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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Thursday - April 18, 2013

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Soils, Watering, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Death of Texas Betony and Blackfoot Daisy from Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have one small area that there are two plants - Texas Betony and Blackfoot Daisy withered and died eventually. Same kinds of plants are doing fine close by. It is my front yard close to walk way.I want to find out the cause of the death.

ANSWER:

Both Stachys coccinea (Scarlet betony) and Melampodium leucanthum (Blackfoot daisy) are native to the Austin area. That is usually the first thing we want to know about a plant, because that is an indicator that the plant can survive in the climate, soils and rainfall where the plant is growing. We have a couple questions for you to ask yourself in order to figure out what might have singled out those plants for destruction.

1.  When you say "same kinds" of plants were in the nearby area, did you mean actually Texas  (or Scarlet) Betony and Blackfoot Daisy or just other plants similar in size? If you follow the plant link above you will see that both those plants like part shade, which we characterize as 2 to 6 hours of sun a day. If they both were in full sun (6 hours or more of sun a day) they may quite literally have burned up.

2.  Are they both planted in soil with good drainage? There is a great deal of clay soil (and rock, of course) in Austin soils. Digging a little hole and sticking a baby plant into it is not good. Even native plants need to catch a break in the soil they try to grow in. A mix of compost and even some decomposed granite in clay soil will permit drainage away from the roots of water from sprinklers. Clay is composed of very small particles and when water goes into it, it stays there. Roots can quite literally drown. So, if you were counteracting the fact that the plants were in too much sun by giving them too much water in undrained soil, you can toss a coin as to which way they died.

3. Neither of the above may be the true reason. If herbicides have been sprayed, for instance to kill broadleaf weeds in a lawn, it can easily drift over and kill broadleaf plants in your flower bed. If the plants had very recently come from a nursery, they may have been sick or damaged when you bought them. If a taproot has been broken in the planting, the plant might do all right for a while, but eventually needs that tap root to get down and get more nutrients and water for the plant. There is even a possibility that those two plants were in some way out of the field of sprinklers and simply were not getting any water, because we sure haven't been getting it from the sky!

Summary: Think about a plant before you even buy it-does it like your soils, how much water does it need, how much sun? If you cannot satisfy those simple criteria, don't buy the plant.

 

From the Image Gallery


Scarlet betony
Stachys coccinea

Blackfoot daisy
Melampodium leucanthum

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