Recently, a friend of mine spent a great deal of money to landscape her new vacation home on the Gulf Coast only to lose it all when her property was flooded during a storm. After Hurricane Ida, many of us were faced with the same situation in our urban gardens: How do we landscape them to survive and thrive despite these weather catastrophes?
The answer is a practical one: We supplement our landscapes with native plants, shrubs and trees which have adapted to our extreme conditions of heavy rains and humidity, heat, wind and occasional droughts and our soil conditions.
The Good Guys
Native trees mitigate “heat islands” by shading our home and reducing our AC bills. They also lessen flooding as their root systems can soak up excess water and create channels for water to percolate down,” says Tammany Baumgarten, a landscape horticulturist with baumgardens.com in New Orleans. Selecting the right tree for the location and environment is best and size matters. In particular, planting native trees from seedlings or at least starting with smaller sizes allows the tree to establish its root system slowly, deeply and relative to its upper section. Live oaks as well as Willow, nuttall and red oaks are one of several good choices versus water oaks which are more short-lived and have a greater tendency to drop branches or fall in storms.
Talking the Talk Means Walking the Walk
My neighbor, Carro Gardner, a native plant enthusiast, re-landscaped with the help of Baumgarten both her front and back gardens, primarily with natives. She started with the trees as the foundation with a nuttall oak and a weeping yaupon, both native to Louisiana. Every season something is always blooming including agarista, American beautyberry, blue mist, Louisiana blue phlox, Louisiana iris, pink muhly grass, rattlesnake master, rudbeckia, Stokes’ aster and Virginia sweetspire. Her garden is loaded with color and is self-perpetuating; maintenance means pulling out an occasional unwanted volunteer. Baumgarten also noted that Gardener’s exterior spaces are currently irrigated two days a week but not required in the cool months, another plus of native gardening. With various adaptive root systems — some have taproots up to 15-feet deep — others are shallow root; they occupy different stratas yet they’ve learned how to acclimate themselves, says Baumgarten, “and survive our volatile climate.”
Fight Nature with Natives
Using natives in our landscapes provides additional bonuses: Saving time and money spent on fertilizer, pesticides and overall maintenance while creating a natural habitat for birds and insects. Gardner’s yards are also entertaining 24/7 with a variety of bees pollinating and birds swooping in to eat the berries on bushes. Best of all, as hurricanes approach, no garden worries.
Knowledge is Power
Use these websites to guide you in your native garden decisions:
Louisiana Native Plant Society or lnps.org
Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans or npi-gno.org