Ask Burton – This week, a question about which plants do well around here, and which do not. Q: I have a narrow, upright area in full sun where I need a plant that’s narrow and quite tall. I was looking for ‘Sky Pencil’ holly and ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae, because they’re supposed to do that. Do you have them in stock?

A: I mention these two plants in particular because they’re the most-asked for plants that we intentionally don’t stock. We’ve tried them before, but neither take the summer heat particularly well, and ‘Sky Pencil’ holly doesn’t like our soil pH, to boot. We’ve failed with them before, so that you don’t have to.

This is a moment where one should beware the Internet. Both of these plants are praised to the skies, if you do a Google search, as heat-tolerant, good plants. They are, for the heat they’d face in Washington (the state), or Tennessee, places where I’ve seen beautiful examples of these plants while visiting. But not for us! Both plants will suffer in the first truly hot summer we have. You might make them work in partial shade, but full sun would be tough. You’d have far better results with ‘Spartan’ juniper or ‘Scarlet’s Peak’ yaupon holly, tough upright plants that work in narrower spaces – and tolerate our conditions.

Burton specializes in diagnosing and solving plant problems. If you have a question for Burton, please email him at and include photos showing the problem.