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Living with Hurricanes and Native Plants by VP Nell Howard

Once again, a summer hurricane has displayed the inherent and wonderful
qualities of native plants in the landscape.
The live oaks swayed in the 150 mph winds and, if they’ve been maintained
properly, few branches broke. In my back yard, the swamp maple, blooming and
upright cardinal flower, cherry tree, flowering clematis crispa, often visited by
pollinators coral honeysuckle, bee hugging sweet joe pye, black eyed susans and
salvias, and the hummingbird favorite turk’s cap took it all in stride. Louisiana
Irises bent quite a bit, but those can be cut back and/or replanted this time of
year. I’ve noticed the blue jays, hummingbirds, and Carolina wrens returning first,
plus a few strong giant swallowtails and sulphurs. Gulf Coast Fritillaries were
super busy before the storm, and I expect to see more of those shortly.
Watch for power lines! They can be camouflaged in downed tree limbs. Never
touch them. Look for places where water is collecting and empty dishes, gutter
plates, and pots to keep mosquitoes from breeding heavily in all the water left
behind the storms.
Take stock of what weathered the storm well, and be sure to collect those seeds,
where possible. Side dress plants where possible and fertilize if the storm dumped
a lot of rain. Your container plant soils will probably be depleted if they were
rained on heavily for days.
Leave the stalks of your plants that are spent, especially upright stalks of Sweet
Joe Pye and Swamp Sunflowers. Native bees use them as nests over winter, along
with fallen leaves, so blow and rake as little as possible. I’ve heard some people
cut the stalks and lay them horizontally if they’re eyesores, and I’ve not been able
to find any results as to the bees still using horizontal stalks. Experts say to leave
6-18” of upright stalk behind for the bees. Surely we can do that!
Leave the tree cutting to the professionals; but if they are mulching the wood
they cut, ask them for some of the wood chips. Leave them in black plastic bags in
a corner of your yard or house until they compost a bit, then use them in your
garden. Use like chips for like trees, oak chips under oak trees, cypress chips
under cypress trees. I’ve found that a hard root ball and hard pan soil can become
spongy again after a couple of seasons of wood chip mulch applications. Oak trees shed their leaves in storms, so that their branches don’t become overburdened,
and that’s the best free mulch there is. Bag it up and store it, dump some leaves
into your compost bins. Some people like to shred the leaves before using as
mulch, which helps it break down faster. The LA Iris rhizomes and many tender
plants will thank you.
Use this opportunity when the soil is soaked, to remove unwanted invasive plants
like nandina, tallo and elephant ears. These plants are difficult to take out, but
with soggy roots, it’s often easier to dig them out. Hurricanes spread invasive
species, via wind and water, so be on the lookout.
Even if you live in an urban environment, it’s easy to incorporate more and more
natives into your landscape, even if you have a strict HOA. From showy
coneflowers and bright yellow sunflowers (which come in all sizes), to low
growing shady plants like violets and powder puff mimosa groundcovers, to green
shrubs of many native hollies, anise, american beauty berry, wax myrtle or
fetterbush and native trees (which also come in all sizes) like Native Fringe,
parsley haw and Sweetbay Magnolias.
We can do our part to help restore biodiversity, even in our tiniest of gardens:
container gardens, patio gardens, courtyards, driveways, easements. Plant the
native species of plants you love. Replace some of the lawns in your landscape
with islands of native plants, or replace all of your lawn with meandering
pathways of native gardens. Join Doug Tallamy’s Home Grown National Park, , or just go plant a few natives.