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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 March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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