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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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Sunday - May 26, 2013

From: Webster, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Invasive Plants, Non-Natives, Compost and Mulch, Soils, Vines
Title: Non-native, invasive creeping fig in Webster TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We've recently moved into a new home in the southeast Houston area. The back of our property has a long concrete wall (gets quite a bit of sun), which we thought we could cover with a spreading vine. A garden center we went to recommended "fig ivy", so we purchased several plants to begin the process of planting across the wall. We're from Orlando and had sandy soil - easy to work and water. We had a horrible time digging the clay-like material to get our few plants into the ground! My 2 questions are: 1) is fig ivy the best choice for us to use? And 2) How do we treat this terrible clay-like material - digging for planting, watering new plants, etc? Thank you for any help you're able to give us.

ANSWER:

Please read this previous Mr. Smarty Answer on Ficus pumila (creeping fig.) As you can see from that article we don't think the nursery did you any favors recommending that plant.

We do sympathize with you on the soils you have. Here is a description of the soils in your area:

"South Texas Plains

The South Texas Plains lie south of a line from San Antonio to Del Rio. This area is the western extension of the Gulf Coastal Plains merging with the Mexico Plains on the west. The area is a nearly level to rolling, slightly to moderately dissected plain. Upland soils are of three groups: dark, clayey soils over firm clayey subsoils; grayish to reddish brown, loamy to sandy soils; and brown loamy soils. Gray, clayey, saline, and sodic soils are extensive on the coastal fringe, along with Galveston deep sands. Bottomlands are typically brown to gray, calcareous silt loams to clayey alluvial soils."

From Fine Gardening, here is an article on Improving Clay Soils. This is several pages of very good information, but tedious because you have to keep reading around the advertisements. The best advice we can offer is to choose plants adapted to that soil by centuries of experience; that is, native plants in native  soils. Don't dig in clay when it is wet, you probably already have leaned that. Clay is very tiny particles which, when wet, expand to exclude air (or a shovel). Keep a supply of good quality compost on hand and mix some into every shovelful of clay you dig up. It's a slow process, and you can only treat the soil for each plant you put in the ground, but it does help, honest.

Now, we are going back to the site on South Texas Plains and, using the side bar on the right, select on "vines" for Habit, and "moist" for Soil Moisture. You did not mention how much sunlight the area in question has, but you can follow each plant link to our webpage on that plant, and learn its growing conditions and Light Requirements. This list is from our Native Plant Database, which you can also use, with the Combination Search, to find plants for your garden. We have checked each plant on the USDA Plant Profile Map (link near bottom of web page) to make sure it grows naturally in Harris County.

Vines for South Texas:

Ampelopsis arborea (Peppervine)

Campsis radicans (Trumpet creeper)

Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper)

 

From the Image Gallery


Peppervine
Nekemias arborea

Trumpet creeper
Campsis radicans

Virginia creeper
Parthenocissus quinquefolia

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