I admit to being a plant geek. It’s been that way all of my life. My social life in high school pretty much revolved around my backyard gardens and greenhouse. I love plants.
With that said, however, I have a list of plants I’ll probably never try again – at least as long as I live in North Texas and garden in the Blackland soils. Most of these are fairly common, so I offer them in the spirit of perhaps helping you avoid the pitfalls that brought me to this topic. But please keep in mind that these are just one guy’s opinions. They’re not necessarily right, nor are they wrong. They’re just the results of my own experiences.
Bald cypress trees
I can’t keep these green. Iron deficiency causes probably half the bald cypress trees in North Texas to turn yellow by mid-summer. Yet we keep planting them, especially in commercial landscapes, perhaps because they’re comparatively inexpensive. And this doesn’t even address their large, knotty roots (“knees”) that form above ground. They’re death on mower blades. And bagworms. The trees are beset with them.
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I love these trees. They’re fairly upright, so they don’t take up much room. Their foliage is dark green and handsome, and it gets even better as the weather cools in the fall. But iron deficiency kills them. It’s rare to find one growing happily 10 or 12 years after it was planted in DFW.
These were destined to be darlings. Their cinnamon-colored trunks are glorious as the trees mature. Their foliage is graceful and almost evergreen. But these trees lean. They have a hard time standing straight on their own. You can’t pull them or push them. Too often, they’re just going to lean. And they’re highly susceptible to the fatal cotton root rot fungus that inhabits our soil.
Fast-growing trees in general
This list is lengthy. It includes ashes, silver maples, cottonwoods, willows, Arizona ashes, mimosas, catalpas and many others. It’s a diverse group of trees, but the one thing they all have in common is that they’re short-lived – not good investments.
Japanese ligustrums (Japanese privets)
These are not to be confused with the sterile and shorter, very glossy-leafed waxleaf ligustrums that are longtime Texas favorites in landscaping. Japanese ligustrums grow to 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide, and they cover themselves with big clusters of purple berries. This plant has become highly invasive across Texas and should really never be allowed to grow where its seeds can be spread by migrating birds.
Redtip photinias and Indian hawthorns
At one point these were top-grade landscaping species, particularly the hawthorns. However, an especially challenging fungus known as Entomosporium leaf spot moved in 30 or 35 years ago and began to wipe out all of our plantings. Redtips were savaged first, but then the fungus must have mutated to attack the closely related Indian hawthorns. Now they’re falling like flies as well. There are far better plants available in nurseries. Let your Texas Certified Nursery Professional help you choose the best ones.
Especially dwarf types. I love these shrubs, but they’re not reliably winter-hardy in North Texas. People try them, and they succeed for several years. But there will come a winter when they’ll all be lost. We’ve lived here almost 50 years, and they’ve frozen out entirely three or four times.
As much as I love the fragrance, they’re not reliably winter-hardy. You just can’t count on them in extreme winters. Whiteflies love them. Sooty mold grows in the honeydew the whiteflies leave behind on the foliage. Too many strikes, and they’re out.
Roses (for now)
Mark this one up with three initials. RRV. Rose rosette virus. It’s a fatal viral disease for which we have no cure and no preventive. It’s spread by a microscopic mite, and plenty of people are unaware that their plants are infested so they’re doing nothing to stop its spread. Until resistant types are introduced, I’m using other sources of color.
This is the most invasive plant that we grow. People plant a sprig thinking that they’ll be able to contain it, but before they realize it, it’s spread across their yard and onto the neighbors’ turf, too. If there’s one plant that you never want to plant in your garden, this needs to be it.
Ornamental grasses (most types)
I’ll lose friends with these comments, but I feel that we’ve gone too far with the grasses. These aren’t shrubs, and we shouldn’t be using them as such. Most types start to thin out after two or three years so that massed plantings begin to look tacky. One notable exception is Lindheimer’s muhly. It’s a lovely clump-forming perennial that looks good 12 months a year.
Rather than just ending on a negative, let me continue on next week with the plants at the other end of my list: those plants I’d have in almost any landscape I planned for North Central Texas. I’ll bring my favorites.