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.
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.
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.
There is a new residential development in our area that advertises that they are green and use native plants. This excited me because having a whole neighborhood that was planting natives could show how attractive a native community could be and such a large area of natives would be a seed source for natives to be reintroduced into the natural landscape.
Imagine my surprise when I drove through this neighborhood and had a hard time finding these native plants. I had a couple customers referred to me in this neighborhood and their front yards were already planted by the landscaper hired by the builder. NOT ONE native plant was in these front yards. The clients were surprised to hear this.
So I found out the name of the GUY IN CHARGE of selling lots in the development and gave him a call. He told me that they did plant native. When I told him what I saw he said well they plant SOME native. When I pressed further, he said well they plant drought-tolerant and maybe in order to do that, they had to plant some non-natives. You do not have to plant non-natives to have drought tolerant plantings. Many natives are drought tolerant because every where has the occasional drought and the natives in that location survive. Then he said that azaleas are native. I told him that some azaleas are native but the ones that are here are deciduous. The evergreen azaleas common in the south come from Japan. He still insisted that they are native because they are everywhere. That is the same as saying European- and African-Americans are Native Americans. He then got short with me and said he had heard enough. He did not want to hear the truth any more. He wanted to go on believing that he was being responsible to the environment and planting native plants. I feel he is lying to prospective buyers.
The term NATIVE when it comes to plants means that it is indigenous to the area. When I plant “native”, I include plants that are indigenous to the Southeast US with the exception of South Florida. This gives me an expanded palette of plants to choose from above what is indigenous to Durham, NC.
The term NATURALIZED means that the plant came from another part of the world but has moved into the natural environment on it’s own. So the Japanese Azaleas are not even naturalized as they do not seed into the woods. Privet is naturalized as it comes up on it’s own all over the woods. It is in fact an invasive exotic. Some 20% of the plants found in the woods are invasive exotics that should not be there. Up to 30% are NATURALIZED, invasive or not. NATURALIZED plants are NON-NATIVE!
Most plants sold by plant nurseries are in fact NON-NATIVE. Care must be taken when planting non-natives to not introduce them into the wild. Most of the native plants in the wild are nearly non-existent except for the native trees. Many wildflowers and native shrubs are hard to find in their native habitats any more due to farming practices and clear-cutting. Native plants are usually limited in the wild to steep slopes and swamps where man could not farm.
Planting natives today means you are helping to reintroduce the native plants into your area and hopefully they will once again be seeding in and sprouting up in their native habitats they used to enjoy. Calling a plant native when it is not does not make it so.
Many people today are concerned about where their food comes from and whether or not it has been sprayed with chemicals. One of the best ways to do this is to grow your own food. A long term investment in your food supply is to plant dwarf fruit trees.
With Spring having arrived here in Durham, NC, dwarf fruit trees are also blooming right now. The added bonus of spring flowers is a hint of juicy goodness later in the year. The following is the fruit trees I have in my garden.
I have two dwarf apple trees. I planted two because I have heard that apples must cross-pollinate. My trees are young therefore I have not had any fruit on them yet. Apple trees would prefer a little cooler weather than we have in this area. However, since I only planted them for my consumption and any friends I might share with, that does not concern me. If I was trying to sell enough to make a living on them then that might be an issue.
I have a dwarf peach tree called Belle of Georgia. Peach tree buds can often get nipped by late freezes in this area but last year I had a great little crop of peaches. I had so many peaches that a large limb in the tree was broken by the weight. I learned my lesson there and will go into pruning fruit trees a little later in this post.
In the native garden, I have a native plum. these are naturally small trees and the plums are also small. However, they are great to snack on while enjoying the garden. I cooked some of them down into a plum sauce which was very good on baked pork chops and even some baked chicken. New trees easily pop up around the parent plant allowing you to dig them up to share. They also seem to have a tendency to send up new shoots from the roots. These must be removed if you don’t want a thicket of plum.
I also have a native cherry. It has bloomed great this year. Last year I don’t remember how much it flowered but I do know I had very few cherries on it. We will see how they do this yer. I have been told that cherries also would do better in a little cooler climate as well. My view is the same as it is with the apples.
One tree that I also have but will not be dwarf is a pear tree. This tree has already produced quite a few pears. However, I still haven’t eaten one because it seems the squirrels know exactly when to pick every last one off the tree before I can get them. It’s tempting to sit out there with a BB gun and reduce the squirrel population so I can enjoy some pears.
Another native fruit tree that I have but you don’t see a lot of is the PawPaw tree. This is also known as the Hoosier Banana because the fruit is said to taste somewhat like a banana. These trees look a little tropical with their large leaves. Pawpaws can grow into large colonies. However for fruiting, you need to have trees from different colonies.
The way to prune fruit trees except for the last two on this list is to prune any limbs which are growing straight up and let the tree grow wide. This helps to make it easier to pick the fruit. You also want to prune branches back so they are stubby. This allows the structure of the tree to be strong enough to support the weight of the fruit. It also helps the fruit that does develop to be fewer yet larger. Generally prune the tree to be open and sturdy. It does no good to let the tree go big if it can’t support the fruit and you end up losing some due
to broken limbs.
So it’s been a few days since I have posted here. With warm weather, seems everyone is now thinking spring and interested in working in the garden or calling me to work on designing their garden. Not complaining at all. I’ve taken advantage of the warm weather and breaks from work to tend to Jaliya’s garden and the garden near the house. Winter weeds are always a problem this time of year as they grow like crazy ready to go to seed. This means hand pulling them before they do so hopefully next years crop is smaller. I used last fall’s leaves to cover a lot of the area not heavily planted so that has saved a lot of labor. But areas that are not quite covered with plants still allow weeds to pop up. Also while cutting back the native ornamental grasses, tree seedlings are exposed. These must be removed since I am not trying to re-create a forest. Everything goes into the compost bin except for the wisteria seeds I still find lying on the ground. These go directly into the trashcan as I do not want even one to sprout. I spent way too much time removing wisteria to create the garden to let it take back over. Unfortunately their is still wisteria next door and the seeds somehow still end up in my yard from the wind.
Late winter in Durham can have a lot of bloom if the right plants are planted. The Camellias are blooming strong as is the daphne and mahonia. Bulbs are blooming everywhere with daffodils and narcissus being the most common. Hyacinths are small but noticeable by their sweet fragrance. Corylopsis, spirea, forsythia are also blooming ahead of their leaves.Crimson Candles CamelliaCorylopsis Golden Spring
The Yoshino Cherry is blooming a little early this year. Macon Ga, where I used to live has a big cherry blossom festival every spring so I had to have one in my yard as a way to remember that city. They say they have over 300,000 Yoshino Cherries planted along the streets there. It is quite a sight to see.
Saturday I took time away from official work to go buy plants for my garden. The North Carolina Botanical Garden sell native plants daily that they have propagated on location. It is always tough to walk out of there without buying too many plants. However, I was able to obtain some new species for the memorial garden. One of the problems I am finding is trying to find the room for some plants. This is where the concept of plant layering comes in. Small plants under medium size plants under even larger plants. However, since the garden is still only about 4 years old, the separation of plants by size is not easily done while some of the larger plants have a lot of growing to still do. But as the saying goes, a “garden is never really finished.”
I attended a lecture yesterday evening about historic preservation. A recurring theme was that sustainability begins with historic preservation. A lot of energy went into building the original buildings, and while it may be quicker to tear down a building than restore it, there is still all the energy and materials that has to go into building a new building. All the efforts of previous generations to build the building are wasted.
It is similar in a garden. It takes time to grow a tree. Many times, a tree you plant, you will not see in it’s mature state. You do plant for the future. But care has to be taken to plant the right tree in the right place, the first time. Before you plant a tree, take the time to look at full grown trees of the same kind. Does your space allow for the size of that tree? If not, you are wasting today’s resources on something a future person will have to remove.
So many times I see a plant that naturally grows 15′ tall in front of a window that begins 4 feet off the ground. Eventually that plant will block the window. Often people will say, “Oh I can just prune it.” You are fighting nature. Nature always wins in the end. A lot of energy will go into fighting to keep that plant in a manageable size. It is better to plant something that will only reach 4 or 5′ high in that spot.
The same goes for growing grass under the shade of a tree. It’s an uphill battle. Plants that like full sun could eventually be shaded by the growing tree you just planted. Now sometimes you will have to plant filler plants to take that space while the tree is young. Just make sure you realize they will not be there long term and don’t plant your favorites in that spot.
Another way to make gardening easier is to plant plants native to your area. Plants from your area are conditioned to the natural weather patterns of the area. However, there are micro-climates in any region. The plant still needs similar growing conditions to where it grows in the wild. Factors to consider are moisture, sunlight, and exposure. Paying attention to all these factors will make gardening more pleasant, less work and more sustainable.
As I have written about the past couple of blogs, fire is a real danger around this area lately. The local news last night confirmed what I suspected. The golf course fire in north Raleigh over the weekend was mostly Bermuda grass burning and spreading the fire. The report even mentioned that fescue stays green for most of the year and isn’t likely to burn. But still, someone will ask me if I will plant bermuda for them and I will have to tell them no.
Which brings up a point that I often make. Man has brought in a lot of invasive plants into areas they don’t belong in and then has to deal with the consequences. Kudzu is a vine in our area brought over from Asia years ago. It climbs up and over everything looking like cloth covering over unused furniture in the attic. You can’t even see what is underneath it. It was brought over with the intent to be used as cattle feed. It grows so fast that some people swear that after a summer thunderstorm, you can watch it grow. Life is a little slower in the South and when it’s hot, you may want to do nothing more than watching paint dry but I have yet to watch kudzu grow. It needs to be eradicated but there is always a vacant property or unused country land that still has some.
English Ivy is another invasive quite common in our area. It too grows everywhere in the shade. (Kudzu likes sun) It carpets the ground and climbs tree trunks. When you walk through it, you stir up the mosquitoes who seem to love the protection it gives. Nothing but the trees and hardiest plants can survive it’s onslaught. Japanese privet is found everywhere in the woods. So is Japanese honeysuckle. One estimate is that 20% of the plants you find in natural areas are actually exotic invasive plants. If you add in the ones not yet considered invasive, the number goes up to 30%.
Now I will admit to planting many non-native plants. However, once I realize that a plant may be invasive, I plant it only with extreme care. Birds and insects native to a region, depend on the native flora for food and young. The more we upset the native balance of plants, the less the native fauna has to survive on. We need to look at the planting mistakes of the past and learn from them so that today’s cool new plant isn’t tomorrow’s kudzu. Every week I have to educate a customer on why a certain plant should not be used based on it’s invasive tendencies. We all need to educate ourselves. Look up online to find plant lists of exotic invasive plants for your area and refrain from using them. In many cases, it may actually be against the law to use them any way.
One of the joys of a garden is to have some area set aside for growing food or incorporating edible plants in the garden design. No grocery store food tastes as good as what you picked fresh off the plant that day. Part of the reason for this is that most produce in the store is picked while still green so that it is firm enough to ship. It then ripens while in transit or while in the store. As a result, it does not ripen the way nature intended and never achieves the flavor it was meant to have.
I won’t go into a lot of detail about growing veggies as every one’s site and tastes are different. I will just pass on a couple of pointers that I have learned.
A good place to start is a website I found called Sprout Robot. At this website, you can enter your zip code and check the boxes of the vegetables you are interested in growing. It will then send you an email letting you know when it is time to plant each particular vegetable. Pretty cool. This week it is time to plant peas in Durham NC. I have planted peas. I found out that it takes a lot of pea plants to get very many peas. I have a small garden so I probably won’t use my limited space for peas.
Tomatoes, cucumbers, cantelope, broccoli, and squash do very well for me. I may try a few others along the way. So far have had difficulty with potatoes and sweet potatoes but have not given up on those.
My advice is to plant what you like to eat and have the space for. Gardening is supposed to be fun. It is a lot of work if you choose for it to be so. If you find it is too much work, then you will end up frustrated and quit. Start small, and get your confidence up. Learn what works for you and enjoy yourself. Buy what you can’t grow from your local Farmer’s Market. The fuel that is spent shipping food all over this country makes little sense with viewed with thoughts for the environment and the local economy.