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Like pet animals, we bear responsibility for pet plants

The Grass is Greener

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POSTED: October 14, 2012 5:00 p.m.

Ownership brings responsibility. Wild mustangs can fend for themselves, but making them saddle horses requires the owners to provide food, shelter, medical care and grooming. Wild wolves can take care of themselves quite nicely, thank you; but the domesticated dog depends upon us.

We have bred out of our domesticated animals — be they livestock or pets — many of the traits required for successful life in the wild. One just cannot dump an unwanted dog or cat out on the street with any expectation that this animal has a chance.  

The same thing happens with domesticated plants. What do St. Augustine turf, azaleas, camellias, centipede turf, sago palm, Canary Island date palm and queen palm have in common? They are pet plants that we have imported from their natural homes.
We like St. Augustine grass because it imparts more of a tropical feel to our landscapes. Sago palms are ancient plants surviving from the time of the dinosaurs, but we move them into climates and soils that do not meet their basic needs. Canary Island date palm is a desert plant imported to the humid and rainy Southeast U.S.

 Abandoning pets to go feral dooms them to a short life of starvation and violence for which they are not prepared or equipped. I am saddened to see deer dead along the interstate, but the dead dogs make me angry.

Dead dogs happen because owners shirk their responsibilities and, in so doing, break a trust my species has developed with canines over the past 10,000 years. Maybe the owners just did not understand that abandoning pets is not kindness. Or maybe they just are people of low character.

One cannot expect good performance from domesticated animals unless we meet our responsibilities and provide the necessary care. Failing to meet those responsibilities carries a price. With dogs, that price is roaming packs of starving animals that are a threat to the community and cost tax dollars to capture, control and clean up after they become road kill. With cats, we see decimation of the native song-bird and migratory-bird populations.

When we take things out of their natural environment, we take on responsibility for them. When we take plants out of their natural environment, we take on responsibility for providing their basic needs. Trying to force things to grow where they are not suited or expecting good results without providing minimal care is just foolish.

If fertilization is inadequate in amount or timing, of course the plants will not respond well. Mixing plants with high water demands next to plants with low water demands ensures one or the other will not perform well.

Perhaps the worst plant abuse, from a human consequence perspective, is planting urban trees where they cannot perform. What makes trees the worst case is that, as Dr. Alex Shigo asserted, trees are the largest vegetables on earth, and if they fall on you, they can kill you.

Trees need space. We can calculate how much space is needed for a tree of a given size. Disney and Universal Studios constantly do it at their theme parks.

 It can be done, but we humans need to take responsibility for our actions.

Don Gardner is the UGA extension agent for Glynn County serving South Bryan.

 

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