Thousands of Olympians are headed to Rio with only one thing on their minds; gold. The quest to be best is what they’ve strived for their entire career, and for some, this is their only chance.
As we root on our favorite athletes, there is something else competing for your attention: your yard. Now is the time to create a space worthy of a gold medal. Luckily, gardeners have year after year to achieve gold.
The gold standard for the garden is a low-maintenance plant, suited for the space and climate, pest and disease resistant, and beautiful throughout the seasons. Plus, champions must provide added benefits to people and the planet.
However, no gold medalist gets there without training. The first step in getting gold is proper plant health care.
“Just as an athlete at the top of their game is healthy, and better prepared to ward off illness, healthy plants are better prepared to fight diseases and insect pests,” says RJ Laverne, urban forester at Davey Tree and ISA Board Certified Master Arborist.
“Garden Coach” Laverne outlines five training steps to achieve proper plant health:
- Find your zone. North America has many different climates ranging from hot and dry to cold and wet. A gold medalist thrives in the climate or “Plant Hardiness Zone” where you live.
- Overcome obstacles. Plants, especially trees, provide an incredible range of benefits to people and wildlife — from cleaning the air and producing food to providing shade. What do you and your landscape need to achieve success?
- Learn from your mistakes. Plant your future gold medalist in a space suited for its mature growth. Unless you choose a small ornamental species expected to grow 20 feet, do not plant trees near utility lines. Call 811 before you dig.
- Get grounded. Plants have different preferences for the soil their roots inhabit. Ensure you’re planting in gold medal territory by performing a simple soil test.
- Check out the competition. Some plants have more competition than others when it comes to resiliency. Choose species that can withstand disease and have little to no threat from pests. Plant multiple species that live in harmony together to increase diversity.
Laverne awards five gold medal winners in the all-around tree competition:
- Gold Medalist for Shade: Blackhaw Viburnum
This winner was chosen for its small, interesting habit and ability to thrive in shade. It is hardy and produces clusters of small, cream colored flowers during spring and fruit in the fall. Bonus: Fruits are edible for both wildlife and humans. Grows about 15 feet tall and wide. (Zones 3 to 9)
- Gold Medalist for Spring Color: Kousa Dogwood
This species offers a terrific spring show of delicate pink or white flowers. What really sets this winner apart from the competition is that it keeps performing once spring ends. It fruits in late summer and foliage turns reddish-purple in autumn. Plus, it’s a disease-resistant alternative to its popular cousin, the flowering dogwood. Grows 10 to 25 feet tall and wide. (Zones 5 to 8)
- Gold Medalist for Fall Color: Sugar Maple
This tree is loved for its maple-sugar sap, but it’s a true winner for its brilliant end-of-season look. Featuring 5-inch leaves with three to five lobes, the sugar maple’s autumn foliage morphs from gold, yellow and fiery orange to an unmatched deep red. Native to the eastern and mid-western U.S. (Zones 2 to 10)
- Gold Medalist for Wow-Your-Neighbors Beauty: Japanese Maple
Both elegant and versatile, these trees are true chameleons. There are many cultivars of Japanese maple that have splendid color from spring through fall, and really interesting branching characteristics. Some go from intense red in spring, green in summer and welcome fall with yellow and orange. Others start red and keep the same, vibrant hue until winter. Leaves can be palm-shaped or lacy with five to seven lobes. (Zones 6-8)
- Gold Medalist for Pollinators: Native Oaks
Planting natives is one of the best ways to assist bees and butterflies. Native oaks support pollinators throughout the year in a number of ways, but especially by providing winter shelter and habitat. In fact, native oaks give more than 500 pollinator species a home and enable them to return for years to come. (Zones 3-10)
R.J. Laverne is responsible for coordinating and providing instruction in the company’s training programs, including Davey Institute of Tree Sciences, Davey Institute of Horticultural Sciences, Davey Institute of Lawn Sciences, and the online college. In addition, the education and training department has developed the Davey Online College providing the world with horticulture and arboriculture educational opportunities.