Saturday, April 27, 2013

Wax myrtle wrangling

In this post from about a year ago, I introduced the Texas Wax Myrtle as one of my favorite landscaping plants.  It's native, it's almost indestructible, it grows like mad, it provides almost instant screening, and it can be trained into many different sizes and shapes. 
It grows like mad, especially during the spring.  If you don't want to be looking into your back neighbors' bedroom windows, a few of these might be your ticket to near-future privacy. 
One of those qualities is both a blessing and a curse:  it grows like mad.  I've talked about this previously, showing "before and after" photos of how I've had to whack ours back, because with our small yard, our privacy screen can't be allowed to get out of control:
Screengrabbed from this post.  The wax myrtles will out-grow and impinge upon my crepe myrtle if they are not trimmed regularly. 
Anyway, I wanted to pass along a tip on wax myrtle management here.  I have no idea how tall ours would be by this time if I were not trimming them regularly, but it would probably be at least fifteen feet, whereas I prefer to keep them around nine or ten feet.  When I trim them, there's a lot of new growth that's cut back:
It's enough to carpet the entire mulch bed beneath them.  It's a hot mess. 
However, I can see no reason to make extra work for myself in picking all those trimmings up and bagging them.  I make sure to do a major cut-back right before I lay down the annual mulch replenishment, and I simply put the mulch right on top of all that stuff:
You'd never know that there's a thick layer of myrtle trimmings under that hardwood mulch.  That layer assists with a process akin to sheet composting in this bed. 
This procedure has two benefits: it saves me time and energy, but it also helps to augment the soil.  In this other recent post, I talked about the paucity of natural organic matter in greater Houston's soils being a growth bottleneck for landscaping and gardening.  Every time you forfeit an organic matter source, you're removing potential future soil nutrients.  I see commercial landscaping crews doing this all the time: they will generate "yard wastes" as they maintain raised beds, and then bag that stuff up and set them at the curb.  Then they will lay down mulch.  So they're removing an organic source for the purposes of adding an organic source when they could instead have two for the price of one.

The only thing I will not do is leave large-diameter intact branches under my mulch layers because I worry that those might attract termites.  But leaves and small twigs have never seemed to be a problem for us in that respect. 

Houston suburbanites who understand the value of organic matter have been known to become pickers in a rather unconventional sense.  I have a cohort who helps to administer a local community garden.  He occasionally drives around Clear Lake neighborhoods with a pick-up truck looking for bags of leaves and pine straw that residents' lawn crews have bagged up and set by the curb.  When he finds them, he simply tosses them into his truck and takes them over to the garden's composting area.  After the composting process is complete, he's got a soil amendment that would have cost hundreds of dollars if instead it had been acquired through a commercial landscaping supplier.  Pretty smart stuff. 
Screengrabbed from this site

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