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Invasive Plant Warrior

air date: September 14, 2013

High school student Benjamin Shrader, known as Commander Ben the Invasive Hunter, wields his mighty sword of knowledge against invasive plants. On tour, native plants frame The Benini Galleries & Sculpture Ranch in Johnson City. Daphne explains why a cedar elm tree is on its way out. Her pick of the week is native rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala). John Dromgoole shows how to fertilize house plants with compost tea and an easy way to babysit their watering when you’re away.


Episode Segments

On Tour

The Benini Galleries & Sculpture Ranch

Set against the Hill Country in Johnson City, The Benini Galleries & Sculpture Ranch captivates the eye, soul and imagination through profound art in several dimensions. Outdoors, Benini’s sculptures and those from international artists mingle with native plants and wildlife. Inside, step into Benini’s gallery that depicts his artistic journey in vibrant acrylics and assemblages.

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Question of the Week

My tree looks bad. What should I do?

Our question this week comes from Drew, who has a suffering cedar elm tree.  The tree was native to the lot when his house was built a few years ago, and was one of the reasons that he chose to buy the house. But after the drought set in, the tree seemed to struggle, putting on fewer leaves each year.

He wants to know if the tree is a hazard and should be cut down.

The wounds on the side of his tree occurred a very long time ago and the tree has healed the best it can.  There are some holes, likely caused by borers, in the heart wood, but these also are old wounds.

What happened here: Trees growing in nature normally grow much more closely to their neighbors than they do in a landscape, where we plant them all alone.  So in nature, trees tend to be thinner and taller than they do when we plant them in wide open areas, with lots of space and no nearby competition for sunlight.

When trees are cut down to build homes, but a few are left to enhance the appeal of the lot, the trees left behind may struggle with the removal of their neighbors.  And if the root zone is not protected, heavy equipment can compact the soil and cause the tree to decline.

With Drew’s tree, there’s another complicating factor: mistletoe, which is a parasitic plant that will eventually kill the tree.  The infestation of mistletoe here is quite thick, so I’m sorry to tell you, Drew, your cedar elm is not long for this world.  But the good news is, it’s pretty small, so it shouldn’t be too hard to cut down.  Small conciliation, I know.

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Plant of the Week

Rose (Rock)

Rose (Rock)

Pavonia lasiopetala

Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) is a tough little native beauty that usually gets about 2 feet tall, but can get much taller. And it spreads nicely, filling out to around 3 feet wide. Pavonia is covered with pink blooms from spring to fall, even during the brutal 100 degree stretches that we see so often these days. The on-going flowers feed bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects. The flowers are very simple, with 5 large petals and a distinct central column formed by the fused pistil and yellow stamens. The rock rose flower might remind you of the larger flowers of a hibiscus, and for good reason. They're both in the same plant family: the Malvaceae, better known as the mallow family. Rock rose is native to rocky, disturbed soils, hence its name, so be sure that it gets plenty of drainage in your garden. And it is a prolific reseeder, a strategy that ensures its continued existence through tough times. If planted in flower beds that you prefer to remain nice and tidy, you'll be spending a fair amount of time pulling errant rock rose seedlings. So you may want to put this plant in a more natural, free-form area of the garden. Pavonia thrives in the sun, but can be perfectly happy in part shade. And with just a little bit of supplemental irrigation, maybe once a week or so, during the driest of times, it keeps right on growing through our awful heat. It does tend to wilt during the day, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it needs water. You'll notice that it's right back to its cheery self the next morning, without any irrigation at all. Rock rose is also prone to powdery mildew, but just ignore it. The plant certainly does. Prune it now and then to restore its shape and promote new growth. You can do a harder prune in late winter. If you want to move its offspring that seed nearby, do so in the cooler months.