Choosing appropriate state plants

STILLWATER  –  Although there are still several more weeks of winter, it is never too early to start planning your spring and summer landscape. With so many choices of plants, shrubs and trees on the market, how nice would it be for gardeners to have a cheat sheet?

Well, they do, in fact, have a cheat sheet. It comes in the form of a plant promotion program called Oklahoma Proven. Each year a set of plants is chosen by horticulturists that will help consumers choose plants appropriate for Oklahoma gardens and the diverse landscapes across the state, said David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension consumer horticulturist.

“The Oklahoma Proven program has been going strong since 1999. Each year the program features a tree, shrub, perennial and annual,” Hillock said. “In 2009, a new category for the more adventurous gardener, Collector’s Choice, was added. This year’s Oklahoma Proven selections include fringetree, dwarf palmetto, milkweed and firecracker flower. The Collector’s Choice is the jujube, also known as Chinese Date.”

Chosen with the more adventuresome gardener in mind, the jujube is a wonderful small tree with attractive foliage and branching structure. As an added bonus, the fruit is edible. This is a fast-growing tree and does well in average to medium moisture, but does need soil that drains well. Jujube doesn’t have any serious insect or disease problems and the flowers are fragrant.

“If you choose this tree for your landscape project, make sure it’s in a location that receives full sun and has well-drained soil,” he said.

The fringetree is a deciduous, native shrub or small tree with a spreading, rounded habit that grows to about 12 to 20 feet tall. Cultivars of a species native to China, Korea and Japan also are available. Both forms of fringetree are noted for their profuse spring bloom of fragrant white flowers.

Hillock said the dwarf palmetto is a slow-growing, ground-hugging, rugged fan palm and provides interest and variety to a damp, shaded area. It produces pale green or bluish fan-like evergreen leaves atop spineless stems that come out from a crown of underground roots. It makes a great accent plant and can tolerate areas with poor drainage. In the landscape, it works well as a specimen plant, in mass plantings or in a container.

Native to America, the milkweed is well adapted to many soil types, of which Oklahoma has several. Best known as the host plant for monarch butterflies, milkweed is quite popular.

“There has been a lot of effort across the country to reestablish lost habitats to help save the declining monarch population. This effort is taking center stage for some gardeners, butterfly enthusiasts and conservationists,” he said. “The butterfly milkweed, also known as Asclepias tuberosa, features bright orange to yellow-orange flowers on upright stems that grow up to 3 feet tall. This plant prefers dry to medium, well-drained soils in full sun and is very drought tolerant, which makes this selection a great choice for Oklahoma gardeners.”

The firecracker flower, native to India and Sri Lanka, features apricot to salmon-colored flowers. Plants bloom through the summer and are great pollinator attractors. Firecracker grows best in organically rich, well-drained soils in full to part sun, but will tolerate full shade, too. This plant is versatile as it can be grown in beds, borders, containers or as a houseplant.

“The Oklahoma Proven selections are a great place to start when planning your spring and summer garden,” Hillock said. “Obviously, there aren’t many things that come with a guarantee, but these plants have been tested and proven to grow well in our state’s diverse growing conditions.”