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Mr. Smarty Plants - Possible causes for plant problems in East Texas

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Thursday - September 06, 2007

From: East, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders
Title: Possible causes for plant problems in East Texas
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have been an avid gardener for over 35 years in Texas.I love the wildflowers and use them extensively in my 2 acre plot here in East Texas. There is something really bad going on with my garden: plants dying, changing color, not seeding, weird weeds, no bees, no more red clover, no more flowers on my Coriopsis, Oxalis changed to white, and now seem to be dying. Yucca flowers and dies within days.I have lots of water, I live on a lake.

ANSWER:

Wow, that is a list of problems. While everything in Nature is connected, not all these problems may have the same cause or solution. You would no doubt already know if there had been a toxic spill in your soil or if someone had been spraying herbicide or pesticide irresponsibly in your neighborhood. So, let's try to work our way through these concerns and see if some of them can be explained.

Let's start with the bees, the most important pollinating insect. Scientists, beekeepers and farmers with crops in need of pollination are all aware of and puzzled by the decline in the bee population. Professional beekeepers, who move their bees to place to place to service farmer's crops, sometimes experience what they call Colony Collapse Disorder, in which the bees simply leave the hive and don't come back, for no known reason. On a smaller scale, wild bees are being threatened by loss of habitat and by spraying, either pesticides in gardens, spraying for mosquitoes, or crop spraying. Do you know where your bees ordinarily come from? Are there individual beekeepers in your neighborhood who may no longer be raising bees? Are you close enough to areas where the wild bees could be setting up on their own without being threatened? There is not a lot an individual can do about this except to refrain from putting pesticides on their own garden, and encouraging more bee-friendly practices in their neighborhood.

Many of the other problems you have cited can be charged to the really weird summer Texas has had. We had a good spring showing of wildflowers because the rains had come at the right time in the fall and winter to encourage the spring bloomers. However, then came the rains and cool weather in June and July. And suddenly it was August, with hot dry weather again. Now, it's cool and rainy again, at least in Central Texas. Wildflowers are very tough and adaptive, and react to strange conditions in their own way. Our guess (and hope) is that their seeds are waiting in the ground to come up and flourish again when things get back to normal. How is the drainage in your garden? As much rain as we've had, you may have had some standing water or water that did not drain quickly. You say you live on a lake, and it's highly possible that a lot of rainwater has gone by or through your garden on its way to drain into the lake. And that rainwater, in turn, may have been carrying seeds for some of the "weird weeds" you are finding.

The red clover you mentioned could be one of several species. Most likely, it is Trifolium pratense, a native of the Old World. Was it already native to your area or did you plant or transplant it from another area? Again, it just may not have been able to adapt to the changing conditions. If it is already growing wild in your area, hopefully, it will come back, too. The oxalis leaves turning white and dying would seem to indicate too much soil moisture, also, and probably the roots have simply drowned.

When you said the yucca flowered and then died, were you talking about the flowers or the yucca plant itself? Yuccas are adapted to dry conditions and, again, need good drainage. And your plants not seeding could a result of there not having been enough sun to encourage blooming, and without blooms, you will obviously not have seeds.

We realize we haven't solved your problems. However, you are to be congratulated for growing native plants as they are the most likely to come back and flourish again when things get back to normal. Pull out the invasive weeds, try to improve the drainage in your garden, and wait for those natives to do their stuff.

 

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