Did you get a question about a landscape plant at a help desk that requires some additional research? Maybe you were asked to identify a tree on a local neighborhood street that you are not familiar with? When faced with these situations, it is helpful to turn to books like Michael A. Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants and dig into the pages for answers. If this resource is not already available in your Extension office, consider purchasing a copy with MGEV funds so that this valuable information is at the fingertips of MGEVs answering questions at a help desk or in the Extension office.
If you find yourself overwhelmed with the sheer weight and size of this book, first replace that feeling with one of appreciation, curiosity, and delight. You’ve already conquered the Master Gardener Handbook! Next, take the time to read Dirr’s introduction and recognize that, like you, he is a human with a sense of humor and a deep love for plants. Last, dig into the manual!
As an individual with a general biological science background, I have a strong appreciation for organization of scientific information, and Dirr does just that beautifully. Plants are listed alphabetically by genus name and descriptions follow a logical format. As you glance at page 1, you’ll see Abelia grandiflora. Maybe you begin to read the leaf description and need a refresher on some of the terminology. Flip back a few pages and you’ll find impressive plant morphology sections. Perhaps, a new Georgian homeowner from a northern state would like advice on using this unfamiliar specimen in his new landscape, and if advisable, what cultivar would he most likely be purchasing from a nursery or garden center? He may even want some more information on what plants thrive best in the southern zones – a question you can easily answer with Dirr’s help.
Or, maybe you’re an MGEV in North Georgia conversing with a community member wishing to plant some smaller trees around a pond that will produce brilliant leaf color in the autumn months. What would you suggest? Amelanchier arborea? Maybe a client has brought you some flowers belonging to Vitex agnus-castus, but at the time of meeting with this client, you only know the common name. Do not fret, but simply use the Common Name Index to point you in the right direction.
Not only does Dirr provide ample information on over 1,600 species and over 7,800 cultivars, but he also takes the time to remind us hardiness zones and size delineations are not definite characteristics as plants are not known to read the descriptions that are written about them. As you make recommendations to new homeowners, community members, or engage in a project of your own, be mindful of this valuable resource available to aid your knowledge of woody landscape plants in blossoming.
Dirr, Michael. 2009. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses, Edition 6 . Stipes Publishing L.L.C. ISBN-13:9781588748683