Sunday, October 16, 2011

Chameleon Plants: Choose the Right Location

I particularly enjoy a 9" tall groundcover named chameleon plant with beautiful green leaves, adorned with red, pink and yellow highlights. The colors are most vibrant along the edge of a shaded area where they will get more sun. Otherwise in fuller shade, the leaves are green with occasional blotches of cream.

Yet to many, they can feel as if a curse was upon them when they purchased the chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon'). The positive side of this extremely aggressive groundcover is that it will quickly fill in spots under trees, choking out most other weeds and plant life. The negative side is that it will also spread to other places in the garden if precautions are not properly taken, and it is nearly impossible to get remove. The plant also has a somewhat pungent fragrance, meaning it is best left for show.

As with most plants, you should be familiar with its growing habits before purchasing them. A sunflower should not be positioned under a tree with low branches, and a cactus should not be planted in the muck of a swamp. An old-time landscaper once told me that a beautiful rose in a corn field is nothing more than a weed.

We have a large area in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden where Austrian pines grow as an established border to the landscaped area. Lawn surrounds the trees on all sides, so I am not concerned about the aggressive nature. The chameleon plant spreads by its roots, so keeping the lawn mowed should restrict the plants boundaries.

We have just finished developing this new bed for the chameleon groundcover. Several weeks ago, I sprayed Round-Up on the grass in the shape of the new bed, approximately 1,500 sq. ft. We had extra soil from another area at the church where a retention pond was being built, so we brought about 10 yards of this virgin soil to a location adjacent to the new bed.

The day before the scheduled planting, I dug up a 6' x 12' bed of chameleon plant that grows vibrantly under the deck at our house. It was nearly impossible to remove all of the roots and that was not a concern – I know that the plant will be fully reestablished in two years. I dug just the roots, leaving all of the soil under the deck.

On the day of the planting, the plan was to simply spread the roots onto the now dead grass and then throw the soil on top. It sounded so easy! Yet I had not anticipated how wet the rich clay had become.

If we had used sifted topsoil, the plan would have worked wonderfully. Instead, we had to throw the heavy clay over the general area, let it dry, and then rake it several days later until it was finally level. The bare roots of the chameleon plant were then pressed into the still moist soil.

My expectation is that the chameleon plant will be fully established in this extended bed within two or three years. At that point, weeds should become a minimal problem. In the meantime, we will have to weed extensively because we are not adding mulch.

In the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus spoke about a field where good grain seed had been intermixed with weeds. When the servants questioned why there were weeds, the master replied 'An enemy has done this.' That is how many feel about the weeds that grow up with the chameleon plant – an enemy did it. With wisdom and patience, I believe that the beauty of this plant can be enjoyed for many years without having to gather all the weeds in bundles to be burned.

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End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.