FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Thursday morning, I went live from the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) research facility in Fort Worth. I interviewed Cleve Lancaster to talk about his research into sustainable landscaping in North Texas. On their grounds at BRIT, a part of the Fort Worth Botanical Garden complex, and also up on their roof, they are growing native plants to see what would be best for your yard.
Is Warmer Than Normal The New Normal?
One only has to glance at the heat records in North Texas to notice a disturbing trend. Hot is the new normal. Four of the top 10 hottest years in DFW records (going back 114 years) have occurred in the last six years. Three of the top 10 hottest summers on record have been logged in the last four years. This streak of unusually hot weather is stressing area landscapes and forging new thinking in what to plant in this area.
The solution is simple, and not as limiting as you would think. Go native. The plants that can be found in the wild here in North Texas have learned to adapt to our weather variability. This an adaptation process that spans the last Ice Age, so there is a proven track record here.
The Future Is Local
Lancaster showed me the BRIT roof. Instead of metal, there is dirt; they are experimenting with different combinations of native plants. Last year was quite a stress test — it was the worst one-year drought on record and the hottest summer of record. Yet, the roof did just fine; they only had to water it about once a month. The soil bed on the roof is a mere four inches deep, so don’t think there is any magic formula to this. This is the power of going native.
There is also a tremendous diversity of plants on the roof. This insures that something is always in green, and it protects the stand from fungus infestations. Fungus are a bane to monoculture; they rarely create a problem for local biodiversity. Local nurseries have brought to the commercial market about 50 different species.
BRIT offers all sorts of education materials to teach you what they are learning there on-site. (The entire grounds are simply one big, on-going research project.) If you have been losing your plants over the last couple of years because of our warming climate, I recommend a trip there. It could make you re-think the traditional English landscaping of non-native plants and carefully groomed grass.
There is a truth in North Texas about the future of our water supply. There isn’t enough, ergo eventually we’ll be paying much more for it. During the warm season, more than half of the municipal water supply goes to irrigation. Besides being wasteful, it is going to also get rather expensive doing landscaping the traditional way.
Growing a wide variety of native plants is a different look (think patches of prairie, broken up by houses, sidewalks and roads in suburbia, and you are starting to picture the future), but likely the look of inevitability. Zoning laws will have to change, small businesses will have to adapt, and the sense of aesthetics will have to be adjusted.
But planting with plants that know the land means less water, less fuss and no fertilizer or pesticides. Don’t fight the system; Mother Nature is bigger than any of your landscaping plans.
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