Anyone who works in retail will tell you that the general public (that’s us!) is an odd lot of people. We get some crazy ideas. I know I’m in that pack, too, so I’ll poke fun at myself as well.
My little niche in all this is urban horticulture, and I hear some unusual ideas thrown forth demonizing certain plants in our landscapes. I’m here to set the record straight — to release them from the confinement of ignorance. Here is my collection of plants with undeserved bad reputations.
• Goldenrod. Many people mistake this handsome fall wildflower for ragweed, but the truth is that they look and act nothing alike. Goldenrod produces showy yellow flowers that draw bees from all around. Its pollen is sticky, which means that it doesn’t blow in the wind. Which in turn means that you won’t get it in your nose.
Ragweed flowers, like those of oaks, pines, junipers (cedars) and pecans, produce pollen that is carried long distances on wind currents. That’s where our allergies begin. Don’t blame the goldenrod. In fact, grow it in your fall garden. It’s gorgeous.
• Oaks. People say, “Oh, no. Those trees are way too slow-growing for my taste.” But given the same care that you’d be forced to give their high-maintenance sisters like fruitless mulberries, silver maples, willows and Bradford pears, oaks will grow two-thirds as fast and live 30 times longer with far fewer problems. Start with a large container-grown specimen of live oak, Shumard red oak, chinquapin oak or, fastest of them all, bur oak, and you’ll have a great tree within 10 years if you’ll just water and feed it on schedule.
• Virginia creeper. It looks vaguely like poison ivy, but on closer inspection you’ll see that its leaves are made up of five leaflets, while poison ivy leaves have three. Hence the old saying, “Leaves of three, let it be.” Virginia creeper is a rampant vine that will sprawl all over trees, fences and houses, so you may not want it anyway. But don’t kill it solely because you mistake it for poison ivy.
• Vines that adhere to brick and stone surfaces. This would include Boston ivy, English ivy and the aforementioned Virginia creeper. These vines stick to the surfaces by special rooting structures. They do no harm to the masonry or mortar, although they can trap moisture and debris behind them, and that can lead to staining of light-colored surfaces. Whatever you do, don’t let them grow across window screens, wood or siding. Those suction cups are almost impossible to remove.
• Ground covers. “Oh, no. Those will attract snakes.” That’s what I’ve heard many times. We have lived along a rural creek for 38 years, and we’ve had our share of snakes, both poisonous and nonvenomous. But I’ve never seen even one in a bed of ground cover like Asian jasmine or wintercreeper. It’s probably because the masses of stems hinder their movement, although I also haven’t seen them in my big beds of mondograss, either. They’re going to be around water and in densely wooded or rocky areas instead.
• Mushrooms and toadstools. (There are hundreds of types with all kinds of interesting shapes and colors.) These are saprophytic fungi, which means that they live off decaying organic matter such as bark mulch or dead tree stumps and roots. They present no danger to your healthy plants, and they’ll be gone within a day or two anyway. No harm, no foul. No call to action. Enjoy their novelty.
• Hollies. “I hate their stickers.” I plea to you: You’re not going to be sitting in those shrubs. You’re going to be looking at them, so don’t panic so easily. I have made almost my entire landscape with more than 30 types of hollies, most with some kind of spines on their leaves. In 38 years of gardening actively, I have never one time been hurt. Nor have my children.
I also don’t stick my hands in the eggbeater, and I’m careful not to get my basketball jersey hung up on the rim when I’m dunking. Common sense, people! Hollies are some of our finest landscaping plants. Don’t be timid about using them!
• Plants that attract bees. “They scare me. I just don’t want bees. I’ll spray them if I see them.” Whoa! Dial it way down! First of all, unless they’re provoked, bees aren’t going to hurt you. I have flowers that attract bees all over our landscape, and I haven’t suffered a bee sting in probably 40 or 50 years.
Plus (make that “PLUS!”) bees are critical to our existence. They pollinate our critical food crops, and bee populations have been dropping. Don’t ever spray bees in your landscape unless they present a clear and present danger to you and your family. If you have swarms of bees, call a professional, or give them a few days to move on. Save the bees!