Help me transfrom my suburban yard into a patch of Texas.
February 17, 2011 8:00 AM   Subscribe

I would like to populate my yard with native plants that would grow on their own in my local climate (read: no extra watering, very low care). How can I, a gardening novice, successfully transfer cuttings of live plants I encounter on my hikes around the area to my yard? What should I look for? What should I avoid?

I live in southeast Texas and need plants that can survive long periods of scorching drought punctuated by the occasional apocalyptic monsoon. I want to move toward a yard that looks like Southeast Texas, not Suburban Everywhere. I don't want to fuss over my yard and waste water on it either.

Is there a "Transplanting Cuttings from Native Texas Plants 101" out there somewhere?

Bonus for edible, wildlife/butterfly/hummingbird friendly, otherwise "useful" plants.
posted by cross_impact to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Your local extension should be a great resource for this kind of information (at least what plants grow well, attract critters you want etc, not necessarily where to go get cuttings and what not .) They may offer free plants/trees as part of a native species program.

Google (based on your TX location) suggests as the local extension for your area. (Try the horticulture link there)
posted by k5.user at 8:06 AM on February 17, 2011

You need to be careful about taking cuttings from public spaces and roadways- removing plant life is illegal. However, The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center has a database of native Texas plants that will help you to design the yard of your dreams. If you can get out to Austin, their test gardens are a really beautiful inspiration.
posted by pickypicky at 8:08 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

You need the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center! They have a list of plants for East Texas and a separate one for South Texas. They have plant sales. There is a LOAD more on that site. Have fun!
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:09 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I can only suggest what to avoid. At all costs, avoid transplanting orchids. Most likely they will never survive, as they rely on the specific microclimate where they live.
I am in Canada, and an expert spoke at our orchid society about local orchids, and the above was his advice about transplanting orchids, even from construction sites where they would normally be damaged.

I love moss, and have an outside moss garden. Over the years I have transplanted moss from all over the local areas. Only a few survived. Moss also seems to rely on a microclimate.
posted by mbarryf at 8:10 AM on February 17, 2011

Yes, only do this WITH PERMISSION. My husband maintains a native garden (in Illinois, sorry, I don't have great specific resources for you) and is active in local wildland restoration. When doing restorations he gets permission from site managers to collect seeds or cuttings of NON-endangered plants native to the area. Mostly seeds. Without permission, it's illegal, and you could be disruptive delicate ecosystems or endangering already-endangered plants. People like my husband go out and spend HOURS on Saturdays rooting out invasive weeds and restoring areas where human intervention has destroyed plants. The worst thing in the world is when they get there and find someone has been through cutting plants. If they catch the perpetrator, they will and do prosecute.

Native gardening has gotten a lot more popular, so most nurseries carry at last some native plants now. The local extension can give you lots of information about what's locally native, as can books about your local or regional wildlands. Then it's just a matter of finding those plants.

We have a local-ish (50 miles away) nursery that does nothing but natives, and they will actually compound a custom seed mix for you of natives to your specific microarea, and adjust it according to use. My husband ordered 2 lbs. of "prairie bluff natives for X area" with the mix weighted towards big bluestem (one of my favorites), plants that draw butterflies, and showier flowers, to make a nice residential garden mix that's still native and ecologically sound. If somewhere near you does this, or will do it for you, it's just about perfect!

Many gardening experts suggest starting with seeds anyway, since what is willing to come up from seed in your microclimate is probably willing to survive. If you plant a transplanted perennial and next to it grow the same plant from seed, the one from seed typically ends up more robust.

One specific recommendation, it looks like Swamp Milkweed is native to east Texas. Swamp Milkweed thinks THE BEST THING IN THE UNIVERSE is being parched for months on end and then absolutely drowned monsoon-style. Plus it's a food source for monarch butterflies and draws a ton of them. (Dave's Garden says "requires constantly moist soil" but we put it in the spot that drowns in September and April and is baked dry from June through August and it just. gets. bigger. We also plant them at our sump-pump outlet and they're like "WOOO! SWAMP PARTY!") It's a little weedy-looking, but pretty enough ... if you plant something in front of it to hide how leggy it is, you don't notice the weediness at all.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:23 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you're going to do cuttings from plants that normally you wouldn't touch, may i suggest (from sad experience...) that you learn first to recognize any local pants that may be poisonous or skin-irritating before you start?
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 8:24 AM on February 17, 2011

I would contact your local town and county government. My town and county here in Florida have tons of information and programs about using native plants.

There is a huge problem in the sunshine state with people planting non-native landscapes, then having to waste our precious fresh water supply to keep it all alive. Many local governments, in an effort to help maintain the water supply, are willing to offer a surprising amount of help to anyone willing to plant native species.
posted by Flood at 10:36 AM on February 17, 2011

Contact your local extension office; that's what they're there for, and they love getting questions.
You're actually pretty lucky, in that A&M is one of the best horticultural resources in the state. You should also check out the Aggie horticulture web site for plant selection guides and growing tips.
posted by Gilbert at 9:33 PM on February 17, 2011

You might also check Maas Nursery in Seabrook. They are local to you and could probably provide some advice. There are several other nurseries in and around Houston who specialize in native plants and (of course) things appropriate to our climate.

Be aware that some of the plants you may see growing as you hike may be invasive, not natives at all. It's worth doing some research, or else you might end up with a camphor tree or some other dreadful thing that was introduced from outside and took over.
posted by Robert Angelo at 2:54 PM on February 18, 2011

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