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Invasive species are threats to California's natural landscapes

Raising awareness of these plants is a statewide effort

No flowers on it at the moment, but the matting tendency of Vinca major is obvious.

No flowers on it at the moment, but the matting tendency of Vinca major is obvious.

Kathy Morrison

California gardeners with any experience likely have planted something that they've lived to regret. The tree that throws up suckers, the flowers that reseed too fully, the shrub that grows into a sticky, smelly mess. But at least these are confined disasters, which could be (probably should be) "shovel pruned." 

The really dangerous plants are ones so vigorous that they can spread from gardens into open landscapes, pushing out native plants and causing ecological damage.

The worst of these infamous species are on a Do Not Plant List. They include such disasters as pampas grass,  water hyacinth and highway iceplant. These botanical thugs are receiving some extra attention during California Invasive Species Week, which runs through Sunday.

PlantRight.Org, the California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC) and the California Native Plant Society have pushed hard to persuade nurseries to stop selling these plants to landscapers and home gardeners. Officially, 15 of them are "retired," each one a victory for the state's ecosystem, but that doesn't mean these plants aren't still out there: Scotch broom and blue gum eucalyptus, for example, are still evident around California -- and add to fire fuel loads, meaning they're dangerous near homes.

Check out the PlantRight current list as well as the retirees. The list includes alternatives to plant that resemble the thugs but are either native or much better behaved.

Meanwhile, I'm going to work harder to get rid of that periwinkle (Vinca major, not the cultivars), which some previous resident planted in my back garden. Such a pretty little plant, but really nasty when it gets near streams, apparently. Here's what PlantRight says:

"Because periwinkle grows rampant in many California backyards, new populations of this plant also commonly spread from locations where yard waste is dumped."

And this: eek! "Periwinkle is a fast-growing, competitive plant that forms dense mats of growth. These mats crowd out other plants and degrade animal habitat in infested areas. Riparian areas are especially susceptible to periwinkle, where the far-flung vines crowd out native vegetation. It is also a known host to the bacterium that causes Pierce's disease, which is a deadly disease to grapevines."

Oh, yeah, it's gotta go.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Sept. 24:

This week our weather will be just right for fall gardening. What are you waiting for?

* Now is the time to plant for fall. The warm soil will get these veggies off to a fast start.

* Keep harvesting tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons and eggplant. Tomatoes may ripen faster off the vine and sitting on the kitchen counter.

* Compost annuals and vegetable crops that have finished producing.

* Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.

* Fertilize deciduous fruit trees.

* Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.

* Transplant cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower as well as lettuce seedlings.

* Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies.

* Transplant cool-weather annuals such as pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks and snapdragons.

* Divide and replant bulbs, rhizomes and perennials. That includes bearded iris; if they haven’t bloomed in three years, it’s time to dig them up and divide their rhizomes.

* Dig up and divide daylilies as they complete their bloom cycle.

* Divide and transplant peonies that have become overcrowded. Replant with “eyes” about an inch below the soil surface.

* Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or re-seeding bare spots.

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