Thoughts on how to create a well-designed garden retreat.

Archive for June, 2011

It’s a jungle out there!


Many times, especially in urban areas, a homeowner is faced with a jungle of invasive, non-native plants over-running everything.  Some of the common plants in the Southeast are English Ivy, Asian wisteria, Ligustrum or privet, (or both), the non-native mulberry, and Japanese honeysuckle, just to name a few.  Bamboo is often common and extremely hard to get rid of.  How does one go about getting rid of these invasive plants in order to grow more desirable plants?

There is no easy way.  It requires a lot of work and persistence. It does not happen all at once and requires a focused long term program.  The first thing to do is to dig out all that you can physically dig out.  This is hard, back breaking work.  You can be sure that there will be some that you miss.  As soon as you see some sprouting back up, you have to remove it quickly.  Many of these plant will regenerate from the roots.  Any foliage that remains long will recharge the batteries of the roots so to speak.  You must keep at it until the roots are exhausted.  It is not a once or twice hit and you’re done type of project.

Some achieve more rapid results by spraying the foliage with a chemical brush killer.  I prefer to not use chemicals as a general rule but in the case of invasive plants, it can shorten the time-line.  These chemicals work best on newer leaves.  One way would be to cut everything to the ground and then follow up with a chemical spray once you see new leaves.  This process requires you to keep it up with several repeat sprays until the roots have given up and are dead.  You can also put the concentrated brush killer on freshly cut stumps to prevent regrowth.

Whatever method you take, you have to be vigilant to be sure your garden stays free of these invasive plants.  Vines such as wisteria will creep back in from your neighbor’s yard.  Seedlings will pop up and will need to be removed as soon as you can spot them.  It is not a battle, it is a war.  You have to be in it for the long haul.  However it is worth it.  You can do your part to keep our native plants and non-invasive exotic plants by being run over by these exotic invasive plants.  Future generations will thank you.  Most of these plants flourish because there is no natural control to keep them in check.  In this case, it has to be human control.

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Southern Summer-time Slowdown


Many people stereotype southerners as slow or living a slower paced life.  With the heat and humidity of the South, it’s not laziness, it’s survival.  The biggest garden chores in the summer are watering and weeding.  You can plant year-round in the South but a lot of people hold off planting in the summer.  Summer heat is stressful for plants.  It takes a lot of water for plants in their first year in the garden and especially so in the summer.  You will always have a “first” summer for any plant in your garden.  This is often the most critical time in getting a plant acclimated to your garden.

The other main chore of the summer is weeding.  Tree seedlings can soon turn your garden into a forest.  I also make sure any invasive exotic plants that are seeding into the garden are removed immediately.  My definition of a weed is “a plant out of place”.  Some ornamental plants are appreciated when they seed in and fill in a space.  Others can take over a planned garden.  When I first moved into my current home, I removed every invasive exotic plant from my rear garden.  When I was done, I only had one tree left.  It was a jungle of invasive plants.  In many urban areas, it is a constant battle keeping out these types of plants that someone in the past thought it was a good idea to plant.  Even if you don’t have them in your yard, they often seed in from the neighbors.  Education is important.  Gently encourage your neighbors to also remove invasive plants.  They may or may not listen.  The more people who understand the damage done to the environment by invasive exotic plants, the better for future generations.

During the summer, take notes on any time period that your garden doesn’t seem to have blooming flowers.  You can sit in the comfort of your air conditioning and plan for buying plants to fill those gaps.  You might notice that you have too much of one color and not of another.  You might find areas where you have a lot of weeds because your garden isn’t planted thick enough to discourage weeds.  Sit back with your favorite cold beverage and look at the plant catalogs and online information to plan what you want to plant at the first sign of cooler weather in the fall.  If you can plant early in the fall, you will get some good new growth before winter and the plant will be further established by the time next summer rolls around.  Then when the heat and humidity of the next summer has you feeling lazy, you can look at your garden with more enjoyment and less work.


Local gardening


I was back home again in Indiana for the Memorial Day weekend.  While I was there, I visited with some family members.  One of my uncles asked me what was the best type of Spruce for him to plant.  I had no good answer for him.  I grew up in Indiana and studied at Purdue so I learned the plants for Indiana.  However, it has been over 20 years since I did any landscaping in Indiana.  So I forgot most of it.

Which brings me to my point.  Many times while looking for gardening advice, we look at books of more likely today, we look it up on the internet.  The internet covers the WORLD!  How can you know exactly what is the right plant for your area?  You have to find out what location the writer/blogger is referring to.  Plants listed as full sun in the northern states might need shade in the hot south.  In our area in NC, hostas are grown in the shade but in their native environment, they grow in full sun.  But they also grow in marshes in their native china so the moisture level stays constant for their large leaves.

As for spruces, The Norway spruce is grown in our area but they really would prefer to be grown one zone north of us.  The Colorado Blue Spruce is grown here but it would normally be found in more northern/ higher altitudes.  One of the biggest surprises for me when I went to Miami was seeing “house plants” being used as landscape plants.  You have to take local areas into context when looking at gardening ideas on the web.   Some websites such as Dave’s Garden will tell you where people are growing a certain plant.  Local garden centers are much better about local information than any of the big chains such as Lowes or Home Depot.  You might pay a little more for the plants but you get the correct information.  When you consider the cost of buying new plants to replace the ones that die, then usually you will come out cheaper.  That makes gardening a lot more enjoyable and a lot less frustrating.