What To Be Wary Of Growing In Zone 8b.

There are a lot of things that I’ve tried to grow in San Antonio Texas. A lot of plants ended up failing because of our heat or our sporadic freezes that nip back or kill tropical plants. A few ended up trying to take over. I’m going to concentrate on a few things whose vigor I underestimated. These are things that I started growing for a reason and ended up hating and getting into a yearly battle with them.

Ahhhh! Milkweed seed overdose! The grass is carpeted with this seed around the flowerbed.

I’ll start with what I’m currently battling. I have grown tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) for a decade or so, to take care of our local monarch butterflies. In the fall/winter it lets go of a billion seeds that float in the wind like dandelion seeds do. The plants I had were all growing in a bed with little supplemental water. Those seeds never took over anywhere they floated. Plus they didn’t let go the massive amount of seed these irrigated plants did. Fast forward to this fall: I let one plant come up in a highly amended, heavily irrigated bed AND I didn’t cut them back before the seedheads exploded. Omg. What a mess. I’m considering taking my shop vac outside and sucking up all the fluffy heads that are currently stuck in my grass. I will need to pull the plants because this variety is a perennial down here. Even though I love the monarchs, this is not the only thing I want to grow!

I have seen people in my neighborhood shop vacuuming their lawns. It took me a few months to figure out what they were doing. They were sucking up acorns! Those little tree seedlings are super difficult to remove. So, I’m now totally into shop vac-ing unwanted seeds/nuts!

9 years ago. I should have pulled it when I had the chance. This live oak tree came with the house. I built the beds. It was just this one tree and Bermuda grass in my backyard.

This leads to my second recommendation: Do not plant live oak trees (Quercus virginiana) if you want to grow anything in a 100 foot radius of that tree. When we moved here over a decade ago the previous owners had started a live oak. I considered pulling it (and now I really wish I had) but I let it go, thinking “oh, shade will be nice!” The oak I have is now massive and even though there is a sprinkler on the back side of this plant that basically only waters this one tree, it sucks the land around it dry. Even though that side of my yard has sprinklers, I can’t get anything to take because that dumb tree is pulling all the water from the soil. Learn about live oak here: TAMU Live Oak

This is not the mature size for this tree. Plus, it’s winter right now so the leaves are more sparse. It will fill out in a few months. Live oaks can be 100 (plus) feet across. It is at this point, definitely too big for me to remove  on my own. So, I’m stuck with it.

My mom had a friend who had a nice small stream in their backyard. Eventually it stopped flowing. The owners of the land mentioned it to an arborist and he said it was because they had planted Cottonwood all along the stream edges. They cut the Cottonwood out and the stream started flowing again. Problem solved!

It would be a huge undertaking to remove this tree now that it is 15 years old or so. It’s huge and live oaks have no top size. It will continue to grow and suck all of the moisture up (and irritate me) until I either move or remove it. If you want a food forest and you thought you’d add a tree that gets gigantic, for shade, you’ve been warned. It will not turn out well for your food forest plans. Plus, expect to shop vac inside a live oak’s drip line because eventually you will have acorns. On a happier note: I’ve decided to build some traditional hugelkulter beds on that side of my yard with soaker hoses over them. It’s not the end to have a super, water greedy tree, but it takes some work to get around its water hogging personality.

Another thing I saw in my neighborhood and really liked, (that I’m now in the process of trying to kill) is creeping fig (Ficus pumila). Wow. Do not plant this where it can reach out and get out of where you originally put it! Also, unless you have nothing else growing: this plant takes a ton of time cutting back every couple of months to keep it from climbing your roof and any walls around it. I like the look of this vine, but I really don’t have the time to mess with it. Any time you are growing something that needs regular shearing or training, expect to realize several years in: that the plant demands more time than you have. Boxwood and other topiary friendly plants fall into this category to a lesser degree. If you start out with a nice shaped bush or hedge, you are signing a contract with that plant to add yearly energy to keep it in the form you like. When I was younger I visited France. I was enthralled with the gardens at Versailles. Now I see those manicured boxwood and I have a panic attack! They have legions of workers just minding the hedges. It’s not for me. I want food from my yard, and that takes its own yearly energy.

Out of control, on the regular: My creeping fig.
Butterfly pea. I planted three seeds and I got a monster mess.

Butterfly peas. Awful, awful, awful choice to put anywhere amended or receiving irrigation. I figured: pea=likes cool weather, will need to be planted yearly. Nope. This is a huge mess. I planted three seeds in my raised beds. They grew up and covered not only the beds they were in, but reached across and invaded a bed behind them. I can’t get it all out, the roots break off, and it is a monster plant. I grow these for their flowers to make antioxidant rich tea or blue milk. The pea pods are few and far between. Although the whole plant is edible: it’s not worth it. Unless you want a great plant to feed to your livestock or you plan on making mounds of tendril salads don’t make the mistake I did and underestimate the vigor of this plant. It loves the heat down here, like a lot of tropical pea relatives do. But, I don’t think it is going to freeze back in my raised beds if bananas don’t. I expect this to be a problem for many years until I’ve managed to dig it all out.

These are beautiful plants. Fantastic flowers. It’s just the placement was wrong. This spring I will be planting these in a bed that doesn’t have a lot of supplemental water, with low fertility.
This huge bush is actually a vine on steroids. Three seeds did this in my raised beds. It threw vines all over the place. The hotter it got, the happier the plant was. It completely outperformed my lima beans and cow peas.

Bird dropping invasives: Lantana (Lantana Camara) shows up in my beds yearly. I don’t plant the invasive pink and yellow lantana but the birds bring it in from all over the neighborhood. I wish it was illegal to sell some of the plants people buy at big box stores, when they have no idea that they are invasive.

This is the invasive Lantana. Please don’t put this in your yard. There’s plenty of other sterile Lantana options (Some of these include Bloomify Red, Bloomify Rose, Luscious Royale Red Zone) that won’t go rogue. And although it’s pretty: it’s big and really hard to kill, it sickens livestock and will come up anywhere you regularly have birds.

Another seed borne plant the birds bring in is heavenly bamboo or nandina (Nandina domestica) . Which is not true bamboo or heavenly (to me), because I cannot kill it. I have doused the ones in my yard repeatedly with round up and that only browns the tips of the leaves. I hate it. It spreads by both thick runners and berries and it is impossible to dig out.

The fact that the two plants I have, came with this house and I’ve been battling with them for over ten years: is a testament to the tenacity of this plant. Over the years I have tried to control it, kill it and dig it out. Now that my husband is back home and I have more time to mess with these, I will be completely removing them this spring.

Any tree seedling you catch in a bed (or even in grass) you must immediately dig it out. Most tree seedlings put out a tap root and if you don’t dig it out as soon as you notice it you will have years of issues with just that one little plant coming back. This is why I would follow my neighbor’s lead in “lawn vacuuming” when my two live oaks start dropping acorns.

If you see your neighbor out in their yard doing this: they aren’t crazy, they’re desperate. Acorns are evil.

Passion fruit (passiflora) vines. These become massive and the ones that I had previously planted (I have removed mine) sent out ten foot runners instead of growing in place. Other fruiting plants that have super runners are sea berries (Hippophae rhamnoides), pomegranates (Punica granatum), jujubes (Ziziphus jujuba. Be careful with grafted jujubes. Your thicket will come from the rootstock and you will have garbage fruit that will likely take over and shade out your grafted variety), Syrian sumac (Rhus coriaria. Sumac berries are edible) and elderberries (there are both European, sambucus nigra and American, Sambucus Canadensis, varieties of this plant. Like sumac: only the berries or flowers are edible from elderberries.) Unless you have room for a thicket and are OK with digging these plants back into place every couple of years, don’t use them.

You have to deal with a bully of a plant to get fruit and flowers from a passiflora vine. I personally don’t have time to hack back a plant this large. I may try one on a hugelkulter bed around the oak. The dry environment that oak creates may keep this in check. Honestly, a lot of what I have listed is a completely different experience in the different microclimates in my yard. Places that nothing will grow, can support aggressive growers. What is behaved in one side of my yard is out of control in another. Like I stated in the beginning of this post: don’t underestimate the vigor of these plants, and you may have a better experience with them.

Do not plant Chinese tallow trees (Triadica sebifera). They have spikey seeds that will puncture your bare feet, are completely invasive and their leaves mess up local water system’s biology and harm frogs. This is just a trashy, toxic, weedy tree that has one positive: beautiful fall color. The problems you get growing this plant are so much worse than those pretty fall colors can justify.

The only good thing about Chinese tallow is the fall color. Otherwise, this is just a bad plant.

Wild canna. I’ve grown this variety here for probably ten years. It’s never been a problem, because I’ve always pulled any stray seedlings. Canna is beautiful, tropical and the hummingbirds love them. That being said I had one seedling come up in an irrigated, highly amended bed. I left it alone and this is what it looks like now two seasons later.

One stray seed made this mess.

I love canna but canna loves moisture. It is crowding out everything else. Canna roots are edible, so when I cut back and dig this mess out, I’ll try different ways of cooking the roots. If they aren’t completely and utterly awesome tasting: I will be policing the bed they took over for several years to come, to try to completely remove them. This is another example of a bird poop planted plant, that ended up out of control.

I also grow bananas, in their own raised bed. While I love them and I want to keep them, if one day I decide to try and remove them it will be a big deal. Especially, if I’m removing them once they have been dead for a while. Our trash company will not take whole banana rootballs. You must split the ball up before it dries out. Once they dry, they get as hard as a rock and there’s no way to break them down at that point. In my area, in Zone 8b, banana rootballs will survive the winter in raised beds or if they are protected under a clear piece of plastic sheeting.

My beautiful Gros Michel bananas! I really enjoy growing these, but they won’t fruit where I live. So: Having them take up an entire raised bed is not a great use of space. But, so far, I have chosen beauty over function. I have a line on a super short season banana: the Kokopo (Musa acuminata). That is my next adventure.

From previous experience I know to avoid mint, and root vegetables like burdock/salsify/scorzonera. Those plants come back from tiny bits left in the soil, plus those root vegetables I mentioned are usually grown in Japan (and other countries) in a tall, slender box full of soil. To get the entire root you open the box, remove the plants and clean off the soil. They break too easily to pull, when they grow in the ground, and they are usually covered in burrs and stickers.

And then there’s Bermuda grass. It’s both impossible to kill and super hard to get it to look healthy. My Bermuda grass has completely covered a shaded concrete porch before. It doesn’t need water, light or soil to send out runners and create a mat. One day I will not be tending this yard anymore, but I bet you there’s still Bermuda out there! Eventually the Bermuda will win, but until then: I’m going to try and kill as much as I can!

I hate Bermuda grass. I have no love for this plant, plus my dog is allergic to it.

This is a short list of what I’m sure other gardeners down here have many varieties of plants to add to. For now, these are the things that I have planted that I really wish I hadn’t. Some of them, like the live oak, would be really hard and expensive to remove.

Luckily, my husband is finally home and so I have time to diddle around in my yard. Soooo peaceful. I missed my gardening time!

Let me know if you have a plant that you regret giving space to below.

See you out in the garden! Crazy Green Thumbs

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