Choosing Plants in Calgary
One of our favourite spring and summer traditions is browsing the beautiful plants and flowers at our local garden centre. Perhaps it could be because our winters are so long and our summers seem so short. Or maybe it’s the feeling like you’re on a mini vacation by taking in the beauty in the aisles. Whatever the reason, there is something so special about the gorgeous colours, smell of fresh dirt and imagining the endless possibilities of how the plants and flowers will look in our own garden and the gardens of our customers.
We love helping our customers design their dream gardens and are inspired by their creativity and ideas on what they want to see in their own gardens. However, we know that it can be a very confusing world when intricacies of plant types, zones and more start to creep in. That’s why we have put together the following guide for buying plants in Calgary. It is meant to be a helpful tool to determine what plants might be suitable for your space and how best to buy for Calgary’s unique climate.
As outlined by Natural Resources Canada (http://www.planthardiness.gc.ca/?m=15&lang=en), Canada’s plant hardiness zone is one of the most useful tools for gardeners and landscapers. Formulated in the early 1960’s, the zones are based on years of data that were used to develop plant hardiness zone maps so that the ideal plants could be selected for specific locations. In the most basic terms, the lower the zone, the cooler the climate; the higher the zone, the warmer the climate (map outlined below - http://www.planthardiness.gc.ca/images/PHZ_2014_Map_Side_B.pdf).
One of the first considerations we make when purchasing and planning shrub and flower installations is the zone of the plant. We ensure that we stay within the Calgary zone or lower, but never higher than the indicated zone. For example, if a plant is rated as zone 5 and we are planting in zone 3, we will not use the plant because it requires a climate that is much warmer than the climate in which we are planting.
Calgary has an interesting and diverse climate. Technically speaking, Calgary is zoned as 4a (for more information on this, please visit: http://www.planthardiness.gc.ca/?m=15&lang=en). However, in our experience, plants, shrubs and trees that are categorized as Zone 1, 2 or 3 have the best chance of surviving in Calgary. There are some exceptions to this rule (annuals, for instance – we’ll get into that a little later), however if you ensure that any plant that you purchase is a zone 3 or lower, you are giving that plant the best chance it has to survive the often crazy Calgary climate!
And pro tip – even if a nursery sells a certain perennial, shrub or tree, it doesn’t mean that they are necessarily suitable for growing in Calgary. It’s a great idea to check where the plants and trees that nurseries carry were actually grown and beware of the zones of the plants you buy (cedars – we’re talking to you!).
Perennial vs Annual
One of the most confusing things when it comes to plants and flowers is whether they are annuals or perennials. Simply put, annuals are flowers, grasses, etc that you plant in the summer, and which will last one season (like geraniums, pansies, impatiens – the list is endless!). Perennials are plants and flowers that you plant in the ground and will come back (with a little love, water and sun) year after year (think daylilies, astilbe, lupins). Typically, you reserve annuals for planting in pots and flowerbeds, and you plant perennials directly in the ground (the warmth of which helps them survive our long and cold winters!).
Some garden centres are organized a little better than others and you can clearly see which plants and flowers are which. But, when in doubt, have a look at the plant’s tag and it will indicate whether it’s an annual or perennial. And remember to have a little fun with your annuals. The summer in Calgary is warm enough to incorporate some tropical plants in your outdoor space – just make sure you don’t put them out too early and be sure to bring them inside to beautify your indoor space before it gets too cold!
Shade or Sun
Now that you know what zone you’re buying for and if you’re looking for an annual or perennial, it’s time to consider if the plant you’re eyeing likes the shade, partial shade or full sun. This really makes a difference in the longevity and success of your plants.
Monitor the space where you are planting and see what kind of sunlight it gets. If it’s by the house with partial shade, stick with perennials like astilbes, ferns and hostas (don’t even get us started on hostas - there are so many amazing kinds and we love them all!). If you have a space with lots of direct sunlight, lupins, weigelas, salvia, daylilies and peonies will be your best friends.
We think that every beautiful outdoor space needs an ornamental grass - or 10! There are so many varieties to choose from and they love living in our climate. Karl Foerster Reed grasses are the most commonly used grasses in Calgary. They are hardy, beautiful and change colour in the fall. *Swoon*
We hope this helps with the confusion of plants in Calgary. If you have any questions or if you would like any additional information, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.
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