Nursery plants will die.  Nursery plants will thrive.  Does the weekend warrior know which is best?  My guess is no.  I spent years in internships at local nursieries trying to figure out which plant worked best in a certain location.  At that point cost was not a huge factor since I had free range on all the plant material that was splayed out all over the sales floor.  Fast forward 10 years.   Now that I have to pay for plants and warranty them I choose very carefully what I am going to use and where I will use it.  It is in the this I opened up the master book of plants for our zone and picked 10 of them that I think will be a wise choice for you this summer.  I did not use the old standards like Hosta, Spirea, Daylily and Burning Bush.  Alternatively I picked some unique plants that are often overlooked or ones that “fly under the radar.”  Check this list out and do not be afraid.  I have extreme faith in my choices not only for a low mortality rate, but for other factors such as multiple season interest, price, flower duration, toughness, and availability.

  1. LARCH aka TAMARACK –  Who could ask more from a cone-bearing plant than that of this beauty.  Not only can we enjoy the lovely conical shape of this needle covered gem all summer, but in the fall their little “leaves” turn bright gold and give an extra week of fall color as the rest of our deciduous (losing leaves) plants wane into dormancy.  Commonly found traveling up the Gunflint, you will find this one right at home if planted in the metro area.
  2. NORTH STAR CHERRY – For a plant that comes in a small pot (standard 5 gallon) this one packs a punch with its tasty tart-laden fruits.  Beautiful flowers, a small stature, and pretty speckled bark gives this small, but packed-with-attributes, tree a place in any garden.  Forget the Crabapple the Northstar Cherry will have the neighbors talking!
  3. FRUITLESS WEEPING MULBERRY – Tough with elegance:  rarely simultaneous.  The FWM will provide you with its unique lobbed leaf shape, weeping-habit and a perfect place for kids to hide once the specimen gets a couple years old.  It is really worth a try for a “nook” area or pegged on the corner of your home.
  4. KOBOLD BARBERRY – I really adore boxwood, but as most gardeners know it is the most costly shrub as all.  In comes the Kobold Barberry.  This looks just like a hedged Boxwood.  I hate to give away a good secret, but at the price of the Kobold Barberry my secret just has to be told.
  5. GRACE SMOKEBUSH –  This is a shrub that acts as a tree in as little as 3 years.  Its owner  needs to know how to prune a bit for this one, but if you figure it out you can turn a 30 dollar shrub into the coolest accent plant that money could buy.  I use this when I want the burgundy hue of a Japanese Maple but know that being in Minnesota the Smokebush is a smarter choice for exposed areas.
  6. BLUE SHADOW FOTHERGILLA –  It seems this one is never planted, but I really love it and think it should be seen more often.  A blue cast to the leaf, wonderful fragrant flower, amazing fall color and attractive price round this one out as a real winner.  Trust me on this one; you will not get a good photo online.  It is not very photogenic, perhaps the reason for its lack of popularity.
  7. SILVER BROCADE/MOUND WORMWOOD –  Drought tolerance is the Wormwood’s best attribute.  It is also know as Artemesia and when you find one its price will cost from 5 to 10 bucks.  I like a dash of silver in the garden because it really helps purple, orange and while meld together.  The texture of this jewel also sets off many of the broader-leaved perennials that often accompany it.
  8. CHINESE ASTILBE –  Plant this one in a large grouping.  It has a slightly stoloniferic rooting habit that allows it to slowly creep.  When it is established after a couple years it will look amazing as its mid-summer blooms dance at the border in front of larger grasses, perennials, or shrubs.  Even when fall comes, the flower heads dry up and provide structure as we head into winter.
  9. STRAWBERRY –  Kids love this one and it is very easy to grow.  Not only do we get its lucious fruit, but this plant is an excellent ground cover in the perennial border.  Look for the leave’s fall colors to match the fruit’s rich red flesh.  Simply a bonus to use and at an awesome price.  Hint:  farmers market.
  10. GROUNDCOVER SEDUM –   There are dozens of these surface hugging groundcovers with flowers ranging from Blue to Red to Yellow.  Google Sedum and go nuts.  This plants thrives in hot places and stabilizes the toughest of grades.  When planted in groupings and in multiple varieties your garden will come alive in waves  of undulating succulent goodness.

I hope this helps get you going in the right direction this spring.