Thursday, September 13, 2012

Defensive Landscaping Part 1

Welcome to a belated episode of Lost in the Farmer’s Market, as some of you might know I’ve successfully enrolled in North Carolina A&T and online courses are very different from the actual classroom ones due the amount of time one must spend completing numerous assignments. In short last week’s update got eaten by homework.
I defy anyone to tell a teacher their blog ate their homework…if you are lucky they mistake blog for some kind of pig and nod solemnly otherwise…

The good news, Second Edition is on track for release long before Christmas. I cane some of you have not heard this blog is the digital extension of the Southward Skies Book. There was a limited 105 book print run of Southward Skies and to the best of my knowledge all saleable copies sold.  Not bad for a test run right? Well second edition is basically a heavily revised first edition with a major improvement, color photos in the weed, vegetable, herb and ornamental plant indexes as well as full color sectional pages. Stay tuned here for updates as they progress.

Now to the topic at hand, since there is a bit of catching up to do, for the purposes of this post the information presented will be slightly compacted. As promised the topic for today is all you ever wanted to know about Defensive Landscaping. Defined clearly defensive landscaping is in the intentional placement of plants that passively discourage passage by animals or persons by way of thorns, density or sheer unpleasantness while maintaining an aesthetically pleasing form.

A number of plants are readily available to fit the bill, we all can think of one or more ‘sticker bushes’ that we would rather not tangle with. The trick to good defensive landscaping is to pick a plant that is all that but easy to maintain. So first off the most obvious choice any typical rose is out of the question. Yes they are thorny and will cut you up even through some clothing but the ease with which they catch disease and or have pest problems makes them an unwise choice. On the other hand we have Prickly Pear cactus, which no one wants to mess with, its weakness is its slow rate of growth making it not exactly reliable for filling an area. So here is a list of some plants for use with defensive landscaping.

Beach Rose - Rosa rugosa

The beach rose is one of the few antique roses that torpedoes the standard rues of having a rose in your garden. Not only is it very drought tolerant, disease and pest free but it also produces the expected aromatic flowers. The rose hips resulting are quite large and contain impressive amounts of vitamin C which makes them an excellent choice for jellies and other herbal preparations. The key to this plant’s defensive landscaping value is that the stems are absolutely covered in thorns. More so that it reproduces by underground stems or stolons allowing it to rapidly form an impassible thicket of thorns. For defensive landscaping purposes the best use of beach rose is in living wall format, cut a planting trench and plant one 3-gallon size potted beach rose per 4 feet, mulch heavily and watch as the plants grow together into a wall of crinkly green foliage and wicked thorns. Feel free to cackle evilly at the first person to try and cross your new wall of thorns.

Mahonia – Mahonia sp.

Mahonia is one of those plants in the invasive plant lists for the fact its seeds are viable and may come up in odd places. Barring that if you can imagine a plant that combines the bamboo-like stems of a Nandina with the sharply spined leaves of a holly and is still evergreen then you can imagine the somewhat slow-growing Mahonia.  Mahonia is a clump-forming shrub that can make areas impassible by the way of its spiny leaves and it’s incredibly rigid stems. In the case of defensive landscaping mahonia plays its part in being the tall evergreen plant used to compensate for deciduous plants or as a permanent screen when combined with a lower-growing screening plant. When used in foundation plantings near windows mahonias can be effective in denying entry when paired with lower supporting plants. Mahonia does flower in early spring or late winter with small yellow bell-shaped flowers borne on long upright stems. The best part about the flowers is that they are a early nectar and pollen source for honey bees and they produce a lemon aroma that is quite strong.

Firethorn – Pyracantha sp.

Technically the Firethorn and Scarlet Firethorn are two differing but closely related plants but for the purposes of defensive landscaping they can be used in identical roles.
Now when you’re talking defensive landscaping plants the firethorn is a real appropriately named plant. The name originates from the fact that when stuck by a thorn from the fire thorn the area tends to itch and burn. This is due to the fact the thorns themselves apparently are tipped with or release on contact a chemical that causes the sensation to discourage browsing of its foliage or fruit. Furthermore the thorns are often straight a few millimeters thick and up to four inches long.  The best part about firethorn is that in spring it is often covered with a tone of small white flowers which are followed by bright orange or red berries in large clusters. Additionally Firethorns cont mind being shaped into arches, living wreaths, and espalier forms so you can turn a wall into a thorny pain display for some poor sucker. The one weakness of the firethorns is that they do catch fire blight which can ruin the showy fruit. The disease it self may often persist for many years and not kill the host, so you can live on with an infected plant just fine.

Barberry – Berberis spp

Barberry is some what of a given for a list of plants for use in defensive landscaping. In common cultivation barberry comes in many colors and sizes ranging from dwarf plants like ‘Crimson Pygmy’ to larger faster growing green varieties. In fact it isn’t hard to find purple, red, gold, yellow, tricolor and green varieties within the same garden center. But the real use of barberry is as a casual defense shrub. Admittedly barberry has short straight thorns that won’t stop a determined person or animal but with a thick enough stand of the plants (3-4” wide) it will certainly make them think twice about passing. Barberry has one of the same advantages as Beach Rose as they both can be planted as far north as the northern half of New Jersey and at least as far south as Fayetteville North Carolina.

With that said tune in next week for the next group of perennial plants for defensive landscaping, where we will cover four more defensive landscaping plants. Also, just a tip folks if you plan to continue growing food plants over the winter now is the time to either start buying or starting them as seeds. Winter crops include the following common plants.

Lettuce (May survive winter but will peter out in mid spring the moment it gets warm.)
Snow peas (will not survive winter but will produce a crop before the first heavy frost.)

Just give it a thought as to what you want to grow, make sure to space your plants well and fertilize with a manure product such as poultry manure when you plant. I'll cover more on this in the next post, as always keep 'em growing folks!

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