Garden Detective: grave-site plantings

Chrysanthemum 'Matchsticks' lend great fall color. Chrysanthemum 'Matchsticks' lend great fall color. Photo Credit: Handout

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Jessica Damiano Jessica Damiano, Newsday columnist

Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more than 20 years experience in radio, television, print ...

DEAR JESSICA: I need your help. What kind of plants are well suited for cemeteries? I would love to find a perennial that can handle sun and dry soil and not grow wild. -- Teresa Schomaker, Franklin Square

DEAR TERESA: There are several criteria to keep in mind when selecting plants to adorn a grave site. First, check with the cemetery about any planting rules it might have. Next, look for low-maintenance plants, because you won't always be there to remove spent blooms or prune. Drought tolerance is equally important for the same reason.

Consider, too, the mature size of the plants. If the headstone is upright, you can use plants that grow up to about 1 1/2 feet tall; flat markers can be overwhelmed by large plants, so stick with low growers or ground covers. Finally, you probably want plants that provide interest all year long, or at least from spring through fall.

If you want to use only one plant that will provide multiple seasons of interest, Sedum 'Autumn Joy' would be an excellent choice. Thriving in full sun to part shade, it is drought-tolerant, perfectly sized at 12-23 inches tall and undergoes colorful changes throughout the season. Succulent foliage emerges in spring, and the plant puts forth flattened greenish flowers in summer that turn beige and gradually become tinged with pale pink hues that darken as the season progresses to rose, mauve and, by autumn, a seasonally appropriate maroon.

Or you might flank both sides of the stone with short evergreens, like dwarf spring-flowering azaleas, and fill the area between them with annuals such as New Guinea impatiens or Wave petunias for sunny spots, or vinca for sun to part shade. Both are available in a variety of colors. (Ordinary impatiens should be avoided, as they are susceptible to downy mildew.)

Another option would be planting a progression of plants to take over each season as their predecessors fade. This requires some maintenance, as you'll want to clear away faded plants as each season ends. You might plant a Chrysanthemum centered directly in front of the stone, with spring-flowering bulbs, like crocus, hyacinth and/or daffodils in a half circle directly in front of it. This way, the bulb plants will bloom before the Chrysanthemum emerges, and by the time their foliage yellows and is ready to be cut back, the mum should be getting ready to take over behind them. Plant summer-blooming daylilies on either side of the mums, and they'll provide color over the summer, when you can plant annuals where the bulb plants were. By the time the daylilies are done, the mum will be blooming. In fall, replace the annuals with pansies. They'll complement the mums until frost and return to fill in around the bulb plants in spring.

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For flat markers, keep it simple with a ground-hugging evergreen, like blue rug juniper, planted between the grave and a half-circle bed of Sedum spurium 'Dragon's Blood' or 'Fulda Glow.'

DEAR JESSICA: I have one of those annoying roses that bloom all summer but only on new growth and only if I deadhead it. What is the best time of year to prune it, as it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. -- Barbara Haynes, Hauppauge

DEAR BARBARA: Pruning revitalizes roses and encourages new growth, plus it keeps shrubs shaped nicely and prevents them from growing out of control. Time the pruning of your roses with the blooming of forsythia on your block in spring. For specific details and instructions for pruning more than 20 classes and species of roses that grow in our region, visit newsday.com/roses.

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