Wednesday, April 24, 2013

My Big, Bad Gardening Boo-Boo

Just when I think I'm actually getting the hang of this Bay-Friendly Landscaping, reality slaps me right up side the head!

And I have no one to blame but myself. 

Two years ago, I planted a pretty low-growing groundcover native to the Pacific Islands called  dwarf chenille plant, (Acalypha pendula), in my mulched beds to take up space.

It took up space alright. This innocuous looking plant, with its pretty red fuzzy blooms that resemble caterpillars, has become what my husband calls my "biggest gardening mistake ever."   

As Scooby Doo would say,  "Ruh Roh."

Chenille plant loved my yard, too much. It spread, and spread, and spread. It also started to climb.

It climbed up the shrubs.

It climbed up the trees.

It climbed up containers.

It spilled out over the edging of my landscape beds.

It grew on top of landscape fabric intended to suppress weeds. 

It grew in my shell pathways.

By now, you get the picture.

Before I bought this plant, I did what I thought was the responsible thing, and researched it. It was not listed as invasive in any of the sources I found, including the University of Florida EDIS database that I consider the most accurate. One Extension publication even recommended it as a groundcover in areas without foot traffic, which is exactly where I put it.

To be fair, the EDIS Fact Sheet says it is "not known to be invasive."
I suspect that horticulturists just don't have enough evidence about this plant's greedy nature yet, because it is not that commonly used. It's usually sold in hanging baskets, which is exactly where it should stay, based on my experience.

You have been warned.

About a month ago, we began removing it. I spent two days, about 4 hours each day, pulling it up. My husband joined me for one of the days.

A week later, it was back, popping up everywhere. We spent another few hours ripping it out.

Same thing last weekend. Rick and I each spent two hours on chenille destruction duty. We have traded in what was a very low-maintenance landscape for what seems like endless chenille patrol.  

      Four loads of chenille plant in three weeks!        
Unlike plants that grow individually from seeds, chenille plant grows by underground rhizomes that seem to have no beginning and no end. This makes it very difficult to control. There is just no way to successfully hand-pull all the rhizomes. 

After last weekend's waste of time when we should have been fishing, cycling or just sitting on the deck with a little umbrella drink, I added a new layer of pine bark mulch to my landscape beds and laid pine straw on top of that. It may slow the invading chenille, but I don't think it will stop it.

As much as I hate to say this, I think we are headed toward chemical warfare. With a plant that is as aggressive as this, a good herbicide containing glyphosate may be our only solution.  I have not used a chemical in my yard in years. But I need to defeat the chenille plant before it defeats us.

This hard lesson has reminded me of how vulnerable Florida's hospitable climate is to invasive plants and animals. It also reinforces that plants behave differently in different places and conditions. What is invasive in one yard may be well-behaved in another -- though I have since read complaints from other gardeners about the invasive nature of dwarf chenille.

But, as someone who has successfully eradicated a large plague of air potatoes in my yard, and who manages to keep in check the annoying Mexican petunias that continue to pop up 15 years after I first removed them, I know an invasive when I see one.

Stay tuned. This battle is just beginning. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

I've Got The Blues

Yes, indeed, I have the blues, but I'm not bawling.

This is the kind of blues that gives me a big grin.

My Blue-eyed Grass is in bloom! Those dainty little blossoms can cheer me up like no other plant in my yard.

Formally known as Sisyrinchium angustifolium,. this oh-so-pretty native plant  only blooms for a few weeks each Spring. But what an impact it makes!

Blue-eyed Grass is not a grass, but a member of the iris family. A perennial, it grows in a clump and stays short, about 1-2 feet high and equally wide. Mine is a gift from a friend, and it has grown and spread considerably in the last year.

Blue-eyed grass is a wonderful border or filler plant. The foliage looks nice even when it's not blooming. Frankly, I sort of forgot it was there until it bloomed last week. I didn't even notice that it was getting ready to bloom!

Now, it's impossible to ignore. I could look at it for hours, I think, especially in the early evening as I sit on my deck with a glass of wine. It's just plain adorable.

The 6-petal blooms stand tall and proud on individual stalks, with yellow centers. The petals vary in color. Mine are a deep blue, almost purple shade

Its native habitat is open woods, moist pinelands, meadows, marshes, the edges of swamps and along roadsides. 

But it's the perfect urban garden resident, happy as can be with very little care once established and tolerant of both full sun and light shade.

If you want to dig the blues in your garden, contact a native plant nursery. Florida Native Plants Nursery in northeast Sarasota County carries it, and owner Laurel Schiller is a fount of native plant knowledge. If you know of other sources for this plant, please post them in the comments section.

I did actually see blue-eyed grass very recently at a Home Depot as well -- one of the Florida Friendly Plants grown by Riverview Flower Farms. 

Or, make friends with someone who has this adorable flower in their garden and is willing to share the easily divided clumps with you. You won't be blue with this happy face to welcome Spring!