Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Landscaping Made Easy, Part 6: What NOT to Plant

As I'm working my way through a list of plants that could be considered suitable for small-yard spaces like most homeowners have in Centerpointe, there are a few that should be mentioned as non-starters:

(1) Dwarf magnolias.  I put this one at the top of the list because it has become a very popular choice as an accent "shrub". 
So popular, in fact, that our builder's landscaper put one in our front bed without our knowledge, about five feet from our foundation.  We plan to rip this out and either give it to a neighbor or a charitable organization.

Yes, these flowers are beautiful, but they last for exactly one day a year.
I say "shrub" in quote marks because it's only the portion above the ground that is dwarfed - the root system of a dwarf magnolia will reportedly grow to be about the same size as a tree, and will be just as invasive.  As such, it has powerful potential to damage the foundation of your house.  Houston landscape guru Randy Lemmon positively rails against this recent practice of using dwarf magnolias as close to the house as the one shown above, referring to landscapers who do this as "stupid" and "bone-headed".  It's simply not worth risking thousands of dollars of damage to your foundation - there are species with less invasive root systems that are more suitable as foundation plantings. 

(2) Palms (many species).  I'd get howls of protest for scratching this one off my list, but look at these two facts:
  • Many palms can't tolerate freezes.  This is especially true of the very popular "queen palm" types.  Back in February 2011 when we were having rolling blackouts and freezing weather, I wondered whether that resident on Harvard Pointe who had installed an entire back row of queen palms would be able to salvage any of them.  They were not.  If you look at that yard today, you'll see that all of the large queens were ripped out and replaced with something that looks from a distance like a holly-type tree.  That resident's entire investment was lost.  Even if your queen palms don't freeze outright, they tend to get damaged by frosts and look very shabby for years at a time. 
  • Some need maintenance.  Other species such as Mexican fan palm, are more resistant to freezes, but correspondingly, they need frequent maintenance, especially removal of lots of dead hanging leaves that look very ugly.  If you look at most Mexican fans in our area, mostly you'll see great collections of dead leaves with three or four live fronds at the very top.  Furthermore, they don't provide much privacy.  My purpose here is to identify low-maintenance, hardy plants, and palms don't make the list. 
Photo from Wikipedia, but most of them don't look anywhere near this nice.
(3)  Bananas.  Like palms, banana "trees" are desired for their exotic look.  They are inexpensive and demonstrate fantastically fast rate of growth and, as such, can provide privacy very quickly.  However, they also expire as quickly as they grow, and require tremendous maintenance as a result.  A "tree" that produces fruit has completed it's life cycle and will die, often in a slimy rotting heap that attracts insects, especially cockroaches.  Once established, the root systems can be difficult to remove.  I had a clump of them at a previous residence, and had to work hard to remove all traces of them.  Again, not a good choice for a plant-and-forget-about-it yard strategy.
Photo from Wikipedia.
(4) Invasive bamboo.  Notice I used the word "invasive" there; not all bamboo species are the kind that get out of control and infest residential properties without limits.  However, unless you know for sure what you're doing with bamboo, it can be much more trouble than it's worth.  There have been numerous lawsuits (such as this one) in which neighbors sue neighbors for cross-fence removal costs of this stuff.  At the same time, properly selected and controlled bamboo can provide a stunning privacy screen and/or great western-exposure sun shade for your home (even if it's a two-storey home!) without the need for much maintenance.  At the present time, I'm experimenting with some bambusa malingensis, also known as "seabreeze bamboo".  It's supposed to be particularly easy to control and well-suited for coastal counties, but it's too soon after planting for me to tell how it's going to grow in the soil conditions we have in Centerpointe.  My recommendation regarding bamboo is this: if you feel you want to try some, go talk to CayDee Caldwell of Caldwell's Nursery in Rosenberg, which specializes in bamboo.  Tell her exactly what your goals are, and let her suggest a species.  And then don't buy from anywhere else.
This is some of the b. malingensis that CayDee has growing in her nursery this past winter.  Not sure if ours will grow to look anything like this, but notice how it's neat and colorful and confined to a specific area.
OK, there are the first four on my hit-list of not-recommended plants for Centerpointe.  I'll continue on in future posts as time allows. 

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