Saturday, August 29, 2020

Native Trees and Why We Shouldn't Overlook Them

 Everyone is talking about native plants these days. Most people do not know the difference between native and non-native plants. Some believe that if you see a plant growing in the wild that it is native. That is not necessarily true. There are many plants that have established themselves among our native plants and trees that actually were introduced from foreign countries somewhere in our past.

Native simply means that a certain thing has been a part of a particular area for as long as man has been documenting plant discoveries.

For example, in the North Carolina region, you are likely to see mimosa trees growing along the edge of wooded areas and roadsides. However, North Carolina is not home to these trees. They are actually considered an invasive species because they were introduced here in 1745 from Asia and due to their adaptability they spread very quickly and rob native plants of the light, nutrients, and space to grow efficiently. Ever wonder why you don't see mimosa trees growing within most state parks? That is because of their invasive status.

Invasive plants threaten biodiversity in the U.S.  Native animals and insects feed and grow on native plants. If invasive plants are left to spread, they will eventually choke out a lot of the native plant species and in turn, it will deplete the area of natural food sources and nesting habitats for the native animal life.

Photo: Kudzu, Invasive species originating in Asia.

The growing interest in native plants is bringing hope to many. If you do your research before you do your landscape you can find native alternatives to most things. 

A lot of people will ask for red maple, and then get upset when their red maple has green leaves. Most of the maple trees you see in people's yards are indeed a variety of Japanese maple. Native red maples are only red in the fall after they have changed colors and begin to drop their leaves for winter. While red maples are native to our area, most of the ones that are red all year are not. 

There are several more native trees you may have overlooked in your search for the perfect addition to your landscape such as oak, river birch, and the Slender Silhouette Sweet Gum. Though you may associate native with common, that is a misconception, as they are not so commonly used in a landscape plan. Many are underutilized in a manicured setting, and that is a shame because all natives have a unique personality that is capable of lending a wow factor to any landscape plan. 

If you are looking for an ornamental tree, there are three natives to consider. The redbud tree is a native that most are familiar with. In the spring they offer beautiful blooms and interesting heart-shaped foliage. The foliage of the Carolina Sweetheart Redbud is variegated,  Ruby Falls and Forest Pansy are purple, and Rising Sun is yellow and gold. This provides visual interest all summer.

Dogwood is another native that is growing in popularity among homeowners. Their gorgeous spring blooms, their interesting shapes, fall, and winter red berries, and their growth patterns definitely make this native tree a winner every time. 

We must not forget the southern favorite, the magnolia. With their large, fragrant, white blooms and dark green waxy foliage that is present year-round, you can't go wrong.

Native plants support native wildlife and keep the ecosystem balanced and happy. Which, in turn, keeps native food sources plentiful and thriving. This circle of life that we are all a part of is a delicate balancing act. When invasive species of any kind are introduced it can upset the entire circle. Plant native, plant happiness.

To Do or Not To Do?

 Well, it's that time of year again- your garden is fading and so are the wonderful moods that come with all the summer blooms. Many of us are left wondering what to do now in this space between summer and fall.

Begin with making sure you rid your garden spaces of any unwanted weeds. Even small weeds can turn into big problems if left through the fall, as many of them will seed out before winter and prepare for a healthy new crop of weeds for the spring. 

Do not fertilize trees and shrubs now. At this point, your plants are going to begin the process of going dormant. Fertilizing now serves very little purpose for the plant growth, as the nutrients will not be utilized by a dormant plant and may actually be harmful. It will cause new growth that may be killed by the first cold snap. 

Clean all of your pruning tools and put them away. Cutting your plants back now will encourage new growth. If that new growth takes place before dormancy, you could potentially be setting your plants up for failure for spring as the tender growth may not survive the colder temps. Remember, do not butcher your crape myrtles. Pruning them severely like is seen will eventually kill them. Plant the right size where you want it to grow, so it will not outgrow its space. Also, If you prune spring flowering shrubs, you will be cutting off your spring blooms. That defeats the purpose of them. They will just be another green bush.

Prepare your soil for cold weather crops and begin to plant them. Leafy greens such as cabbage, kale, lettuce, mustard, spinach, and collards do very well in cooler temps, as do, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. 

If you are not planting cold crops, you can begin to clean out your summer veggies that are no longer producing. Turn your soil, add compost and mulch well. This will help to add nitrogen and nutrients to your soil and keep some weeds at bay for your spring planting season. Compost will make it easier for water to penetrate the soil.

Now is the time to think about adding pansies and mums to your garden. Mums are the flower of fall. Even one mum on your front porch or several around your mailbox say welcome. Just be sure to keep them watered as mums are thirsty plants. Pansies are the longest blooming flower, with the most color variety of any other flower. If planted in the fall, pansies or violas will bloom most of the winter and will be beautiful in the spring. I have even seen the blooms peeking through a light snowfall. They will brighten a winter or rainy day. An added bonus is they are edible. I have seen them sugar coated as cake decorations or added for color to a salad. Pansies are deer's favorite food. We spray the blooms with Liquid Fence, which is organic. It works to keep deer out of our pansies. That is why we sell it.

So get out there and jump into fall with all the enthusiasm that you had in the spring. Trust me, you won't regret it.