Common Issues That May Be Affecting Your Native Plants
Are your native plants struggling? Here are a few issues that may be the problem, as well as some easy fixes.
The health of native plants can be burdened by many factors, including things like genetics, local climate, and several other issues that are more common. In the long run, even if you lose a plant or have to pull one out because it’s simply not what you thought it would be, don’t agonize over it. The loss opens up a brand new opportunity for you to gain knowledge and grow right along with your garden.
By definition, garden beds are more coddled than wild, natural spaces. The stresses experienced by plants in a woodland, meadow or desert are quite different. Once a plant is established in its environment, which will be sooner for grasses and flowers than for trees and shrubs, it’s typically best to allow them to acclimate on their own. As gardeners, it’s part of our nature to care for things, particularly those for which we’ve invested our hard-earned money. But in some cases this tendency to pamper can actually hurt more than help.
If you’ve done a good job at picking the appropriate plants for a spot and nurturing them effectively while they got established, it might not be necessary to give them additional water unless you’re experiencing drought conditions — and even then, there are types of plants that will simply go dormant (a variety of prairie plants, for instance). The way in which you water your garden depends greatly on where you’re located, what season of the year it is, the type of plants you have, and when the plants were put in the ground. Weather and location also impact the length of a plant’s establishment period.
Too Much Fertilizer
The health of native plants isn’t always dependent on having the perfect soil conditions. In fact, trying to amend the soil to achieve perfection can actually result in the plant performing poorly, including hasty growth, flopping, and a shorter lifespan. For example, when dealing with clay soil that is extremely dry in the summer but muddy in the spring and fall, choose plants that thrive in clay and adjust well to intervals of drought. Have a sandy loam? Then find plants that flourish in those conditions.
A few smart options to consider are top-dressing your soil with up to an inch of compost at planting, or using wood chips or leaf mold to enhance soil life until the plants are able to do it themselves. Many plants drop root systems each year as part of their life cycle, and those dead roots naturally adjust the soil while clearing pathways for water and air. Native plants don’t need foliage sprays and granular fertilizers. Using them may cause wilting and leaf discoloration due to an overabundance of nutrients.
Competing Root Systems
Picking out plants requires more than just knowing what they grow like above the ground. You might have some root competition going on below if your plants all have comparable root systems at the same depth levels, which means they’re all going after the same resources. While this can be a good thing if all of your plants are aggressive and competing equally, it can be bad if there are slow-spreading plants or ones that grow by clumping.
Plants with deep taproots, like coneflower, milkweed, or baptisia, should be placed amid varieties with fibrous root systems that are shallower, like short grasses or sedges.
Wood mulch is useful for adding nutrients and helping to manage soil moisture, but excessive amounts can inhibit plants and keep them stuck in a perpetual establishment phase. Putting together a landscape that is lower-maintenance and sustainable generally means leaning heavy on the number of plants and less on the mulch. In a great deal of urban landscapes, the opposite is true: mulch is a central design element, resulting in blank areas of nature. Plants should mix and touch and blanket the ground, and if they are being stopped from doing this, they remain unsettled in their environment. Especially troublesome is rock mulch when not being used in extremely dry conditions. When applied in more moderate climates, rock mulch bakes the soil and fails to add organic material to it, which is something wood mulch does do.
Rather than relying on mulch, try incorporating multiple plant layers in your bed design, including ground covers that spread, short sedges and grasses, flowers of medium height, tall grasses and flowers, and shrubs and short trees. Plant them all no more than 12 inches apart (except for the trees and shrubs). Allow the plants to be a living mulch as they help enhance the soil, regulate soil moisture, push out weeds, and grow independently without constant fussing and surveillance from you.