Know your plants habits

>> Sunday, March 2, 2008

Getting enough information on plants requires some work. You don’t ever want to purchase a plant based solely on what one source tells you.

Luckily, I have not yet put a plant in my garden that is aggressive enough that I have to give it more attention than anything else in preventing it from taking over its neighbors. Mint is like this. I know mint is an aggressive spreader and therefore it is only grown in containers. If I want to place it in the open garden, I will simply cut a hole in the bottom of the container and plant it, still in the container, in the ground.

I don’t know enough about all plants to know their aggressiveness and potential for crowding out everything around them. I don’t know which plants demand the extra attention required to keep them in bounds.

In researching for vines to cover up my ugly chain link fence, and my neighbors uglier habit of piling junk in his yard, I am learning that it is very difficult to get enough information to make an informed decision. I am not going to name websites that fall short of giving enough information, it is virtually all of them, but when I was gathering information on what vine will fulfill my need, I would find that a flowery description on one site was countered on another site by learning the plant was considered invasive, or poisonous.

I don’t want invasive or poisonous plants in my yard. I don’t want to have to take the extra time to fuss over one plant to keep it in bounds and I don’t want them creating friction with my non-gardening neighbors by giving them something to cut back several times a year.

Maybe it is just the nature of vines and I should learn to have to deal with it, the same goes for shrubs. But I believe that if a site is going to play up the virtues of a given plant, they should also tell you of its bad points, like being on a list of invasive plants. Knowing whether or not the plant is poisonous is a major plus for children and pets.

Here is a prime example of how one site describes Akebia quinata (Chocolate vine) as a beautiful, fast growing vine that produces spicy scented, brownish-purple blossoms that hang like pendants. The vine sounds like exactly what I want. But upon further investigation I learn, from another site, that this woody perennial plant, that can be grown as a twining vine or a groundcover, forms dense growth that crowds out native plants. Now the attractiveness of this vine is beginning to fade. It is reported as invasive in six states. The site lists it as found in 16 eastern U.S. states, while on the original site, where I first found it, I am told it grows in my USDA growing zone. I am in Utah (not an eastern state, for those of you who are geographically challenged). This plant, I am told, naturalizes in warmer climates, like mine. If I were to grow this plant here, I would be contributing to the spread of a highly invasive vine that grows up to 40 feet per growing season! I don’t want that on my conscience.

For a horror story concerning this particular plant see Just Another Pretty Face.

The bottom line is don’t trust everything you read, gather information from several sources and then make an informed decision.

In learning this lesson today, I vow that in the future, when I report any information on any given plant, I will try to present as much information as I can about that plant. I will try to find out if it is considered invasive, or poisonous, or only survives in eastern states. It was very disappointing to think that this plant would grow here and then to find out it is only found in the eastern U.S. and even further disappointing to learn it would have become a full time job trying to control it.

This is a case where USDA growing zones and lighting requirements can be misleading. I may have voiced this opinion before but I think it is worth repeating. Growing zone 5 in the western states is not the same as growing zone 5 in the eastern states.

My search for a colorful vine that has berries for the birds and flowers for beneficial insects and hummingbirds and is not invasive continues. Let the buyer beware!


Anonymous March 4, 2008 at 3:03 PM  

How about planting a lot of corn and leaving the stalks there year-round?

Greg W March 5, 2008 at 6:14 AM  

Hmm, I never thought about that, I suppose they could also provide some shelter for wildlife too.

And if I left some ears on the stalks they would provide some food for birds as well.

I like the idea.


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