One of the best times for planting in the Carolinas is right around the corner—glorious autumn. The cooler nights and occasional rainy days make it the perfect time to get out and dig. Start now to think about which trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals you want to include in your landscaping, but first, know (and understand), your hardiness zone.
According to the USDA, the “official” designator of hardiness zones, Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Durham, NC, are in Zone 7a, which means plants need to be able to survive temperatures as low as 0˚ F. Raleigh, Greensboro, NC and Fort Mill, Greenville and Simpsonville, SC are designated as 7b, which means plants would need to be hardy to 5˚ F.
Another good way to figure out what grows best in your area is to simply look around you. Make notes through the seasons on trees, plants and shrubs that catch your eye. Also note if they are growing in the shade or full sun, or, a little of both.
For flowers in the mid-summer Carolina heat, it’s hard to beat a crepe myrtle. Found in a wide variety of colors and sizes, these plants can live for years, thriving in both Carolinas. Just don’t be guilty of “crepe murder” when your beautiful specimen begins to grow.
For a thick, natural screen between your home and a busy road (or a busybody neighbor), Thuja Green Giant is a fast grower that is relatively disease-free and easy to care for. It’s called a giant because it is—growing 40-50 feet high. NC State Cooperative Extension recommends mixing other screening plants in to attract a variety of wildlife and avoid pests and disease. You’ll find a great list of screening trees and shrubs on their website.
The airy, delicate leaves of Japanese dwarf maples can add stunning curb appeal. Just make sure the conditions are right for the light and soil requirements of the specimen you choose, as well as for how big it will grow.
And of course, everyone hopes to have room for a Carolina favorite, such as a sweet magnolia, dogwood or redbud. With an understory filled with colorful azaleas, you’ll have something to look forward to springtime after springtime.
But who says only spring and summer bloomers can be interesting? Red and yellow twig dogwoods add unexpected color to your winter landscape. River birch trees have interesting textured bark, and holly varieties brighten the winter with their red berries. Choose a camellia bush that blooms in the fall or winter for a particularly special Carolina landscape touch.