Do Your Plants Flop Over?
I'm not an expert gardener by any measure. The opposite in fact, I'm more an "accidental" gardener, in that if I get a successful harvest from a vegetable its almost always an accident, lol. I do what most people are taught, provide reasonable spacing of my plants, and weed all the incidentals which crop up, from in between them to stifle competition for resources and nutrients. After reading this, posted in a Missouri Gardener's FB group, I wonder if I'm doing it all wrong?
Why Do Native Plants in Gardens Flop & What to Do About It by FB user Indigenous Landscapes
Most Native Plant Gardeners have noticed that some of their plants flop as they get larger later into the growing season. This is not because they need other plants to physically lean on and support them. It’s because there’s not enough root competition. Think of root Competition similarly as you think of light competition in a forest. In a forest, trees grow skinny, straight upwards, and tall in a race to the canopy for sunlight. When there is enough root competition, roots of herbaceous plants (wildflowers and grasses) grow straight and downwards through the topsoil, deep into the subsoil. When there is not enough root competition, roots of herbaceous spread wide and far, like the canopy of an open grown tree branches wide to catch as much sunlight as possible. It’s unnatural for native herbaceous plants to not have enough root competition, as in nature, there would be so many plants per square foot or square meter that their roots will be in fierce competition with each other for nutrients and water. But this unnatural state of low root competition is exactly what occurs in Gardens because there’s too much space in between the plants. In a prairie or meadow, Native Plants grow side by side with no space in between forcing good root competition. In Gardens, space is often given to native plants instead of them being surrounded by other plants, causing low root competition. Low root competition leads to excessive vegetation growth. Excessive vegetation growth leads to floppy plants in some species of native plants.
Here’s what a few things you can do to reduce the floppiness of your native plants:
1. Remove the mulch and/or leaves from in between your plants in the fall. Seed the open soil in between your plants thickly with other native perennial seeds. Stick to smaller or medium sized wildflowers that won’t grow too imposing as these plants will essentially be acting as a ground cover between your other native plants, providing good root competition.
2. If you’re starting a new garden bed, use a seeding in combination with individual plants so that 100% of the bed will be occupied by native plants providing the needed root competition.
3. Keep floppy plants away from shade. They will grow away from the shade towards the sun heightening the chance of flopping.
4. Choose flop resistant plants and steer away from native plants that tend to flop. Or you can use floppy plants with enough root competition. See the following lists for reference.
Flop Resistant Native Plants: Baptisia species, Penstemon Species, Geranium maculatum, Wild Columbine, Zizia species, Blephilia species, Sand Coreopsis (C. lanceoata), Echinacea species excluding Echinacea pallida, Native Iris species, Native Spiderwort species, Gallardia species, Native Rudbeckia species excluding Rudbeckia laciniata and Rudbeckia maxima, Asclepias species excluding Asclepias syriaca, Verbesina helianthoides, Allium species, Campanula species, Partridge Pea, Wild Senna species, Desmodium species, Liatris species under 20 inches tall, Monkey Flower, Native Hibiscus species, Wild Quinine, Purple and White Prairie Clover, Slender Mountain Mint, Virginia Mountain Mint, Ratibida columnifera, Solidago species excluding S. canadensis, S. altissimum, S. rigida, and S. Specisoa, Hoary Vervain, Western Ironweed, Turtlehead species, Native Thistle species, Eutrochium maculatum, Helenium species, Lobelia species, Boneset species, Mistflower, Gentian species, Aster species under 2 feet tall, Obedient Plant, Little Bluestem, Prairie Dropseed, Indian Grass, Switch Grass, Sedge Species.
Native Plants that tend to Flop in Garden Spaces: Echinacea pallida, Tall Helianthus species, Silphium species, Tall Ironweed species, Joe Pye Weed species excluding E. maculatum, Grey Headed Coneflower, Wild Bergamot, Taller Liatris species, Wingstem, Rudbeckia lacinata, Rudbeckia maxima, Taller Bidens species, Blue Vervain, Tall Solidago species, Tall Coreopsis, Taller Aster species such as New England Aster, Asclepias syriaca, and Big Bluestem.
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If I'm understanding this right, then you'd want to plant ground cover crops around your vegetables that grow tall. Perhaps like corn? Is this why the "Three Sister's method, of planting beans and squash around the base of your corn, works well?
For plants that naturally flop / sprawl, and who are subjected to pests, say for squash plants, you'd naturally want to have no cover for those pests, and provide a way for air to move around the stems and leaves.