Garden questions from a reader moving to Oklahoma

Thanks for writing!

A reader, Molly, wrote me the sweetest email, and because I thought her questions reflected others I’d received, I thought I’d answer them here.  Her email is below:

Good day. I’m moving to Blanchard, OK this spring and need a crash course in red dirt gardening!

I’m an avid gardener currently living in SE Minnesota, home to beautiful black soil. I’ve gardened in Omaha, NE and Des Moines, IA too, over the past 20 years. I’ve always worked with zones 4-5, so am used to being very limited in my choices.

I need to become informed about soil prep and plant selection asap, as I chomp at the bit to get to my new place and start to work there. The place we are buying is outside Blanchard. It is a dream place of 5 acres on a rolling hill and with many oak trees. The soil has never been farmed or anything, and is covered in grass (native?).

Please let me know of any really good web sites I should check. I’ve been researching through the extension service. I just don’t want to waste time and money doing the wrong things in my new garden.

I’m wanting to grow an elegant shade garden of hostas, Japanese maples etc. and a sunny garden of yarrows, catmints, salvias, coneflowers and roses, etc. with plenty of ornamental grasses thrown in. Do these sound do-able?

Can lavenders and agastache live there? Maybe in an elevated bed? Which plants melt-out in the heat there?

Looking forward to your reply.


Molly (last name deleted for privacy)
Stewartville, MN (negative 11 currently)

Double columbine with 'Wine and Roses' Weigela behind it
Double columbine with 'Wine and Roses' Weigela behind it

Hi Molly,

Wow, that’s cold.  It’s 28F here presently and cold enough thank you.

A move from MN to OK is a daunting task, and I wish you well.  For those who don’t know, Blanchard is southwest of Oklahoma City and is located in both Grady and McClain Counties.  Molly, here’s a copy of a Oklahoma Geological Survey for that area of Oklahoma.  Also, I wrote a post for about soil.  It would probably be helpful.

Achillea millefolium, common yarrow
Achillea millefolium, common yarrow

If I’m reading the Oklahoma Soil Texture map correctly, it appears that Blanchard has a mix of red clay, cobbly loam and loam which is good.  Red clay, by itself, is very difficult to work with.  As to your questions, yes, you can grow lavender and agastache in Oklahoma.  I always put them in a less watered area (I have an irrigation system), and I place some gravel in the bottom of the hole prior to planting to encourage good drainage.  You might also grow these great garden standbys.  Further, I love clematis, peonies, lilacs, daylilies, rudbeckia, spirea, purple smokebush . . . the list goes on and on.

Cotinus coggygria, purple smokebush

Good websites for Oklahoma gardening other than my blog and my Examiner page:

  1. All the Dirt on Gardening is a blog written by a garden writer living in Muskogee, Oklahoma.  She gives great advice.
  2. The Oklahoma State University Division of Agricultural Services has a lot of wonderful information, and their page on Gardening, Pests and Insect Management is a great resource.  The Extension Fact Sheets are good too, if a bit dry.
  3. Oklahoma Gardener magazine has good information.  One caveat, I write for them quite a bit, so I might be prejudiced.
  4. The Oklahoma Gardener’s Guide, by Steve Dobbs is an excellent resource, as is Best Garden Plants for Oklahoma, by Steve Owens, who owns Bustani Plant Farm. His website is a wealth of information too.
  5. Oklahoma author, Louise Riotte, was the companion planting queen, and she wrote several books.  Two of her best are Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening (vegetable garden companion planting) and Roses Love Garlic: Companion Planting and Other Secrets of Flowers.  These were two of the books I first bought when I started gardening.

These sources should get you started.

A raised bed with catmint in front

Raised beds are always a good idea here.  You can also amend the soil, but I find that when I bring in good garden soil or rich mix and then continue to amend it yearly, I have a much better garden.  Also, raised beds mean better drainage, and in Oklahoma, you want that extra help.  Of course, raised beds also dry out more quickly, so you will need some form of irrigation.  Because I have a lot of roses that don’t appreciate water on their leaves, I used soaker hoses for years.  A year ago, last fall, I got an irrigation system, and last summer was the easiest one I’d had yet.

I like to use shredded leaves on my garden, and if you have oak trees, you’ll have a lot of leaves.  A good compost pile helps any garden, and I’ve written several times on this subject.  I hope these links help.

A beautiful specimen of Acer palmatum dissectum 'Crimson Queen' at my friend's house

You said you wanted to grow a Japanese maple at your new home along with hostas and other elegant plants.  Japanese maples do well here if they are planted correctly and placed in the best shady place.  A lot of people must want to grow Japanese maples in Oklahoma because that is the most popular post on my blog for two years running.  Hostas are a bit tricky.  I have several, but the blue ones seem the most impervious to heat.  The variegated ones, especially those with yellow tend to burn even in the shade.  However, they can be grown in deep shade here.  Other plants I like for shade are ferns, especially my black-stemmed maidenhair fern, and a red-stemmed lady fern called ‘Lady in Red.’  These have been very prolific. I also like Aquilegia (columbine), coleus, Heuchera (coral bells), especially the more heat tolerant varieties like ‘Palace Purple’ and ‘Southern Comfort’ and ‘Midnight Rose’, hydrangeas like ‘Annabelle‘ and Euphorbias.  The shrub, Japanese kerria,  does well in either sun or shades.

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'

As for sun, there are lots of options.  I, of course, love roses, especially those which are easy care and disease resistant, and I grow a lot of them.  I also don’t know what I’d do without crapemyrtles.  You often see this shrub written as two words, but since Dr. Carl Whitcomb (crapemytle king of Oklahoma) says it should be one word, and the United States National Arboretum agrees with him, I write it as one.  Here are also six plants I can’t live without.

Echinacea purpurea 'Pink Double Delight'

In addition to the above, your list of sun-loving plants like:  yarrows, catmints, salvias, coneflowers and “plenty of ornamental grasses” are all very doable.  Oklahoma is part of the great North American prairie, and so prairie plants love it here.  These are all easy care.  My only advice is to put them in the sun and plant the Echinaceas (coneflowers) in your worst soil.  They don’t like rich mix.  Also, start with the purple ones.  If you want to grow some of the newer yellow, orange and red varieties, I’d try them one at a time.  We aren’t having much luck with many of them.  I do love ‘Coconut Lime’, ‘Pink Double Delight’, ‘Merlot’ and ‘Sundown’ so far.  ‘Tomato Soup’ and ‘Tiki Torch’ not so much.  I don’t think they’ll be back in spring.

Oh, and yes, some plants do melt in the heat, or just dry up and blow away.

Well, I hope that answered some of your questions, and I hope you’ll keep coming back to visit.  I love writing about living and gardening in Oklahoma.  I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.  Hope your new acreage makes all your dreams come true.



  1. What a generous and terrific post. The photos and advice are all excellent. Raised beds are truly great for clay soil. A lovely idea to share an email in this way… Molly must be so appreciative of your mentoring. Sure wish I had known your blog when I was digging in red dirt! 😉 Carol

  2. Pam's English Garden says:

    Dee, You make me want to move to Oklahoma! Wonderful advice! Molly is lucky… maybe you could suggest to her she start blogging and we can watch her progress. Thanks for a wonderful post! Pamela x

  3. Janell West says:


    What a gift to any gardener — new to Oklahoma or otherwise. Thanks for letting me ‘eavesdrop’ in.


  4. joey says:

    How wonderful, Dee! I so enjoyed reading your advice to Molly … you’re like the Ann Landers/Dear Abby for Oklahoma gardeners 🙂

  5. Frances says:

    Wow Dee, that was the best and most thorough advice ever for Molly! She chose well. I had family that lived in Norman, close to Blanchard. They were big time gardeners, with roses, perennials, shrubs and self sowing annuals. Amending the soil was done every spring, and lots of watering with a hose, especially those roses. I wish Molly well, and am envious of that virgin soil! There might be some fabulous natives in there. Before she starts digging, maybe she should invite a native specialist to have a look.

  6. sea says:

    Lovely blog you have here!

    I was just wondering if you were still planning on participating in this month’s Adopt a Gluten-free Blogger event at Book of Yum. Just let me know. Thanks! 🙂


  7. Rose says:

    Dee, Molly couldn’t have chosen a better person to ask for advice! You’ve given her so many helpful ideas on everything from soil prep to specific plants along with valuable resources that she should be all set when she moves to Oklahoma. Moving from Minnesota to the red dirt of Oklahoma will be quite a new gardening experience for her. Having lived in Minnesota for two years while in college, I am sure, though, that she will enjoy your winters much more:)

    Interesting that the bluer hostas do better for you than the variegated ones. I thought they preferred deeper shade and cooler temperatures. But I’m certainly no expert on them!

  8. Jean says:

    That is going to be an interesting challenge to go from zone 4-5 to the heat of OK! Also interesting is the fact that the land had never been farmed. Wow! I wonder what kind of grasses are there? Could prove very interesting. Good advice Dee!

  9. Meredith says:

    What a welcoming post to your new neighbor. It looks like she’s going to have quite the transition! I cannot imagine dealing with a garden in Minnesota cold, frankly. I’d rather wrangle with the heat.

  10. Liz says:

    Great advice, but I did notice one thing. I’ve worked at an extension service, and its not a good idea to put gravel at the bottom of a planting hole. It actually causes worse drainage not better!

  11. Brenda Kula says:

    Good advice! I see you have the Annabelle hydrangea. I ordered that for my neighbor for her birthday, and she has the small plants in her little greenhouse. But as of about a month ago they didn’t look so good. And she is such a great gardener. Are they hard to grow? I’ve never ordered plants online before. So this was all new to me. I usually order seeds online, and buy my plants locally. Also, I’ve dearly wanted a Japanese maple. My neighbors have theirs in the sun. I didn’t know they preferred shade. Better do some reading up before I get one!

  12. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Gosh Dee, this post makes me anxious to get out there and start planting. Such sound advice and great photos.

    Me too. It won’t be long. That’s what I keep telling myself.~~Dee

  13. Honestly Dee, I think you are Oklahoma’s finest treasure.

    What a great gift to give a new Oklahoman, red dirt gardener or not.

    Much of your information could be transferred to many other areas.

    Much love,

    Sharon Lovejoy

    Sharon, your comment means so much to me that my eyes filled with tears when I read your sweet words. When I was a mother with young children, your books were my constant companions. We made sunflower houses and spent our hollyhock days outside in the garden. Thank you.~~Dee

  14. Molly, I for one can vouch for Dee’s excellent advice when you’re a newbie to Oklahoman. My garden has definitely benefited from her tips.

    Hi Sarah, thank you so much. Our phone conversation when you moved from England is one of my favorite memories. Call me again sometime, and we’ll talk more about English gardening, Oklahoma style!~~Dee

  15. I’m not quite as cold as Molly, but cold enough, and I also have clay soil. I’m going to try that trick for lavender and other plants that like good drainage.

    Kathy, it sure worked for me.~~Dee

  16. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Excellent advice for a new Oklahoman! Molly couldn’t have chosen a better mentor 🙂

    Thank you Cindy. As you know my Texas friend, it isn’t easy to garden this far south either.~~Dee

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