Saturday, June 14, 2008

Whether drought or deluge, natives are best

Summer officially arrives next Saturday. What does that mean to Texans? In a normal year, not much. Usually at this time of year it's already been hot for a while. Last year, spring and summer were cooler than normal and we had near-record rainfall. The year before, it seems we had 12 months of heat without much rain (although I know I'm exaggerating...a little.) 2006 was the year of the drought; 2007, the year of the deluge. 2008 is shaping up to be the year of the downturn (as in, economic.) In all three cases, and more, native plants are the best choice for your garden/landscape. And why is that?

During The Drought, it suddenly became fashionable (and practical) to switch to low-water usage plants. Xeriscape and waterwise were the regional catch-words of The Drought. City officials were recommending we use Albuquerque's plant list. Many people (and contractors) began planting desert plants. Bad idea...unless you live in the desert. Sure, those plants worked well as long as there was no rain. But when 2007 rolled around, and The Deluge began, nearly all of those desert plants drowned and their roots rotted. Homeowners and contractors were left scratching their heads...

Here it is, 2008, and most of the country is suffering -- oh, what should we call it -- a recession? An economic contraction? Slowdown? I like "downturn" -- not as partisan or political. (I know, it's an election year, I can be political. ;-) Anyway...So those same people who planted desert plants because their "traditional" landscape died during The Drought, lost their desert landscape during The Deluge. They have lost two landscapes in two years and have to start on option #3, but they might be losing their job soon, or they are caught up in the housing credit crisis, or or or.

Go native, I say. First, when traditional (overused, non-native) landscape plants, like Indian Hawthorn and Nandina suffered because of The Drought, native species thrived. Native grasses (which make excellent substitutes for shrubs), such as Little Bluestem, Big Muhly, Gulf Muhly and Inland Seaoats performed spectacularly all year long. Whereas delicate perennials -- Gardenia, for example -- were intolerant of the sustained heat and lack of rainfall, hardy native perennials bloomed more profusely. Plants like Four Nerve Daisy, Giant Coneflower, Pitcher Sage and Lyre Leaf Sage proved that a natural, organic and native landscape can be colorful, low-maintenance and drought-tolerant. (And still look 'organized'.)

Many MANY clients called in 2006 just to say, "You were right!" Their native plant landscape had survived while their neighbors' plants had suffered -- or worse, died.

Then, when The Deluge of 2007 began, those same clients called again to say, "You were right!" Their plants had continued to thrive. To be sure, they prefer things to be a little on the hot-and-dry side. But, because they were established by 2007, they actually grew taller and wider, and bloomed longer, because of the additional rainfall.

This year so far isn't as hot and dry as 2006, or cool and wet as 2007. But the plants continue to grow happily, no matter what Mother Nature throws our way. Clients who plant the right plant, in the right place, lose fewer plants. And who can't use that cost savings, especially during an economic downturn.

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