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Some gold medal-worthy plants from Japan may be in your own backyard

While the Olympics are ongoing in Tokyo, there may be something in your yard that originated in Japan

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis is home to the Missouri Botanical Garden and tucked away in the southwest corner of the Garden is the Japanese Garden. It may be a surprise that many of the common plants we have in our home landscape have origins in Japan.

"Azaleas, cherry trees, pine trees. Many of those plants you’ll see in the home landscape, you’ll see here," said Ben Chu, Horticulture Supervisor of the Japanese Garden.

Chu knows the Japanese Garden well and says it is most colorful in the springtime with the bold blooms of azaleas and cherry trees. With origins in Japan, many of these trees and shrubs grow well here because we share similar climates.

"We share a lot of the same climate conditions as Japan," he said. "Tokyo is actually pretty humid in the summertime-much like being in St. Louis."

Our clay soil may need a little help and adjustment though to help some of the shrubs and trees grow.

"You may have to amend your soil a bit because they tend to like more acidic soil, it’s probably good to incorporate some organic matter and that will help kind of make things a little more favorable," says Daria McKelvey, a supervisor with the Kemper Center for Home Gardening at MoBOT.

It turns out, that amended soil is good for big leaf hydrangeas too. You’ll find hydrangeas blooming in your neighborhood right now. The big leaf hydrangeas often come in colors of pink with shades of purple or blue and it's a shrub that you frequently see around St. Louis. If yours isn’t blooming, you might ask why? It’s one of the top questions at the Kemper Center for home gardening.

"Hydrangea buds are set the season before, need to survive our winter and if you prune in the spring, you are effectively cutting the buds off as well," McKelvey says.

The pink or blue blooms depend on the acidity of your soil and the amount of aluminum available to the plant.

"If you have a more acidic soil, with a pH lower than seven, the aluminum is more readily available and thus the flowers are more of the blue tone," McKelvey told us.

Some Hostas are native to Japan and they grow well here, especially in shady areas. McKelvey said they do tend to burn if they are in full sun and they are not the best plant if you have a lot of deer, so much so, she considers them deer candy. 

"You cannot keep Hostas with deer around," McKelvey said.

While not as common, the Japanese Painted Fern might do well in your garden. It has a beautiful silver color with a bit of red in the middle of the stems and McKelvey says she loves the texture of the plant. 

More deep red color can be found throughout the Garden with Red Japanese Maples. Chu said they are one of the easiest trees to grow since they grow in average soil and don't have a host of pests making them a great choice in the home landscape.

On the flip side, Japanese Honeysuckle is considered an invasive species. It grows just about anywhere and crowds out the native plants. They are even some environmental groups that sponsor "honeysuckle hack" days for people to chop the bushes down.

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