Sunday, January 17, 2021

A Moment in Nature for January

Winter is not always the most cheerful of seasons, but there are moments to appreciate. A friend of mine, Ginny Stibolt in Florida (visit her webpage here), always takes time to appreciate #amomentinnature and I’d like to adopt that as a monthly feature here.

When she shares these moments, I like the feeling it gives me. It is a call to slow down our busy day and appreciate these moments of nature. It is also a reminder that these things are fleeting and should be cherished. Her most recent one was about mushrooms growing from a sweetgum ball, tiny fungi that will be gone in a day or so.

So here is my moment in nature for January: morning sun lighting up a patch of Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) on the back of my property with a glimpse of an old lake in the background and fading American beech leaves (Fagus grandifolia). It is a simple vignette that lasts only as long as the sun is rising.

I hope posts like these (and Ginny’s) will help you notice your moment in nature from time to time. I captured this one with my phone, so easy to do these days and save the moment.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Green is Good?


The gray days of winter bring a lot of bare branches to the landscape, so the appearance of something green can be a welcome sight. Green signals visible life while those bare branches—pretty as they are against a blue winter sky—are unknown in terms of what comes next for them.

Native evergreen plants are more abundant in the Coastal Plain ecoregion of Georgia, and many of the shrubs and trees we now use in the Piedmont have come from there: yaupon holly, wax myrtle, Florida anise, Southern magnolia, and Carolina cherry laurel to name a few of those. We have Piedmont evergreens but they aren’t propagated as much and many prefer shade: rhododendrons, mountain laurel, hemlock, American holly, and the native Eastern redcedar (technically a juniper). An earlier blog of mine featured some of these choices.

American holly (Ilex opaca) in winter

Unfortunately, the evergreens that we see the most of now are an assortment of non-native plants: privets (Ligustrum sp.) that come from Asia as well as these plants: Nandina; hollies (this year appears to be a very productive year for fruit on Ilex cornuta); English ivy; Mahonia; two species of autumn olive (Elaeagnus sp.); winter creeper (Euonymus fortunei); Japanese honeysuckle; and two species of Vinca. Not only are these plants willingly placed in our landscapes, but many of them have then escaped (via wildlife) to our natural areas and neighbors’ yards.

English ivy doesn't stay in one place

Winter is a perfect time to spot, remove, or mark these giant weeds. People always ask why should we bother to do so. Foremost, the best reason is that removing them gives back space to our native plants. Some of these invasive plants make large thickets where only they grow. Native insects and birds don’t thrive in these monocultures because there is less for them to eat. Second, removing these plants and their clusters of seeds/fruit means that we can reduce their spread into potential new areas, meaning less clean-up in the future.

So, is green a good sign in the winter landscape? Only when it is native and appropriate for your ecoregion! Non-native green should be identified and—if it is one of the known invasive plants—removed from our landscapes and natural areas.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

New Year, New Yard


Christmas fern

What a great time to take on a new project, with weekends more free than ever, and an old suburban landscape that needs a native makeover. It’s not my new yard, rather it belongs to my son and his wife (and their love-to-be-outdoors child). I hope over the next year to replace invasive plants with native ones as well as add more pollinator-friendly perennials.

While the yard is not overrun with invasive plants, there is clearly the beginning of what I think of as neglectful encroachment. These are plants that were brought in by nature (wildlife such as birds deposit seeds on their way through, for example). The homeowner doesn’t realize what has arrived and allows the plant to grow (essentially a type of neglect). Examples in this yard are mahonia (Mahonia bealei), heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica), English ivy (Hedera helix), and thorny olive (Elaeagnus pungens).

This yard is typical of most good-sized suburban yards (this is about half an acre in North Fulton county) in that it has a well-managed front with lawn and tightly manicured shrubs but a more natural backyard. It is in the back where these bird droppings have been allowed to grow and where I’ll focus my early efforts to remove and replace. There is a bit of a slope and some deer in the neighborhood so I’ll need to consider those factors in my plant choices.

This little bird kept me company
The section I worked (before view)

This week I started small by removing the fruit on the nandina to prevent spread, removing limbs on the single large thorny olive (but leaving the roots for now to prevent erosion), and pulling waxleaf privet seedlings (Ligustrum japonicum). I also removed the patch of English ivy near the driveway (the mother of ivy is clearly visible in the backyard of a home within walking distance, a thick mass high in a tree that towers over that home) and replaced it with Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) that I had rescued several days before, a few rocks, and hardwood mulch. 

Of course, if these don't do well, that is part of gardening lessons in general (not specific to native plants) and I will adjust.

The Christmas ferns for the cleared space; large shrub is Illicium

Future plantings will be a mixture of extras from my yard, purchased plants, as well as more rescued ferns. I am excited to work on this change. A friend gave us a board book about bugs and it has helped to inspire my grandson to ‘find some bugs in your backyard.’ The changes I have in mind should increase both the diversity and quantity of bugs that we can find there.

This first set of changes took about 4 hours; the area was nicely moist from rain the day before. I look forward to sharing pictures and stories of the progress and change over the next year in the hopes of inspiring others to transform older yards into more productive, wildlife-supporting landscapes.

Ferns in place; existing Daphne shrub left for now