Roots and Shoots: Plant Sales? Now?

Order forms available to secure your seedlings

By Pamela Doan

Along with seed catalogs, I love poring over the order forms for plant sales. They are an affordable way to buy a lot of seedlings and I can walk around my yard later and recall the provenance of each of the plants.

A few of my favorite sources are the annual sales by the Putnam County Soil and Water Conservation District (PCSWD), the Native Plant Sale in Valhalla, the Master Gardener Plant Sale in Brewster and the Garden Club sale in Cold Spring (I volunteer with both of the latter two).

Last year I planted about 70 seedlings, and this spring won’t be any different. Since my vegetable garden became too shady, I’ve used it as a tree nursery with hydrangea, hazelnut, viburnum, witchhazel, river birch and paw paw seedlings waiting their turn to be transplanted to the yard. The garden fence protects them and they don’t seem to mind the partial shade. I don’t water them often, but the soil is healthy.

The order forms distributed by the PCSWD and Native Plant Center make it easy to find the right plant for the right situation by including a lot of information about each one and its value in the landscape that goes beyond beauty. I do love a plant that is more than a pretty face.

Bearberry grows well as a groundcover. (Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)

The PCSWD provides all the growing requirements, growth stats and even a column for best uses. That category includes wetland, erosion control and edible food, as well as windbreak, Christmas trees and wildlife.

The NPC early order form is polished and showcases color photos of each selection. I tend to look up each of the plants anyway, just to make sure I know what I’m doing. It’s also a way to learn about different plants. At this point in the winter, my mind is out of practice and I have to fall into the lingo of Latin names again.

The PCSWD has bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), a low-growing evergreen shrub with red berries that will tolerate the acidic soil in my yard. I’ve been considering it for slopes in my yard because it will spread and grow several feet across but stay less than a foot high. With evergreen leaves, it will look nice in winter, too, and the birds will enjoy the berries.

A pack of 10 is $20 and I can plant some in different areas to see if it takes. I like it as a ground cover and it isn’t invasive like pachysandra, which can take over and is hard to get remove. I have a large patch that was planted by previous owners and I may need a flamethrower to make it go away.

Spotted bee balm

I’m tempted by a new addition to the PCSWD selection this year, the butternut tree. It’s a native tree that I haven’t seen growing anywhere in the woods. Nut trees are kind of a fantasy, though. It will take 7 to 10 years to produce so this is a planting for the future more than an expectation that I’ll be roasting nuts that I’ve harvested in the side yard. There won’t be any instant gratification.

The NPC catalogue has a spotted bee balm (Monarda punctata) that I can’t resist. It’s fragrant and is described as having “snapdragon-like yellow flowers spotted purple.” The pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) has been tempting me for years and I might have to go for it. There’s still space in my tree nursery.

Pagoda dogwood

I’m on the lookout for winterberry but neither sale has it and I might have to order online. It’s a native shrub that has lovely, bright red berries in winter, as the name suggests. I need two to bear fruit and it hasn’t been easy to find in nurseries. It’s part of the holly ilex family. Even the thorniest holly won’t make it in my yard because the deer will eat it but I think winterberry will make it. My cats just chased down a rodent that I thought was a mouse but discovered was a vole as I scooped it out the door. The threats to plants and shrubs in my yard are numerous.

The NPC deadline is Feb. 21 and the plants can be picked up at its sale on April 29. The PCSWD order deadline is March 29 and plants are available for pickup on April 21 and 22. You can download the forms at sunywcc.edu/about/npc and putnamcountyny.com/keepputnamgreen.