Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Too much of a good thing?

As I've been weeding the back garden paths I've had time to take a long hard look at our garden beds.

Once we got rid of the vast majority of the St. Augustine lawn, my goal out back was to get paths laid out and beds set in with plants that looked good, provided benefit to pollinators, and/or produce for humans. I didn't have a huge budget.  We did the work ourselves and focused on the sale tables, snagging native and well adapted easily propagated non-native plants.  For the most part, this strategy was successful.  Maybe a little bit too successful?

My inclination has always been to let plants that are doing well take the lead. If a plant begins to crowd its neighbors or the path either one I try to divide and transplant it to fill gaps in other spaces.  Why buy new plants, I reasoned, when I had happy plants to easily propagate already on hand?

The problem with this approach is that as the years went by a few well-adapted non-natives got ahead of the game. Way ahead. I only have a few areas that get good sun and a handful of well adapted non-native plants are currently hogging those bright spaces while native plants I sought out specifically to support butterflies and bees are straggling in beds progressively shaded out by overgrowing trees.

I realized the solution is in my hands.  I need to re-prioritize allocation of my sunny spaces and get back in charge of what goes where.  It is time to stop complaining that I don't have any spots left for the plants I want and to create space for them in the sun.  What specifically needs to go?
Origanum vulgare
Oregano.  It is cold hardy, low growing, has tiny flowers that attract skippers and hairstreaks and it out compete many weeds.  It is great to have some on hand for cooking, but realistically I could currently support the culinary needs of an entire Italian village with the amount of oregano I have out back.

Most of it needs to go, hopefully transplanted to areas out front where it can have some running room in shady areas that won't support blooming local pollinator boosters.

Allium tuberosum
What else?  Garlic chives.  I like their strappy leaves, I love their blooms and I do use them occasionally in cooking.
However, as with the oregano I now have enough garlic chives to keep a Chinese province happy.  Time to let some of them go.
Leucanthemum vulgare
Daisies?  I'm looking at you now.  The remnants of a package of "wildflower meadow" seeds planted over a decade ago, persistent clumps of ox-eye daisies have spread (and spread...).  While I appreciate how hardy they are I simply don't want them dominating my beds the way they do.

Though their flowers are a favorite of mine, the large clumps of leaves provide safe harbor for snails.  Daisies turn out to be bullies in the garden, crowding everything else out of their way.

The last plant on my hit list, a guilty pleasure for me - Jewels of Opar.  I adore the tiny flowers and brightly multicolored berries that sway on long delicate stems high above the chartreuse flowers.
They die back each winter and reappear in warmer weather, making them a great companion planting to follow early native blooms.  But they also reseed somewhat aggressively, transplant easily, and I realized with a start the other day I'm guilty of putting them in nearly every bed.

They don't seem to support any fauna other than grasshoppers, snails and deer. I think they are lovely, but not to the exclusion of all else. Onto the chopping block they go.

This coming Fall I plan to replace my line-up of non-native sun hogs with a variety of blooming native plants.  Winter weather for 2014-15 is predicted to be a bit warmer and wetter than usual which would help new plantings get well established before next summer's heat arrives.  And if I lack for ideas about which native plants to choose?  There are wonderful local garden blogger posts to help me figure out what works where, what plantings are companionable, how things will look at various times of the year and how much maintenance to expect.

This is a much more ambitious plan than my usual "fill in the shady gaps" Fall planting program.  I'm excited at the prospect of introducing more pollinator friendly native wildflowers to my garden spaces.  As it turns out, I do indeed have some space in the sun - I just have to open it back up to the plants that properly belong here.


Tina said...

Soul sisters we are--I'm now convinced. I share some of the same concerns and problems. I've generally been good about using natives, but I too have so much "part-shade"--which really means a few hours of hot sun which tempts me to plant for "full" sun, only to have the plants lean, or struggle or do nothing. It's really easy for me to let something take over that I like and that works. So, I have to exercise some self-discipline and remove sometimes. That's gardening, I suppose.

Linda/patchwork said...

Isn't it interesting, that we go from 'Oh...that's doing so well.' to 'OMG...that's taking over!'

So far...unfortunately...I haven't had that problem here. I'd like a bit more rampant overgrowth.

But, the deer, the heat, the cold, the drought and the floods, have kept things in check.

I will be moving things around this fall, and hoping for that promised mild, damp winter.
I won't hold my breath for that, though. The rain promises this summer, so far have skirted around us.

Happy first day of (can you believe it?) August.

TexasDeb said...

Tina: Deal, lady. Soul sisters it is. I used to think it was entirely too arbitrary to remove part of all of any plant that was doing well where it was. It seemed counter-intuitive. Now that I know a little bit more about how non-natives are able to out compete what rightfully belongs here? I am feeling relief at the prospect of lightening my non-native load!

TexasDeb said...

Linda: I've been where you are. I'd read that something was considered invasive and overly aggressive and think "Perfect! Just what I need!".

I'm not holding my breath for winter to be kind to our gardens but the more places I check the more widespread the agreement that overall it will be warmer than 2013-14. Famous last words, right? Depending on Texas weather? Sucker bet every time.

Anonymous said...

I've been asked why I use a groundcover that takes over, like native prairie sage - yep! Seems that's what they should do, include cover gravel everywhere. Your oregano looks like a good one!

TexasDeb said...

David: You're quite right - the oregano is a great ground cover and I can't fault it for doing just that. My quandary is it has taken over more than its fair share of the few coveted sunny spaces. I'm going to try to move most of it to the front beds where deer browsing severely limits what I can plant.

Unknown said...

One of the many fun aspects of gardening - constant change. Good luck with all the new plantings. I can't wait to see the results!

TexasDeb said...

Rebecca: Thank you! I'm really looking forward to the challenge of searching out seeds and plants for the spaces I'll open up later this month. Having an empty sunny spot to fill is a rare treat for me!