Gardening with Native Plants by PJ LaRue Smith.
Landscape designers with an eye toward a more cost efficient, water-wise, landscape for their customers are incorporating more native plants in their designs. A “native” plant, is one that evolves in a local area with no human intervention, particularly, that it grew in that location prior to European contact. Such native plants have evolved with animals, fungi, and microbes to form a complex network of relationships. As such, these plants are the foundation of native ecosystems, or natural communities.
Why native plants? Simply put, they are acclimated to a given geographical area, its amount of rainfall, heat, winter temperatures, storm levels, soil type, soil depth, and pH. These plants will naturally be resistant to the local fungal, viral, and bacterial pathogens that other, non-native plants, may not be. Economically, they benefit the homeowner (and community) in that, once established, these plants will require little, if any, supplemental care or water to thrive and look beautiful in the landscape.
This time of year, if you look closely while driving in your local area, many trees and small shrubs are in bloom in the woods or along fence rows. Native crabapples, plums, redbuds, and blackhaws are the first to display their blooms in spring and are quite spectacular when used in the landscape. Native trees that bloom later in the spring are magnolias, sophoras, and privets. Wild rose bushes (five-petal, pink, once-blooming), and honeysuckle, can be found blooming along fence rows in early summer.
The Texas native tree/shrub list is quite extensive. To illustrate, some of the tree species that can be found in various wooded areas of Hunt County include varieties of: Ash, Cedar, Elm, Cottonwood, Crabapple, Oak, Hackberry, Hawthorn, Hickory, Holly, Juniper, Locust, Maple, Mesquite, Mulberry, Pecan, Persimmon, Redbud, Sophora (Eve’s Necklace), Walnut, and Willow! While all of these trees or shrub species are not necessarily desirable for use in the home landscape (for assorted reasons), many of these can and do make wonderful additions to the landscape.
How do you acquire these native plants? This author enjoys hiking through the woods, identifying the various plants and harvesting seeds to grow at home. For those who would rather “cut-to-the-chase” there are several Texas nurseries that specialize in native plants.
It is important to note at this juncture a criteria that must be remembered when looking for native plants to grow in the home landscape – soil type and pH. Hunt County has many types of soil – sand, loam, silt, and clay or some combination of these. Just as there are various types of soil, there is also a wide range of pH levels that are associated with those soils. If you do not know the type of soil, or its pH, it is recommended that you perform a soil test. Testing information and bags are available from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension located at 2217 Washington St., in Greenville.
If you would like to know more about the above listed tree/shrub species and what might be suitable for your landscape, visit the http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/ornamentals/natives/ website. Listed there you will find detailed descriptions, photos, soil type preferences, water needs, and other caveats for native Texas trees and shrubs. Explore and enjoy!