By Jolene Renfro
The world of living things is divided into two categories--Fauna and Flora (Animals and Plants). Today’s article is about flora felonies or Crimes Against Plants. Some of these crimes are punishable by death (not death of the gardener, death of the plant), and some are just misdemeanors, where the plants forgive the gardener’s mishandling and continue to grow anyway. See if you have been guilty of any of these:
• Crepe murder – cutting the tops off of crepe myrtles, leaving knobby stubs on the top of the shrubs. The plant will always look mutilated. The only thing you can do is cut the bush back to the ground and let it regrow in a more natural form. In the future, plant dwarf shrubs if you do not want them to take up so much room.
• Magnolia tree mauling – rimming the lower branches so that the magnolia tree takes the shape of an elm or oak. Magnolia limbs should be allowed to grow naturally from where they reach all the way to the ground so that the tree is more conical in shape. The leaves and seed pods will drop into the center and be less cleanup work for the gardener, and the tree doesn’t look like it is trying to be something other than a magnolia tree.
• Amputation – sawing a limb off incorrectly. Tree limbs should be cut so that a slight collar is attached to the trunk. Use a tool sharp enough to result in a clean cut, and take care, so the bark is not torn or splintered. It is debatable if tree pruning paint is needed; even without it, the tree will form scar tissue over the cut and keep out disease and insect infestation. (Oak trees may need to have pruning paint applied to prevent fungal infection.)
• Smothering – planting trees too close to the house, causing root invasion under the house and roof damage from overhanging limbs. Mature trees that have a house foundation or driveway poured on their root system almost always die.
• Scoliosis – planting a sun-loving plant where other trees or buildings shade it causing the plant to become crooked as it reaches for the light. Also, resist planting a group of shrubs too close together so that they crowd each other when they mature. Read up on recommended planting space and add a little more space to what is recommended. Remember, everything grows bigger in Texas.
• Strangling – (called tree girdling) caused by tying a tree to a stake with a wire or twine so that as the tree grows, the vascular system is cut off and the limb or tree is killed without food or water.
• Torturing – trimming shrubs at an incorrect angle so that the top of the shrub is wider than the bottom. The lower leaves will not get enough light and eventually die off, and the bush looks like a lollypop.
• Drowning – planting where water collects in low places and the plant roots accidentally drown. This is just as bad as loving a plant to death by deliberately over-watering or over-fertilizing it.
• Poisoning – planting where herbicides have been used and the residue poisons the plants. Also lethal is spraying herbicides without using a piece of cardboard as a shield for desirable plants, resulting in herbicide overspray, killing the desirables.
• Malnutrition – not testing and amending the soil before planting. Planting an alkaline-loving plant in an acid soil, planting in rocky or hard clay soil, or planting in soil that lacks nutrients, will all cause the plant to starve or be stunted slowly. Have a soil test done and follow the recommendations of the experts at Texas A&M or Stephen F. Austin State University. Soil sample bags can be obtained at the AgriLife office in Crockett.
• Assault and battery – accidentally cutting plants too close to the ground with the weed eater. But don’t give up on them; they could re-sprout from the roots.
Plants are very forgiving, and many will continue to grow despite the abuse heaped on them by gardeners. If you have perpetrated any of these flora felonies, try not to be a repeat offender, or the plant police might come and arrest you (not really!).
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