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Pair Like a Pro

Pair Like a Pro
April 2018

Stumped over how to build artful landscaping into your outdoor spaces? Here, find three plant combos centered around trees you might already have growing

We’ve all seen it: a lonely tree planted in a front yard amidst a bleak sea of grass. What it needs is companions—plants of varying height, scale, and mass that can be layered in around it, amping up the curb appeal (not to mention your green space’s biodiversity). But achieving such a feat can be a challenge. To lend a hand, we selected a trio of partners for three popular Southern landscape trees. Create these exact combinations, or just tap them for inspiration, but always aim to arrange like plants in groupings of three or five, depending on the size of your space.

Partial Shade (See images above)

A. Japanese maple (Acer palmatum): Available with either red or green leaves, this deciduous tree can grow 10 to 25 feet high.

B. Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’): This herbaceous perennial grass, which tops out at 18 inches tall, adds a pop of chartreuse.

C. Coral bells (Heuchera sanguinea): Reaching nine to 12 inches in height, this perennial’s vermilion-red bloom spikes serve as hummingbird magnets.

D. Dwarf black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’): A low-growing, dark evergreen ground cover, it contrasts nicely with the forest grass and sets off the blooms of coral bells.

Full to Partial Sun (on a large scale)

A. Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora): Mature magnolias have huge root systems that you won’t want to damage. Instead of planting underneath the tree, counterbalance its mass by creating a nearby bed.

B. Dogwood (Cornus florida): These April and May bloomers grow to 15 to 20 feet in full sun and a bit more in partial shade. Fall fruit feeds the birds.

C. Sasanqua camellia (Camellia sasanqua): Depending on the variety, 10- to 12-foot-tall sasanquas can give color from late summer to winter. To incorporate a lower level, mix in a few dwarf varieties.

D. Southern indica azalea (Azalea indica ‘Formosa’): Plant in masses for large sweeps of color in early spring. They’ll grow to eight feet tall.

Full Sun

A. Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica): This low maintenance deciduous tree is sold in many varieties that range in height (usually 15 to 20 feet) and color.

B. Dwarf loropetalum ‘Purple Diamond’ (Loropetalum chinense): With purple foliage topping out at five feet, it blooms in early spring.

C. Sweetgrass (Muhlenbergia filipes): Plant large clusters in full sun for an amazing display of billowing pink to purple inflorescence in the fall.

D. Asiatic jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum): This evergreen ground cover will highlight the crape myrtle’s beautiful trunk that is exposed after leaves fall.


Photograph (Asiatic jasmine) by Jonathan Miller