to Cultivar or not to Cultivar?

tuben

I have often wondered why so many Native Plant people seem to turn up their noses at cultivars. They aren't bad plants and in many cases are an affordable means to grow natives in ones garden. I have had better luck with cultivars, after spending lots of money on full natives that ended up not making it passed the two year mark. Though I try my best to get the genuine article, there are many times when its cultivar has come through instead.

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

I'd be interested to hear about specific examples of cultivars that outlived the straight species in your garden. Not to argue with you, just trying to expand my knowledge of what works well. I haven't had your experience of better survival rate with cultivars,
but I'm not sure I would say the survival rate is any worse.

Whether I use cultivars or not depends on the location -- up front where appearance is more important I have used a few cultivars where I wanted a more compact plant or one with specific color. I've got Panicum virgatum 'Cheyenne Sky' in my hell strip, for instance, because it stays low enough that we can see over it when backing out. I like the white petals and green center of Echinacea purpurea 'Virgin', which blend well with other flowers.

Out in back by the rain garden it's wilder, less controlled, and I prefer the straight native species. I try to get starter plants from different local native nurseries if I can, which I figure is good for genetic diversity.

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

One other thing -- I can get straight native species much cheaper than cultivars in most cases. I don't shop for plants at the big box stores, though. I want to be sure I'm getting plants that weren't grown with neonicotinoid pesticides. Part of what I'm trying to do with natives is to support pollinators and other insects. I certainly don't want to be poisoning them. I get most of my plants from an in-state specialty native nursery (they do spring sales that are reasonably priced), or from online nurseries like Santa Rosa Gardens that have specific policies against neonicotinoid use.

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tuben

Basically the New Jersey tea I found was better as a cultivar. I spent almost a hundred dollars on non cultivars of the species just to watch them die after two years. The cultivar, though not with a white flower, which is really why I wanted the plant, is doing great and very healthy. I spent almost thirty for it. Most of the cultivars I have purchased are from Proven Winners, which I don't believe use Neonicotinoid pesticides. I purchased their Button Bush and it is doing great, the one I got from a native grower didn't make it passed its first winter. There are others that I have tried and failed. I have yet to try anything my self from seed. Maybe that is the way to go.

Now I'm off to see if Proven Winners does use Neonicotinoid while growing their plants. Thanks for the heads up!

We are lucky to have local garden center that grows their own natives. They are mainly perennial flowers and not shrubs. Those do very well in my garden.

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ZachS. z5 Platteville, Colorado

Some plant families I think have nicer "straight species" or "wild types" than the cultivars. Specifically I'm thinking about the Penstemons, of which only a precious few hybrids and cultivars I think are worth spending money on when there are si many amazing options provided by nature.

Some plants however are equally great regardless. I grown both "wild type" and cultivars of Agastache and while I have had a little trouble with establishing some of the cultivars of A. canna, the ones that do make it are just as remarkable as the straight A. rupestris on the opposite side of the yard.

In some cases even, cultivars can be better. I have both seed grown and named cultivar little blue stem and the reliability of the cultivars to be a nice, true, powder blue is better than the green variants I get from the seed grown ones, in my honest opinion.

So it's all in what you are looking for. My landscape is not a restoration site so I can be picky about it and plant what looks good to me. Gardening is meant to be enjoyable and fun, not full of hard and fast rules about what you should and should not grow.

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

I had a look at the New Jersey Tea selections on the Proven Winners site. I notice that all three are hybrids, not cultivars. Marie Bleu, for instance, is a hybrid that involves three parent species -- Ceanothus americanus and C. herbaceous (aka C. ovatus), both native, but also C. coeruleus, which is not:

http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=293358&isprofile=0&pt=4

The plant may still have ecological value as, say, a nectar source, but I would expect that some characteristics of the native species, such as serving as a larval host plant for certain butterflies or moths, would not be true of the hybrid.

Edited: No value judgment implied -- this is not to say you're a bad person for having planted a hybrid. I have hybrids in my gardens, I just don't consider them native, whereas I do consider the little bluestem cultivar 'MinnBlueA" to be effectively native.

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Jay 6a n.c. IL.

Usually if a native plant fails to thive in my garden, I just stop growing it.We have and are still in a small drought,and whatever natives in my garden don't survive will not be replanted again. I prefer to use the natural natives,but if it's a cultivar of a native,that's ok. I wouldn't use hybrids that contain non native parenting.

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WoodsTea 6a MO(6a)

I think that's a good strategy, jaybirdyj. I've lost a couple of New Jersey Tea plants as well, but I'm sure I'm haven't put them in ideal spots, and my soil is heavier than they'd like.

The nice thing about little bluestem is that around here there are multiple sources for the native plant at fairly low prices -- so you can experiment without spending a fortune, and select your favorites. One of mine is an especially vigorous one from a local source that has great color, but I also like MinnBlueA (aka 'Blue Heaven').

For shrubs I have generally gone with cultivars, since I am usually planting just one or two, and it takes longer to tell whether they're going to do work. Also the native shrubs I'm after are often just too big for my small property.


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Jay 6a n.c. IL.

I have a Helenium cultivar and I don't mind because it's still a native plant. I planted a new jersey tea last year and it was very small.It died back to the ground over winter,and I thought it was gone,but it sprang back up.Hope it makes it. I also had a new sweet fern that had a little green in spring but bit the dust.

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(Jay/Jax FL/Zone 9a)

I prefer cultivars when I'm looking for smaller size (I have a small yard and while I like things bushy and lush, I do require some more compact plants in certain areas because literally I do not have the room) or a different color since design is very important to me. I have a big thing about not mixing red and pink or cool whites with yellows in my yard, for instance.

Example: I recently got a 'Florida Sunshine' Yellow anise cultivar and it's very pretty and perfect for brightening up a partially shady spot near the house and I got some orange individual Cheyenne Spirit coneflowers that are perfect for my warm colored bed and are still popular with butterflies.

I also support "nativars" because I see them as helping mainstream natives. I do avoid some that I think limit their utility for wildlife (e.g. double petaled Echinaceas look cool but I know pollinators often have a harder time visiting such flowers so I would not buy them). I also don't like when they're a hybrid of a non-native species and a native species unless maybe, /maybe/ if they're somehow sterile or something and are incredibly amazing for pollinators.

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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

Most people have amended garden soil and their yards are a cultivated space where some native species will have a harder time. Cultivars are more likely to be designed for the normal garden. The species I grow are matched to the soil that I have. I have crappy caliche soil or a calcarious rubble with leaf litter on top under the trees. I understand that a native cultivar might be more suited to the amended and irrigated garden that most people have. Maybe the cultivars do not seed out as much as some native species. I am not a purist but my garden is a pretty hard situation. The species of my area are better suited to it. I also live surrounded by large tracts of unweeded land so I am careful of what I introduce. Even they will take the nose dive. So it goes. I grow most of my natives from seed. I might buy one or three plants of an un known to me plant and plant them in three different situations and collect the seed from the survivors. Mostly, I get seeds from friends that collect in areas around me. The nursery near me will by unusual natives from odd growers around me and sell them once the spring rush is over and they have space on their shelves.. It is about time that I visit them and keep an eye out for that unusual native. Last year I got some Silphium albiflora and Mojave milkweed from them. The year before, I got some ascepias texana. Unfortunately I had to keep them alive through our brutal summers and plant them out in the fall. Summers are brutal and impossible to plant when the plants go out on sun blasted screes.

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Campanula UK Z8

You and me both, Mara.

It's a war out there.

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barbarag_happy(8A)

In a demonstration butterfly garden here, a purple coneflower cultivar called 'Magnus' was planted right in front of the natives we had raised from seed. Magnus is easy to identify, having broader but shorter petals and typically a deeper color.

Every summer afternoon I watched with interest while bees and butterflies flew right thru the Magnus clump to get to the native e. purpurea!

So this year I raised salvia coccinea from seed. It has bloomed nonstop right thru the heat and is attractive to everything with wings! I have it in part shade and it gets some supplemental water, since it's a woodland plant. I admit to pushing the envelope with the red salvia since it's not exactly native to SE Virginia!

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