Southeast Regional Reports

Spring Planting Plan for the Southeast

spring planting ideas southeast
Illustration: Elara Tanguy

In her article “Spring Planting Ideas,” Michelle Gervais beautifully illustrates the magical time that is the start of spring: “Our winter-weary spirits lift as hints of green begin to appear. We notice even the smallest patches of snowdrops and crocuses as we drive by at 55 miles per hour. The first daffodil sighting is a thrill, and tulips are almost too colorful to bear. The pale chartreuse haze in the trees seems to change to lush, vibrant green overnight, and every new sprout brings delight. It’s the start of another exciting season, and the potential and possibilities for our gardens seem boundless.”

While spring is often a flurry of planting, planning, and performing the many garden chores in between, it’s always a treat to have some plants that will kick off the season with color while others are still waking up and waiting for warmer weather to show off their best. This spring planting plan was crafted by regional expert Hayes Jackson and would be a spectacular addition to any Southeast garden.


1. Party Lights™ holly tea olive

Party Lights holly tea olive
Photo: courtesy of Star Roses and Plants

Name: Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Shien’

Zones: 6–9

Size: 4 to 5 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained moderately acidic soil

Native range: Taiwan, Japan

Tea olives are among my favorite broadleaf evergreens. Their toughness and the heady aroma of their flowers always make me smile and take a deep breath. I am also a sucker for any plant with intensely colored new growth; it feels like you are getting an extra bloom period, especially when the bright new foliage outshines the true flowers. Party Lights™ holly tea olive delivers on both counts, with its sweetly scented but subtle fall flowers and pink new foliage that beams in the spring landscape like a neon sign. Drought tolerance and pest resistance only add to its appeal. Grow this beauty as a hedge, add it to a foundation planting, or use a single specimen as a focal point. Planted in a container, it is also a nice addition to a deck or patio.


2. ‘Redneck Nation’ fothergilla

Redneck Nation fothergilla
Photo: courtesy of Mark Weathington, JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University

Name: Fothergilla milleri ‘Redneck Nation’

Zones: 5–9

Size: 3 to 5 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; slightly acidic, average to moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Alabama, Georgia, Gulf Coast of Florida

I love clever plant names. Daylilies are the most notorious for having funny monikers, but is there anyone who can garden in the South without a ‘Redneck Nation’ fothergilla? These small shrubs are fabulous and very underutilized. I grow several fothergillas, but there is something special about having a new species gracing your garden. F. milleri was discovered in 2020 and immediately classified as imperiled. This cultivar is a useful and well-rounded garden addition that makes its presence known in all seasons with showy spring flowers, interest­ing foliage, gorgeous fall color, and elegant winter branch structure.


3. ‘Alabama Gold’ tongue fern

Alabama Gold tongue fern
Photo: Plant Delights Nursery

Name: Pyrrosia lingua ‘Alabama Gold’

Zones: 7b–10

Size: 10 to 12 inches tall and 12 to 24 inches wide

Conditions: Partial shade; rich, well-drained soil

Native range: China, Taiwan, Japan

I can’t get enough of unusual ferns, whether they are variegated, crested, or unique in some other way. But this one is particularly close to my heart, since I was the one who found it, unnamed, in a local nursery. I shared a plant with Tony Avent at Plant Delights in North Carolina, and he christened it ‘Alabama Gold’. It is a treasure with its bright, leathery leaves that slowly spread to make an impressive display of upright, golden tongues. (It is a tongue fern, isn’t it?) One of my plants has started to creep up the trunk of a large tree, which makes me very happy, and you should see the ones I have growing in a hanging basket. It is slow to spread, but totally worth the wait.


4. ‘Weesie Smith’ creeping phlox

Weesie Smith creeping phlox
Photo: courtesy of Tim Alderton, JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University

Name: Phlox stolonifera ‘Weesie Smith’

Zones: 3–9

Size: 6 to 10 inches tall and at least 36 inches wide

Conditions: Partial shade; rich, moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Eastern

United States I had the pleasure of visiting Weesie Smith’s iconic Alabama garden years ago, and her plant selections and combinations were absolutely amazing. Weesie died in 2016, but her passion lives on in pass-along plants like this tough native beauty. Each spring it sends up sweetly scented, lavender-pink blooms that are as attractive to pollinators as they are to gardeners. I always prefer cultivars of species that are found in the wild close to my location; choosing plants with local provenance can be an advantage for beginning and seasoned gardeners alike. ‘Weesie Smith’ is just such a plant, and it has proven to be easy and rewarding to grow with minimal effort. Make sure it gets some shade, especially in the Deep South.

Hayes Jackson is an urban regional extension agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the liaison for Longleaf Botanical Gardens in Anniston, Alabama.

View the full collection of regional planting plans and see the rest of issue 216.

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