Publications (Paul's Blog)

August 25, 2009

THE NATIVE ADVANTAGE

Filed under: Uncategorized — Paul Dowlearn @ 6:58 pm

WATER: The most pressing issue concerning home landscaping today is water. Some experts predict that the state of Texas may surpass current fresh water resources within the next 20 years or so given current usage and population growth. Today it is estimated that some 60% of our fresh water supplies go to outdoor use. The bulk of this goes to landscape irrigation. Furthermore most of this irrigation is directed at grass.
This is the most important area where the use of native plants can greatly reduce the need and preserve this most precious resource. Using local native plant material we can still have our green spaces without constant irrigation. Normal rainfall is all that is needed. Giving some irrigation during dry times will keep native plants flowering and flourishing.
Planting pocket prairies and wildflower meadows to reduce large areas of lawn will create a sustainable culture while reducing cost of mowing, watering, and fertilizing. Some communities, businesses, and golf courses have implemented this in areas that are not in active use. Check your local area to see what could be/should be naturalized or simply left in its natural state.

CHEMICAL USE: Along with saving water, native plants also can help protect water supplies from chemical pollution. Nitrates from high nitrogen fertilizers are the number one chemical pollutant in our state. Areas where water supplies come from underground are especially vulnerable to pollution from lawn chemicals. Basically any and everything we put on our lawns to fertilize, control weeds, and insects eventually winds up in the reservoir or the aquifer. Where else can it go?
Being naturally resistant to local insects and diseases, native plants do not need the protection of chemical sprays to survive. Local natives are in tune with local soil types (some actually thrive in poor soils) so fertilizer inputs go away entirely. Nature has sustained these plants for many thousands of years through symbiosis with other plants, birds, insects, animals, and the creatures that dwell in the soil. The natural soil building process of the life/death/life cycle is all that is necessary.

SUSTAINABILITY: All this adds up to sustainability at its best. Although the traditional nursery system has done its best to offer us well adapted plants from all over the world, few can actually survive on their own. Some of these imports are now considered invasive species. Bermuda grass (from Africa), Japanese honeysuckle, and tumbleweeds (from Russia) are a few examples of imported plants that are displacing true native vegetation. Thankfully although a major environmental concern in some areas these invaders are the exception and not the rule. Most of the traditional plants we buy will need our help to survive. Local natives survive without any human intervention whatsoever.

REGIONAL IDENTITY: As more individuals and communities begin to use their local natives, each different ecological zone will begin to take on a distinct identity that reflects that particular part of the country. The Piney Woods, Rolling Plains, Hill Country, Panhandle, etc. will all begin to look as different from each other inside the city limits as they do in undisturbed countryside today.
Unfortunately, the way things are the front of a bank in Lufkin looks pretty much like the front of a bank in Lubbock, which basically looks pretty much like any other bank anywhere in the southern United States.

MISCONCEPTIONS: There is absolutely no difference in taking a native plant from hundreds of miles away and using a plant imported from across the sea. In both cases you are removing the plant from its preferred habitat and introducing it into a different one. Just because a plant is called a “Texas Native” does not mean it will perform well in your particular conditions. Texas is a rather large piece of real estate containing ten distinctively different ecological zones. Using the plants found within your zone will be the best choice. Even then you must pay attention to preferred habitat. A plant that is typically found growing on exposed rocky hillsides may die if transplanted to a moist or shady site. Location, location, location. Some people may envision turning a weedy place into a beautiful wildflower meadow by simply broadcasting a couple pounds of native seed. Sorry, it just isn’t that easy. Like any other type of gardening, the more time and effort spent in correct preparation, the better the results will be.

Also since native plants do so well in the wild folks may assume that they should never be watered. During extreme drought, even a prickly pear or mesquite would appreciate a little help. Better to rely on logic than luck. Because there often are a few weeds in the wildflower patch, many assume that any native planting will eventually look weedy. Nothing could be more untrue. The neatness or formal appearance of any garden is achieved by the diligence of the gardener in charge instead of the plants used. While we do caution people against over watering, pruning, and fertilizing we also are quick to add that native plants are after all like any other plant. They will respond to a little help now and then. They will repay you with years of service with a minimum amount of input. Relax and accept Nature as your partner.

And one more, Thank you for your quick response……..Paul

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