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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

start planting NOW, but not invasive, non-native plants

      Starting in about a week or two will be the very best planting time for north Texas' climate. If you've been waiting 'til the spring; that habit is just a holdover from gardening practices "up north". Just make sure you're not planting an invasive species, that you'll regret later.
 
An “invasive” plant is one that sounds great at first. But it’s so vigorous that it rapidly becomes a pest. A nuisance. A pain in the landscape. To put it politely, you can’t restrict or contain the growth of an invasive plant with anything short of a thick concrete barrier or a nuclear explosion. (Even that’s not effective in some cases)

It’s a plant that grows too well, which may sound pretty good to those of you with a brown thumb.

However, the rapid, overcrowding growth of these invasive plants quickly turns into an expensive nightmare, one that may involve your neighbors as well. Invasive plants crowd out, and often kill, your other landscape plants. Often they produce a great many seeds, sprouting in other parts of your garden, in cracks in the sidewalk, in nearby parks and in your neighbors’ landscapes.

These plants, which are almost always non-native, should be avoided (or removed if already planted) because they;

  • Crowd out native, and endangered plants,
  • Foul up the instincts of our birds, who look for native plants to feed on, and for nesting material and shelter.
  • Steal soil nutrients and water from other plants,
  • Crowd out host plants for butterflies and food sources for our native wildlife,
  • Hybridize with native plants, often resulting in weakening the genetic makeup,
  • Serve as hosts for plant diseases that can infect desired plants,
  • Prevent the establishment of seedlings of desired trees and shrubs,
  • Increase the overall water demand of your landscape,
  • Cause you to spend more time and money weeding, and with insect-controlling sprays.

The poster-child of invasive plants, the “plant that ate the south”, is Kudzu vine. Like so many non-native plants it was brought to this country from Asia without the natural insects and pathogens that normally control it.

One case involving invasive plants in the north Texas area is the colorful monarch butterfly. The monarch requires plants from the genus “Asclepias” to lay its eggs. (Milkweed and butterfly weed). But these plants are being crowded out by things like non-native privet and English ivy. Result:  fewer monarch butterflies.

Another example, our native hummingbirds are confused when they see a Japanese honeysuckle, which appears fine, but is less nutritious and more insect-prone than our native honeysuckle. Result: hummingbirds go elsewhere.

Several other plants that have been brought to this area can also be invasive. The main reason is that there’s no natural constraint to their growth, like there may have been where they were brought from. Therefore avoid;  Japanese honeysuckle, English ivy, water hyacinth, periwinkle, Tartarian lantana (our native lantana is excellent), Chinese wisteria, trumpet-creeper, pachysandra, scarlet firethorn, elephant ears, golden bamboo, mimosa, redtip photinia, Siberian elm and privet (or ligustrum). Some people even see Bermuda grass as an invasive pest.

Of course, there are several other plants that can be invasive.  Also, some plants I’ve listed above may not be invasive in very specific, well-controlled environments. The best way to avoid bringing an invasive plant home is to make sure you get ”Texas-native” plants.

 


OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at Yost87@charter.net in Denton.

 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Our State bird often pretends to be something else.


Northern Mockingbird
A few species of birds are the only living creatures, other than humans, that can imitate sounds that they weren’t born to produce. This ability to learn and imitate strange sounds is called verbal mimicry, and the few species of birds that can do it are called mimics. The most common mimic in north Texas is our State bird…the Mockingbird. I've heard stories of Mockingbirds mimicking a squeaky screen door, a ringing cell phone and computer dings.

 
To prevent overcrowding, use feeders that minimize contact between birds and provide additional places to feed.  That could mean having several feeders, planting large clusters of native plants, or both. The most important task, however,  is to keep the feeding sites clean.
 

 OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at Yost87@charter.net in Denton.