Publications (Paul's Blog)

June 23, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — Paul Dowlearn @ 8:02 pm

  Over the years, my experience as a nursery owner and landscape contractor has revealed a number of things regarding landscaping that are believed by the general public but just aren’t true. Despite the fact that these beliefs are not supported by professional opinion or natural fact, these issues are held as common truth. Nonetheless it has dawned on my feeble mind that somebody, somewhere needs to dispel these myths. So here are a few that may seem ridiculous to veteran gardeners. My apologies to you, but please read on and share these facts with your non-gardening friends.

    Where is it written that lawn grass should grow right up to the trunk of our shade tree? This is without a doubt the number one misguided belief among homeowners. I have wracked my brain to think of where this notion actually came from. Sure, I understand that the lawn is extremely important in the eyes of most Americans. I also know that most homes will have a few trees planted for the benefit of shade not to mention all the other wonderful things trees provide. I am also perfectly aware of the strong desire of the manicured lawn enthusiast to attempt this. The simple fact is that grasses are sun lovers. The only place where grasses are found in a natural forest is in the clearings. The few grasses that can handle dense shade are certainly not something we can maintain with a lawn mower.

  Although maintaining grass in deep shade has never been recommended in any serious text concerning home landscaping, your average homeowner believes that it can be done. Grass in shade can only exist as long as the homeowner is willing to keep thinning his tree branches and replanting his lawn grass. In the shade found on the north sides of houses and other structures that exclude any and all direct sun it is impossible. All the popular lawn grasses must have some sun. There never has been (and possibly never will be) a suitable lawn grass for deep shade. On the other hand, much has been written and experimental trials continue on shade tolerant lawn grasses, and there, ladies and gents, lies the key word. We in the business say shade tolerant…….NOT shade loving.

  The shade provided by trees is far more valuable than lawn grass. There are plenty of other plants that thrive in deep shade. Create a shade garden or consider some of the other alternatives. Otherwise you will get caught in that never ending cycle of trimming trees, planting grass, trimming trees, planting grass, trimming trees, and chasing that elusive new grass that will make your dream come true.

  Where is it written that plants grow at a predictable rate? Every day someone will ask this question of me. It is a viable question but truthfully it cannot be answered in anything other than “average” rates given decent soil and weather conditions. There are so many variables concerning growth rate that I have written entire articles on the subject. Even plants of the exact same species planted side by side will grow at different rates. Anyone who has planted row crops in a vegetable garden will know this is true. How can we possibly predict how large that seedling tree will be in two years? Be aware that anyone who gives an exact growth rate on plants is probably quoting something they read as an average. The best way to describe growth rate is slow, moderate, and fast.

  Where is it written that all plants should be planted in spring? Although some plants do need to be planted after the danger of frost has past, most plants establish quicker if planted in fall and winter. Here in Texas, summer is the main killer of young plants. In short, any woody plant or long living perennial will benefit from planting in early fall as soon as hot weather subsides and fall rains begin. This allows the maximum establishment time before the next hot summer. It also allows the roots some growth time while the top of the plant is dormant during winter. Landscaping can be done at any time of year when using container grown plants.

  Where is it written that plants need some special type of fertilizer or “plant food?” Once again, we nursery owners are often asked this question; “What kind of fertilizer should I use?” Or perhaps; “How often should I fertilize?” As if the use of fertilizer is a given. Actually there is quite a bit of information written about various levels of N, P, and K and/or various brands of fertilizer. However, when you consider the source of such information, it will always lead back to those who make fertilizers or will profit from the sale of fertilizer.

 Science says that plants as we know them have existed on Earth for over 400 million years. During that time there has only been two sources of nutrition or “plant food” if you wish. That is minerals provided by erosion from rock strata and organic matter from decaying plants, animals, and their by-products. Given this fact, it is safe to say that all plants need is whatever soil is present and some decomposing organic matter (compost) to feed on. Case closed.

  If you are one of those people who feel you should invest in a fertilizer for your lawn, another formulation for bedding plants, and yet another for roses you should try this simple test. Continue your regular fertilizer routine but set aside a small portion of your lawn and garden. Top dress an inch or so of compost in these areas and you will see the difference.

  I own a nursery and I can buy whatever fertilizer I want at wholesale prices. Over the years I have tried all kinds and different brands. What I have settled on as best for all plants is compost with occasional use of aerated compost tea on seedlings and rooted cuttings. I do include some molasses, seaweed, liquid humates, and other products to boost the beneficial microbes as I brew my compost tea. If you want to maximize any crop from vegetables, to roses, to newly planted trees or shrubs, you might give this a try

Top dress with compost during the spring and fall growing seasons and spray the entire plant and ground beneath with aerated compost tea as often as once a week until you achieve desired results.

  Where is it written that exotic hybrids are somehow better than local native plant material? The exact opposite is true. While the latest named varieties enjoy great press from plant breeders, extension agents, and the folks who are paid to evaluate plant performance, there is no way they can compare with thousands of years of natural selection that your local native plants have endured.

 Many hybrid plants have literally been bred to death. Roses are perhaps the best example. The latest trend among rose enthusiasts and breeders has been using old roses (or antiques) for their superior genetics. Another trend has been growing roses on their own roots instead of grafting. Not long back it was considered fact among rosarians that grafting the new hybrids to wild rose root stock gave us the best of both worlds. What has been discovered lately is that even the finicky modern hybrids fare better if allowed to use their own roots. Seems the graft itself was always the weak link in the chain. 

  Whether it be trees, shrubs, vegetables, or flowering plants, as we are discovering more about the hidden but all important world of genetics and microbes the example of roses holds true. Local native varieties will offer better resistance to insects, disease, and atypical weather followed by antique or heirloom varieties. The latest sweetheart hybrid just may be the hardest plant to keep alive when the chips are down, and may not be the super performer the advertisements lead us to believe.

  These are but a few misguided notions that somehow get passed along from one generation to the next. Again I apologize to the veteran gardeners out there who are aware of the facts. However, folks who are not avid gardeners usually don’t read gardening articles so they really need your help. Share your experience and wisdom every chance you get. The world needs more gardeners, less misguided information, and less unscrupulous sales people for sure.

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