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native plants/soils in Dallas area  RSS feed

 
Kristen Schroder
Posts: 24
Location: 32.9343° N, 97.0781° W; zone 8a
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Hi there-
I did a search and couldn't find anything that matched the question that I have. I have asked a few fb forums for the answer and read several books.
So, I thought I'd ask the experts and experienced here.

There seems to be a contradiction between permaculture and native prairie plants. If I look for planting suggestions, many of the suggestions require changing the quality of the soil in order to have success which in turn pushes out (especially) prairie plants that thrive in lousy soil with varying degrees of root length. I searched for weeks for a list of companion plants for native grapes in my area that were also native/supported native pollinators. This seemed like it should be easy- Mustang and Muscadine grapes aren't like the fussy grape varietals from France, they thrive in our crummy, clay based soil. I couldn't find anything that didn't start with : add compost and mulch and improve the soil.

Am I missing something? Is there a way to combine the prairies that used to be here (which in the Dallas area was a good mix of trees, prairies, and scrub brush plains) with the permaculture ideas of food forests and high quality veg?

Thanks!
Kris
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Kristen Schroder wrote:
There seems to be a contradiction between permaculture and native prairie plants.


I don't think there's a contradiction.  I'm personally very interested in edible native plants and some of them do well in my vegetable garden, but much of my garden isn't improved enough for domestic vegetables to do well.  My soil here is clay prairie soil.  I think when planting specific plants, we need to look at their specific needs.  Native prairies plants do well in native prairie soil.  They may or may not do well in composted, mulched soil.  So I think if we want to grow native edible plants, we need to experiment to see if they'll grow along with our regular vegetables, or if they need their own unimproved patches of soil.


 
Kristen Schroder
Posts: 24
Location: 32.9343° N, 97.0781° W; zone 8a
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I had hoped that there wouldn't be a contradiction. Often what I find though are plant suggestions more suited to Portland without a need to water OR Texas with huge augmentations to water catchment or watering systems.
Perhaps I am looking in the wrong places?
Could you suggest better reading sources?
Thanks!
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I guess I'm not totally sure what information you're looking for.  Are you trying to find information about growing edible prairie plants, or are you looking for information about dryland food forests, or something else?  If I can get a better idea of the information you're looking for, I might be able to help with some references.  Though if it is something as esoteric as growing edible prairie plants, you might end up doing some of the pioneering work on that, because I have not so far found much about folks doing it. It's even difficult to find information about temperate warm climate food forestry, it just doesn't seem to be a thing that's been researched much, or I just haven't found the information about it.  Most permaculture in Texas seems centered in Austin, and unfortunately those folks don't seem to hang out here on permies. 

 
Casie Becker
gardener
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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Something you might think about is looking at the websites of foragers (like the eat the weed guy) to see what kinds of 'weeds' grow in the kinds of conditions you are working with.

Another good resource could be the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. They have a large searchable online database of native plants which includes information on growing conditions, often notes if they're edible or good for pollinators, https://www.wildflower.org/plants/ They also have a large archive of public answers to gardeners questions about growing natives. http://www.wildflower.org/expert/

My understanding is that cultivated vegetables need a more pampered circumstance because people where willing to trade their labor in this pampering for the survival of plants that were more palatable to their tastes. With this in mind, plants that focused their development on more survival traits may not be as palatable as you'd hope.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Casie Becker wrote:plants that were more palatable to their tastes. With this in mind, plants that focused their development on more survival traits may not be as palatable as you'd hope.


In my experience, most edible native plants in our region are kind of yucky.  I try to include them when possible in my diet, but, blech, not so tasty. Canada Onion, Devil's Claw, Cedar Elm, Cattail, Prickly Pear, Sotol, Persimmon, are some we've eaten.  Only Canada Onion has made it as a favored vegetable, our favorite onion.  It goes dormant in the Summer.

 
John Polk
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For a good source of native plant seeds, go HERE, and scroll down to Texas.
These are all nurseries that specialize in native plants.
 
Kristen Schroder
Posts: 24
Location: 32.9343° N, 97.0781° W; zone 8a
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Thanks everyone!
I definitely feel like I am getting better questions through the forum!
Tyler: I'd really like some information on dryland food forests, I didn't even know that was a thing. 
Cassie and John and Tyler: I suppose where I'm stumbling is that so often the companion plants suggested for veggies and fruits are more veggies and fruits rather than plants that grow in the area.
Perhaps the dryland food forest as a topic will help with that.
A new question that I have is: does permaculture - as it's currently discussed- function if you have wild areas surrounding your different zones? Or does the soil improvement/water catchment push the wild out?

Kris
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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The "wilderness" zone of permaculture - Zone 5, is typically the outer zone, though it can extend right through into Zone 1 if you love wildlife.  I think many people try to include native plants and wildlife into their Zone 1 gardens.  This is what I'm trying to do, as well as trying to learn how to grow edible native plants.  As I said before, I think we need to think in terms of "patches" of things - rather than improving the soil in the entire garden, we might only improve the parts of the garden where we intend to put domestic plants.  The places where we want natives, we might not improve.  I think in many cases, due to our recurring drought in this region, even native plants will appreciate any improved water catchment, such as swales or berms and basins, which needn't have improved soil.   There may be a number of non-native edible plants which will do well in your native soil, but it's hard to know unless you try a lot of things.  I've found that my heavy clay soil makes most vegetables pretty sad.  It can get saturated in flood, and then it dries out and cracks.  For almost all domestic vegetables, I need to add tons (possibly literally) more organic material.  My vegetable garden is small, so this won't be impossible, just slow.

Here's a thread about a video of a dryland food forest, but this seems to be in a Mediterranean or even sub-tropical climate, so most of the plant choices won't work for Dallas.  Some of them might work down here.  http://www.permies.com/t/57704/videos/Commercial-Dryland-Food-Forest

The combination of cold winters and hot dry summers is just killer.  I would like to see more information about food forests under these conditions.  I don't really know where to look for it, or even if many people are doing work in that area.  Most food forests seem to be in subtropical or moist climates.

My favorite source for native seeds is:  http://www.seedsource.com/

Another source for prairie seeds and plants is:  https://www.prairiemoon.com/
 
Kristen Schroder
Posts: 24
Location: 32.9343° N, 97.0781° W; zone 8a
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Tyler Ludens wrote:  The combination of cold winters and hot dry summers is just killer.  I would like to see more information about food forests under these conditions.  I don't really know where to look for it, or even if many people are doing work in that area.  Most food forests seem to be in subtropical or moist climates.


^^^^ Yes! Those were the words that I have been looking for! That is what I have been noticing, too.

A thought that I had was to plant wildflower seeds underneath the volunteer grapes that I've been encouraging. I've let the salvia coccinea grow throughout the vegetable garden area and that area is the only place in my entire garden (including the aquaponics) that didn't have a problem with SVB. I also had decent luck with letting the wild carrots grow throughout the area as well. It killed the grass that was trying to encroach and seemed to attract pollinators and discourage SVB. It also seemed to have captured some moisture into the ground.

Thanks for talking with me, Tyler!
 
Casie Becker
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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Something that occurred to me today, most vegetables are domesticated from common wild plant families. I think it's gaia's garden where the author recommends developing planting guilds by replacing plants growing together in the wild with more productive domesticated plants in the same family.

Can you use the companion lists you have and work backwards from the domestic plants to related wild plants? Growing the wild carrots where someone might plant the domesticated variety is a good example. I think there are wild varieties or at least close relatives of every domestic plant.
 
Kristen Schroder
Posts: 24
Location: 32.9343° N, 97.0781° W; zone 8a
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Cassie, that's genius!
I should definitely do that.
I think I'll contact the local native plant society and see what they have for reference work.

 
Anne Miller
pollinator
Posts: 785
Location: USDA Zone 8a
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bee dog food preservation greening the desert hunting toxin-ectomy
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The link below may help for your area, it is a PDF file

Save Dallas Water - Native Plants


This one might also be of some value:

Utilizing xeriscape principles using native plants


This link is to a discussion on Natives and vegetables: Texas Organic Vegetables and Edible Landscaping is a book about food crops for Texas including vegetables, fruits, nuts, herbs and edible landscape plants. The author is the man behind this web site, Howard Garrett.

Dirt Doctor - North Central Texas


Your best bet might be to look for heirloom seeds and see if they are native to Texas or North Central Texas. When we lived in the area I had the best luck with Champion Tomatoes, but I don't know if they were a heirloom variety.
 
Kristen Schroder
Posts: 24
Location: 32.9343° N, 97.0781° W; zone 8a
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so i am rereading Gaia's Garden, and didn't skip the introduction or introductory chapter, as is my wont. And i found my answer: this system is meant to replace farms so that those areas can be wild *not* necessarily be a way for you to blend a native garden with a vegetable garden. which is interesting to me.
there's a lot in this section that is unraveling the ideas of supporting native plants at the exclusion of other plants that i'd had.
i suppose the answer to my initial question is: you're right, but hopefully this will offset the need to plow under that meadow with the endangered frog.

 
Kristen Schroder
Posts: 24
Location: 32.9343° N, 97.0781° W; zone 8a
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i also found a description for our climate- humid subtropical with dry summers and wet winters. which is definitely the opposite of what much in the literature i've found speaks to
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I think it's still a good idea to include native plants in the garden, because we can't depend on someone else somewhere to be preserving them.  But I don't think in most cases native plants and domestic plants can be grown in the same planting bed.  If the yard is small, a little area can be set aside for native plants and wildlife.  If the yard is larger, a larger area can be set aside.  Every garden can have an area for Zone 5, in my opinion.

 
Anne Miller
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Location: USDA Zone 8a
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bee dog food preservation greening the desert hunting toxin-ectomy
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Kristen Schroder wrote:i also found a description for our climate- humid subtropical with dry summers and wet winters. which is definitely the opposite of what much in the literature i've found speaks to


I certainly never thought of the Dallas area as humid subtropical as that sounds like Alabama or Florida, but NOAA says that is the case.

.noaa.gov/fwd/

Tyler said: "If the yard is small, a little area can be set aside for native plants and wildlife.  If the yard is larger, a larger area can be set aside.  Every garden can have an area for Zone 5, in my opinion."

I agree.  We have our native plants in an area frequented by wildlife.

I like the book's description, but I have not read it:

Gaia’s Garden sparked the imagination of America’s home gardeners, introducing permaculture’s central message: Working with nature, not against her, results in more beautiful, abundant, and forgiving gardens ....  Best of all, once it’s established, an ecological garden will reduce or eliminate most of the work that’s needed to maintain the typical lawn and garden.
 
Kerry Rodgers
Posts: 122
Location: North Texas, Dallas area suburbs, US zone 8
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Kristen,
You’re getting great input here, but I just have to put in my 2 cents, too.

I found the idea of native plants before I found permaculture, and I still think there is value there.  The seminal book on native landscaping in Dallas, and the rest of Texas, is “Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region” by Sally Wasowski.  It’s from 1988/1991, and should be in the public library and is on amazon.  She’s not really a permaculturist so her terminology is different, and most of the plants are not human-food-producing, but it is a beautiful book if nothing else, and I think you will learn a lot from it.  The regions referred to are actually soil types, and the plants that will grow are different per soil type.  The Dallas/Fort Worth metro area straddles soil-type boundaries, so you need to know where you are.

In another thread, you mentioned having a yard full of post oaks, so you probably have Eastern Cross Timbers soil.  Mustang grapes also prefer this sandy-clayey soil, but are more adaptable.  That may help you with more specific web searches or plant database searches.  I also have Cross Timbers soil.   I notice goldenrod, lambs quarters, blackberries, mulberries all volunteer here.  For squash borers, I have a friend who swears that interplanting squash with lantana repels them.  I love lantana anyway.  Don’t neglect the cool season plants, either.

A few of Wasowski’s plants for Cross Timbers are mulberry, virginia creeper, yaupon holly, coralberry, eastern red cedar, possum haw, smooth sumac, beauty berry, yucca, butterfly weed, spiderwort, mexican plum, phlox, redbud, violet, plus typical wildflowers (reseeding annuals).

A more shotgun approach to plants, especially in prepared beds, would be to visit Marshall Grain’s nursery in Grapevine.  Buy lots of bedding plants and see what survives.  They have quite a bit of natives, and a lot of the herbs they have grow well here in relatively poor soil.  You may find someone knowledgeable about organics and natives working there.  I haven’t found permaculture there so far.

Also, many permaculture teachers caution against too much emphasis on natives-only.  There are many plants that are not, strictly speaking, native to here, that still do well here without a lot of fuss and are very useful.  Why would you avoid using such plants?  You don't like peaches?    I think it is good to help the natives, as Tyler said, because the mainstream is so against them.  But we needn’t limit ourselves to only those.

About soil improvement….   Permaculture people almost always start with human damaged land, not with wild land.  Intact native prairie soil is teaming with life, plant roots, fungi, and other organic matter.  It is *not* poor, or crummy, or “just dirt”.  But of course, those are good descriptions of what we find here and now.  Our burned-out, abused, compacted soil can hardly support life, and soil must be alive to support the plants you want.  Depending on the history of your land, you will likely have to do some remediation to get even native plant diversity to thrive there again, and you will likely have to baby many of them for the first year or two.  So adding compost and mulch is not just for Portland—it is the fastest way to remediate and bring the soil back to life.  Don’t worry that the amount of compost or wood chips you could practically add will turn your yard into deep forest duff covered in ferns—it won’t.  You won’t even be able to find it a few months later .  Permaculture talks about using human intervention like compost and mulch to speed up natural processes.  The land would repair itself eventually, if humans just quit messing up the process, but it might take 200 years.  With compost, mulch, some minimal aeration, some temporary irrigation, maybe some animals, a good permaculture designer can get it going in just a few years by mimicking natural processes, but speeding them up.

I suggest going through Gaia’s Garden very thoroughly—several times through.  You will be richly rewarded.  Do that before spending a lot of time on Google, and you’ll get going much faster.   The forums here are great, too, and there are a lot of good books.  But Gaia is a great place to start.  Plus observation, of course.

All the best!
 
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