and the Princess Encore Azalea on the right.
I love my Royal Purple Smoketree. Its shape and the shape of the leaves is so unusual. When the leaves come in in spring, they are dark red like this. Then the blooms come, and over the summer the leaves turn green. It loves full sun, hates being fussed over, and is covered in smoke-like blossoms in spring. This one is still a baby – it’ll probably get 5 feet tall and wide. You cut it back to nothing in the spring because it blooms on new wood.
This is the Smoke Tree bloom in spring.
Rhododendrons flourish in acid soil, which we tend to have here in Cobb County. They prefer morning sun and afternoon shade, and can get pretty big, but there are lots of varieties to choose from. Pike's has all kinds in spring and fall. They only need watering in periods of drought. Prune immediately after flowering, and only if necessary. They benefit from a slow-release acid fertilizer for camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons.
The Strawberry Dazzle Crape Myrtle is an amazing plant! They are available from Pike’s in the spring and summer. Mine blooms month after month in the summer. It will lose its blossoms, and lo and behold a week later a whole bunch of new buds form and turn into blossoms and you have yet another show. It only gets about 2 feet high and 3 feet wide. It will benefit from a slow release fertilizer and regular watering. Cut it back to 8 inches in March. All crape myrtles need full sun!
In Mid-May, nothing beats the Wine and Roses Weigela. The deep pink blooms come in against wine-red leaves. It is a beautiful plant. Blooms grow on old wood, so prune immediately after flowering, if you have to prune at all. Prefers moist soil and thrives with a slow-release fertilizer in early spring.
If you have the space for it, the Eastern Snowball Viburnum is a show stopper in spring! But it grows big – 10 x 10. Here’s the thing I have noticed with this. I would prune mine back, and the following season it just didn’t have as many blooms as I wanted. So this past year, I didn’t prune it at all and in April and May, it looked like this! Covered in blossoms. So I think the answer is to put it in a place where it can expand as much as it wants. It is deciduous, so in winter there’s not much left to it except bare branches. I’m sure it benefits from slow-release plant food. And regular watering doesn’t hurt although mine is in a place where I can’t water it much.
I just don’t see how any garden could be complete without Pieris Japonica. There are many different kinds, and some get big and some stay 3 x 3 so choose carefully. They have so many attributes: evergreen, gorgeous flowers in spring, red and green leaves, and they thrive in shady places that get a little sun. I noticed mine deteriorated in the summer, but as soon as I gave it regular watering, it came back with lots of new red leaves and almost doubled in size.
Pieris Japonica blossom
After blooming solidly since the end of July, my Carnation Encore Azaleas are finally starting to wane a little in October. But what I wanted to mention is that I bought two very large pots at Garden Ridge (now At Home), filled them with Miracle Gro planting soil, and five years later they are still going strong. Now, this one was in bad shape in March. I think the very cold winter had a bad effect on it. But a cup of Nelson’s Azalea Plant food in April ensured it was covered in thousands of blooms all summer long, in full sun.
The Gwinnett Environmental Center in Duluth (a great place for weddings, by the way) has planted dozens of American Beautyberry, which grows 5-8 feet tall and almost as wide. I took this photo on Labor Day weekend. The thing about this bush is that it doesn’t need any water or fertilization apart from what natures provides. You cut it right back down in early spring because the flowers grow on the new branches.
My Pinky Winky Hydrangea is a good example of a plant that got much bigger than I expected. It’s 7 feet tall and wide. Always read the labels carefully before you buy, and make sure you put the plant in a place where it can expand. I cut mine down to 8 inches every March and it comes right back to 7 feet tall and wide by June! Eventually I’ll have to get rid of it because I have other plants around it that will get bigger and need space.
Camellia Japonica – this camellia is covered in red blooms in early March. Although four of my camellias handle full sun very well, this one does the best. It’s in afternoon shade during the hottest part of the day. Some stay relatively small – 6 feet tall. Others can get twice as big. Just make sure you read the label before buying so you get the right size. They benefit from slow-release acid fertilizer, and like to be watered during weeks of drought. It’s best to prune once every few years, and then only to thin them out by removing inner branches to increase air circulation.
My eight Autumn Rouge Encore Azaleas were all dying and I was miserable about it. After researching on the internet, I realized that they just do not like wet roots, so I asked Pine Straw King on Canton Road to deliver four yards of organic planting soil, plunked half of it down on this hill, and put all the Encores up there surrounding the telephone pole! Oh my goodness, do they ever love it up there! Great drainage, lots of great dirt, and of course, Nelson’s Azalea food. They are in seventh heaven and bloom non-stop from the beginning of August until November.
We had a row of four Nikko Blue Hydrangeas at the deep end of our pool. The tree that was shading them had to come down, and without the shade, it was no longer a good environment for them. So instead, I put in one of these Tardiva hydrangeas which love sun, and thank goodness I only put in one, because it has grown into a monster which I’ll eventually have to take out. But in the right place, Tardivas are very attractive and provide good contrast. They are covered in foot-long white panicles most of the summer and into the fall.
I replaced the blue Nikko hydrangeas with Endless Summer Hydrangeas. Lo and behold, they are coming in vibrant pink, which means the soil is alkaline and I have no idea how it got that way! But the great thing about Endless Summers is that they bloom right into October in Cobb County. The Nikkos started in very late May, and were pretty much finished by July 4th.
I just love my Crape Myrtles. I have three, and none of them gets particularly big. They are light pink, medium pink, and the dark pinkish-red one, Tonto, is in the middle. I tend to put Tonto in a lot of yards because it only gets 10 feet tall and wide, and it is literally covered in deep, rich pink blooms for 8 weeks. Nelson Plant Food makes a special crape myrtle fertilizer that helps, too. Crape myrtles must have 10 hours of sun a day to bloom properly. Don’t ever plant one in shade.
Certain plants go really well together. I am so lucky that my White Evergreen Azalea blooms at the same time every year as the red climbing rose on the fence.
Jerry French Landscaping – serving Cobb County since 1994