choosing native trees and shrubs

by E. S. (“Gene”) Naccari

Fall and early winter are the best time to get those trees and shrubs planted.  If you’re interested in native plants, we have given you two charts which we feel will help you to make the right choices for your special needs.

Have you traveled through our Southeastern Louisiana countryside in any season and marveled at the beauty of the small flowering trees and shrubs?  Would you like to grow some of these native plants?  With a little planning you can do it, and, at the same time, you may be helping to preserve some plants disappearing from the wild because of development and clearing of the land.  Also, birds, other wildlife and, in some cases, butterflies will be attracted.

Many of these plants may grow best in the acid soil usually found north of Lake Pontchartrain, while you may be planting in the usually neutral or alkaline soil found south of the lake.  This is no big problem — no more than when south-of-the lake gardeners successfully grow azaleas in alkaline soil made more acid.

To make your soil more acid, you add certain modifying ingredients.  Chemical acidifiers are iron sulphate, aluminum sulphate or powdered sulphur.  It’s best to consult your nurseryman or your county agent when using the above — or read the package’s instructions carefully.  Good natural acidifiers are peat moss, oakleaf compost or pine bark mulch.  Add about one part of any of the above to two parts of your soil.  Then, grow your acid-loving plant with about three or four inches of pine needle or oakleaf mulch on the surface, covering the entire root area.  This helps keep the soil acid.  When using inorganic (chemical) fertilizer, use the acid-loving plant type.

To improve drainage in your soil, add sand and humus;  to improve water retention, add some clay and humus.

Unless you want to grow a perfectly symetrical specimen, don’t be afraid to make what seems like crowded plantings.  After all, that’s the way most of these plants grow in the wild.  It’s nature’s way of giving us a beautiful mixture, with closely-growing trees above and shrubs beneath.

The accompanying chart gives you a brief description of some of the most rewarding natives and their culture requirements.  The chart shows the common name and the botanical name so that there will be no confusion in purchasing them from your local nurseryman or ordering them through a catalog.

Local nurseries stock only a few native trees and shrubs, but a larger selection can be found at Natives Nursery, in Covington (their phone number is (504) 892-5424) and other northshore nurseries and growers.

For more information about native trees and shrubs you might want to read some of the many books on native plants available at libraries, bookstores and nature preserves. 

 (Reprinted, by permission, from New Orleans Plants and Gardens magazine, August/September 1989.)