|Grassleaf Barbara’s Buttons (Marshallia graminifolia) |
are beautiful Florida natives suitable for a fairy tale garden…
Is native gardening a fairy tale?Once upon a time, a gardener decided that she wanted more butterflies and more birds in her yard. She read books and oodles of online material and then she attended classes, conferences, workshops, and garden fests.
After all this education, she found that she really could make a big difference by installing native plants that attract butterflies and birds with their berries and delicious leaves that caterpillars would eat. As a bonus her landscape would be easy to care for since native plants have lived in the wild for eons with no care at all.
After a great quest* far and wide across her realm, she found a local native plant nursery that had the native plants she wanted. She paid the small bounty for the plants and brought them home and everyone (and every bird and butterfly) lived happily ever after.
“Things” are more complex than than a fairy tale.
How to plant for successObviously you’ll choose a plant that’s right for the site and you’ll leave enough room for its mature size. You won’t plant a full-sized tree under overhead wires, too close to buildings, or on top of underground pipes or other infrastructure. In choosing trees, pick a relatively young sapling that has not been topped. The old gardeners’ tale of buying the biggest specimens that you can afford is wrong. A younger tree will adapt much more quickly with less ongoing care than a bigger one.
The day before planting a potted tree, soak the pot thoroughly so that it’s well hydrated. On planting day, rinse away ALL the soil from the roots and place it in a wide, but fairly shallow hole so that the root flare is at least a couple of inches above the soil level. Spread the roots out as far as they can reach and gently press the soil from the hole on the roots. Flood the hole with water and pack in some more soil around the tree so that it stands on its own. Build a berm around the root area so that when you irrigate that the water soaks into the root area and doesn’t run away. Depending upon the size, you’ll need to irrigate it every day for a couple of weeks or more and then a couple of times per week for a month or two until established. Even then you’ll want to irrigate during droughts for the next couple of years.
You should notice that NOTHING was added to the hole except the native soil. This is to encourage the roots to grow out and not stay in the planting hole. Several weeks after the tree is established (after the intense irrigation) lay a top dressing of compost in a wide band in a full circle around the edge of the planting hole to increase the fertility and to promote a healthy soil ecosystem. After the initial compost treatment lay in two or three inches of mulch, but do not pile any against the tree trunk–I use arborist wood chips as a mulch. Repeat the compost treatment each spring after the last chance of frost to stimulate new growth.
- For an irrigation schedule and volume based on the size of the tree, see my article, Trees and shrubs: the “bones” of your landscape.
- For more information wood chips, see A requiem for a hickory tree.
What to do with a “Less than Ideal” plant
|This is the same elm in 2013. The leaves |
hadn’t emerged yet. It was 7' tall
and finally looking like a tree in the
landscape instead of an abused shrub.
My ultimate goal for this tree is to have a single trunk with no lower branches, but it takes time to reach this goal because you are not to prune more than 20% of the tree per year and in this case I didn’t prune it in the fall when I planted it because I had broken some of its major roots in the process of unwinding them. The tree was already stressed and needed all its leaves to produce all the sugars so it could spend its energy adjusting to its new home. Read my post, A Less-Than-Ideal Potted Tree? Even Natives Can Have Problems for the initial care of this tree.
When I wrote this post in 2013, it was about seven feet tall. I'd needed to adjust the lead trunk the previous fall because the one I’d originally chosen was growing toward the house. I’d finished pruning away the rest of the messy branches at its base that fall. (In 2016, it's more than 20' tall.)
Irrigation for nativesOver the eons they’ve been in place, native plants have adjusted to the conditions in their natural range including the amount of rainfall. In Florida that means the natives have adapted to a five-month wet season (hurricane season–from June through October), seven-month dry season during the cooler months, and all the variations within this basic pattern. In other sections of the country, the pattern of rainfall will be different, but the principle is the same. Normally, natives (once they are established) flourish in their native habitats with only the rainfall for irrigation. That being said, in severe droughts even well-established natives could die in their natural environments.
Plant it and forget it?Managing a natural and native habitat in an urban/suburban neighborhood is much more forgiving than a landscape with a lawn and manicured trees and shrubs pruned into gumdrop and lollipop shapes. But your landscape is not a restoration of a native environment–it’s only an imitation. It will need ongoing care to keep it at least somewhat civilized around the visible edges. So no, you cannot just forget it.
Real life, even when decorated with native plants, is NOT a fairy tale.
* Quest: I started the conversation of where to find natives for your yard back on my very first post to this blog back in May 2011: Getting Started with Native Plants in Florida and later I wrote Supporting the Native Plant Industry and here is the response from native plant nurserywoman, Kari Ruder Challenges of a native plant nursery.
Note: In 2015 my book, The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape was published by University Press of Florida. It is a full discussion of this topic.
© Ginny Stibolt