Paula Gross

Paula Gross

Paula holds a master’s degree in horticulture from the University of Georgia and is the former associate director of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Botanical Gardens. For twenty years, Paula taught courses in botany, plant identification, and economic botany, as well as led the creation of both children’s and adult education programs and helped guide the growth of greenhouse and gardens. She continues her love of sharing the world of plants with people through teaching part-time in the horticulture department at Central Piedmont Community College. Her deep belief that the connection between plants and people is vital for the health of both individual and planet is what inspires her to write, teach, and consult. She is co-author of the book Bizarre Botanicals with Larry Mellichamp and co-author or Southeast Native Plant Primer with Larry Mellichamp and Will Stuart.


1. What do you like most about gardening in your region?

In my particular corner of the Southeast—right where Zone 7 turns to Zone 8—there is a lot of room for experimentation. I can push the limits of cold-hardiness and often grow plants that are listed as Zone 8b or 9. I’ve also done my share of trying less heat-tolerant plants that I’ve admired in other regions. I’ve mostly lost that match, but every now and then I’ve been delighted with one that settles in. I love how diverse the Southeast is—each region has gardening cultures and styles that have a different flavor. It’s fun to relate and to compare. I’m pretty certain the bold, mixed tropical perennial border was born here! I’m a big fan of our native flora too. It is one of the richest in the entire country, sea to mountains. It’s never boring, y’all!


2. What’s the biggest challenge to gardening in your region?

The hot summers when it doesn’t cool down at night are the biggest challenge. This takes its toll on some plants, and by late summer we are all a little tired. But we can garden all winter, so it’s a fair trade.


3. What plant are you jazzed about in your garden right now?

I’m jazzed about ‘Welch’s Pink’ American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana ‘Welch’s Pink’, Zones 5–9). I had planted it in the far back of the garden without a tag and had forgotten it wasn’t the straight species. It seemed like overnight I looked out to see huge clusters of bubblegum pink covering every stalk. What a total surprise!

Welch’s Pink beautyberry
‘Welch’s Pink’ beautyberry is covered in clusters of bright, light pink berries that are sure to turn heads. Photo: Michelle Gervais


4. What was the last plant you killed?

Now, let’s be fair. It’s not so much “killed”—that sounds so intentional! How about watched pass on while under my (supposed) care? It was a mukdenia (Mukdenia spp., Zones 4–8). It was never meant to be.


  • Fallen oak leaves and pine needles

    Pine Needles, Oak Leaves, and Soil Acidity: What Does the Research Say?

    In a recent Healthy Garden article, Paula Gross mentions research indicating that mulches of oak leaves and pine needles do not acidify the soil. In view of the tendencies of…

  • Southeast Regional Reports

    March To-Do List for the Southeast

    March is the new April, y’all. Or maybe April is the new May? I think I’ll throw out the calendar and just spend more time out in the garden clocking…

  • Southeast Regional Reports

    Southeast: February Garden To-Do List

    February is a month of paradox. It's often our coldest month and the one with the best chance of snow—yet flowers bloom even in snow here in the Southeast. You…

  • Southeast Regional Reports

    Southeast: January Garden To-Do List

    January is a fairly restful time for the Southeast gardener physically, but it provides fertile ground for growing your dreams, plans, and knowledge. Watch for frost-heaving of fall-planted perennials and…

  • Southeast Regional Reports

    Southeast September Garden To-Do List

    Is it fall yet? Nope, not in the Southeast, but that’s just fine with me. Late summer has its own flavor worth savoring. Sure, plenty of plants are looking dog-tired,…

  • Indian Pink
    Southeast Regional Reports

    Great Native Plants for the Southeast

    Growing native plants is the gardening equivalent of having your cake and eating it too. Not only are these plants beautiful and more likely to thrive in your landscape, they…

  • Southeast Regional Reports

    Designing With Chartreuse in the Southeast

    Chartreuse foliage—do you love it, or do you have the impulse to throw fertilizer at it? Either way, it makes you look, doesn’t it? That yellow-green shade owes its classy…

  • Southeast Regional Reports

    Five Native Shrubs for Moist Spots in the Southeast

    In the Southeast, we can sometimes have wet years. The long springs of those years lure me into planting “just one more plant!” while I ignore the specter of summer…

  • Southeast Regional Reports

    Southeast October Garden To-Do List

    October is the April of autumn. If the summer’s blanket of heat and humidity slowed your gardening to a crawl, cool winds are here to crank you back up to…

  • Southeast Regional Reports

    What’s Wrong With My Camellia?

    Ponder the camellia (Camellia spp. and cvs., Zones 6–10) for a moment: It’s a glossy rich evergreen with a dense and pleasing form. It loves heat and can survive droughts.…