Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018 in Pictures

I take a lot of pictures throughout the year and not all of them make it into a blog post. At the end of the calendar year, it’s a good time to reflect on the beauty of nature as well as share some of the extra pictures.

I believe that each day is an opportunity to find and appreciate something beautiful in the native plants and creatures of Georgia.

In January of 2018 we had some super cold morning temperatures and a local photographer shared how to make frozen bubbles - which works best in very cold temperatures - so I decided to try it. You need a solution of water, dish soap, corn syrup, and a straw. Here is a link for a recipe.

Erythronium umbilicatum
As cold as January was, February seemed to bring on early flowers like trout lilies (Erythronium umbilicatum) even earlier than usual. I always enjoy them in my yard, like these, but this year there was also talk of a super bloom in south Georgia so we drove down there for the show (and it was amazing, check out my blog here if you missed it).

Depending on how they are managed, areas like cemeteries can be refuges for plants. Near my house, one cemetery is full of ground-hugging phlox planted years ago by caretakers. I look for it every March to carpet the spaces between the graves with bright pink blooms. It might be moss phlox (Phlox subulata) or it might be trailing phlox (Phlox nivalis) or it might be both with hybrids created by nature. The shades of pink vary from white to deep pink.

Phlox subulata or Phlox nivalis in cemetery

Arabia Mountain outcrop
In April, I had a chance to visit Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area. It is one of several areas in Georgia with the special plant environments because of granite outcrops. I have written about them before but had not visited this particular one.

Arabia is a county-managed park and very accessible. I explored just a small part of it by following the path from the Nature Preserve. The mix of plants and colors really does create a tapestry of beauty across the stark face of the rock outcrops.

I like to imagine my yard is a haven for wildlife and occasionally I stumble upon proof - like one day last May when I spied a giant swallowtail butterfly laying eggs on my wafer ash (Ptelea trifoliata). Also known as hoptree, I have this native planted in a large pot on the front porch and it is native to my county (which is why the butterfly is in this area). After realizing that predators destroyed most of the eggs, I gathered the few remaining ones and raised them in a cage.

Giant swallowtail on Ptelea trifoliata
Spiraea virginiana and bumblebee

The flowers on my Virginia meadowsweet (Spiraea virginiana) were the best this June that they have ever been. These tiny flowers are adored by a variety of beetles and small bees. I just have to keep the deer away.

In July, my neighbor alerted me to a new arrival in the area: a piebald deer had been born and was living in the woods behind their home. The deer continues to thrive, we saw it grazing with its family just this past week.

Piebald deer and mother
Harris's 3-spot moth caterpillar

August continues to be a prime month for caterpillar hunting and this year was another great year finding new ones in the area (see my blog from then). One of the coolest ones that I found was after that blog post and I found it on that very meadowsweet spirea that bloomed so well in June. This is the caterpillar of the Harris's 3-spot moth and those bits next to the head are the remnants of shedding from one instar to the next.

Another great moment in wildlife reproduction happened in September when I spied this pair of box turtles making babies in my neighbor's yard. Maybe next spring will bring the pitter patter of tiny box turtle feet.

Box turtles making more
Hibiscus aculeatus

Fall is a good time for native plant sales and I was finally able to pick up a replacement for a plant that wasn't true. Apparently, quite a few people in Georgia had been mistakenly growing a non-native Hibiscus relative (Abelmoschus manihot) instead of the native comfortroot (Hibiscus aculeatus). The plants look very similar, but the center of the flower is noticeably different. One of my blog readers pointed out the mistake and we're trying to get the word out to anyone propagating this in Georgia to check which one they have. Thanks to the Chattahoochee Nature Center for growing the correct species and I was thrilled when my purchase bloomed in October.

Hamamelis virginiana blooms in November
Several years ago I rescued a witch hazel shrub (Hamamelis virginiana) and it was nice to see it blooming this November (right on time). The cool crisp days kept it going for several weeks. This our latest blooming native woody plant.

I went to Virginia again this December and took a day trip up to Chincoteague Island via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. It's a very seasonal area and most of the businesses were closed but the state park was open and we went in search of the famous wild horses. A tip from the ranger got us to exactly the right spot to find them grazing in the marsh.

Horses resting in the wooded edges of the marsh

One lone horse in the open, perhaps it is the male

I wish you a Happy New Year, full of beautiful and productive encounters with our native wonders. For more pictures, you can also follow me on Instagram:

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Beautiful Native Plants for Georgia in Winter

Are you already missing the leaves of deciduous plants? Winter is just getting started so we’ll be looking at bare branches for a while. Fortunately, there are still plenty of native plants to brighten up your landscapes with evergreen leaves and dangling fruits. Here is a list of native plants to see you through the season. If you don’t have enough of them, make a note to look for them at reputable native nurseries (remember, most Georgia residents can plant even during winter because the ground does not freeze) either now or come spring.

Ilex vomitoria
We have five different species of holly to consider: American holly (Ilex opaca), yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), and inkberry (Ilex glabra) are all evergreen. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and possumhaw (Ilex decidua) are not evergreen but have attractive fruits until the birds find them. Remember that hollies need both male and female plants (that flower) to get fruits.

There are six additional evergreen shrubs beyond the hollies: coastal doghobble (Leucothoe axillaris), hobblebush (Agarista populifolia), Florida anise (Illicium floridanum), evergreen rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense and a few other species), devilwood (Osmanthus americanus), and Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia).

Aronia arbutifolia
Here are four more shrubs, they are deciduous but have some winter interest: hazel alder (Alnus serrulata) has tiny dried cones; oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) has exfoliating bark and leftover flowers); chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) has persistent fruits as do the sumacs (Rhus glabra is particularly showy).

Trees that you might consider include some evergreen ones: Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana), pines (Pinus spp.), hemlock (Tsuga ssp.), Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides), evergreen magnolias (Magnolia virginiana and M. grandiflora), and wax myrtle (Morella cerifera)

You might also consider some of the deciduous trees that offer some winter interest: American beech (Fagus grandifolia) has persistent leaves that fade to cream; white oak (Quercus alba) has beautiful shaggy bark; and one hawthorn in particular has fruit that remains for months: ‘Winter King’ (Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’).

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) with evergreen crossvine (Bignonia capreolata)

Three evergreen ferns contribute interest at ground level: Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), ebony spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron), and marginal fern (Dryopteris marginalis). Perennials also contribute bits of green among the fallen leaves: gingers (Hexastylis spp.); green and gold (Chrysogonum virginianum); partridgeberry is evergreen and also has red fruits (Mitchella repens); yucca (Yucca); pipsissewa (Chimaphila maculata); mouse-eared coreopsis (Coreopsis auriculata); and teaberry/wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens).

Gaultheria procumbens

While you’re enjoying the winter good looks of these plants, you can feel extra good because they also provide either shelter or food for wildlife: something for you and something for them!

Please research these carefully for suitability to your location as well as local conditions (wet, dry, sunny, shady). Some of these are Coastal Plain native plants that have been used in the Piedmont by gardeners for years while some are Piedmont natives that are not suitable further south.

Note: I've hot-linked plants that I've previously written about it. Click those links to get more pictures and details.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Puddle Garden (the book)

If we want our children to appreciate nature, we should start them young. We can take them outside, of course, and show them what it’s all about. We can also foster a love of nature through books, but the choice of books has been slim. Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax offers a dark yet inspiring message (“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”), so I got a copy of that for my new grandson.

Someone recently recommended The Puddle Garden, written in 2015 by some ordinary folks in New Jersey who also have a native plant nursery. Jared Rosenbaum wrote the book and his sister Laura Rosenbaum illustrated it. I’m so excited to see passionate folks create resources to inspire others.

The book is a beautiful story about encouraging wildlife to visit your garden by planting native plants to attract and sustain them. The story features 6 plants and 6 critters as a way of introducing children to the special relationships that exist in nature (and how our choices affect them). 

I have now added this book to my collection. If you’re looking for an engaging book for kids, check it out at its dedicated website

Also, Jared has a wonderful blog, self-described as “Stories and articles exploring connections between people and wild plants in the Northeast. Native plants, ecological restoration, field botany, foraging, herbal medicine, and more.” Visit him at

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Get a Broom!

The noise over leaf-blowers is literally getting louder. The usage of leaf-blowers in total is increasing as more busy homeowners outsource their yardwork to a company who wants to bill as many visits as possible, mowing and blowing even when hardly needed. In between visits, one of my neighbors brings out a leaf-blower every couple of days to clean off the driveway (apparently it is beyond the capability of cars to drive over those leaves). If I’m outside at the same time, it’s pretty hard not to yell over to him: “Get a broom!”

As someone who works from home, the frequency of visits to homes in my neighborhood is quite numerous, sometimes for landscapes that don’t even need these services. I’ve watched contractors mow grass that hasn’t grown and scour away every single leaf during a time when leaves are falling constantly. For a brief moment in time, a moment when the homeowner is usually not even home, the yard is a sea of green, unblemished by the unsightly appearance of a single red or golden fall leaf.

Usage of leaf-blowers, on residential yards in particular, has the following impacts over more traditional methods of dispersal like brooms and rakes: 
  • The pollution impact of small engines themselves. 
  • The dispersal into the air of dust and particulate matter on human respiratory systems (including things such as animal droppings, fungi spores, pesticides, fertilizers, road debris, and heavy metals). 
  • The impact of the noise on humans and small animals and birds, including the enjoyment of the outdoors by humans on a pretty fall day. 
  • The impact of wind on the insects that curl up for the winter in dead leaves (as high as 200 mph).
Cities, counties, and states are looking at leaf-blower bans; some have implemented them. The goal is primarily to reduce noise and pollution. The Pollinator Friendly Yards Facebook page owner has started her own petition to ban gas-powered leaf-blowers. You can find it here.

Tiny snake on the rake
Now for the good news - using brooms and rakes can be a healthy form of exercise! Getting outside also puts you in touch with nature. I love to take the time to look at the various leaves that I'm sweeping or raking: oaks, maples, dogwood, cherry, sourwood - how many different ones can I find?

I find bugs and other cool critters too: toads, snails, beetles, and even a tiny snake this year. Sometimes my neighbors walk by and we spend a few minutes talking. I look at the garden and think about changes while my arms do the raking and sweeping.

So, pick up that broom again and take a trip back to the time when things were manual, and we had to work for that piece of pie! Brooms also make great gifts, and you know the holidays are coming up soon.

[Thanks for indulging this rant. For another good rant, see my blog post on red mulch.]

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Fall Color Compilation

Franklinia alatamaha
We’re wrapping up another season of fall color and each year is a little different from the last. This year it seemed the maples lasted longer in some areas, particularly the ones in landscapes (see my post on Parking Lot Maples) but a few wild ones did too.

Some of the oaks, such as the Southern red oak (Quercus falcata) had really drab color this year, going directly to brown without a hint of the subtle red that they get in some years.

I was pleased to catch my neighbor's Franklinia alatamaha during its fall color phase. A stray leaf in my driveway led me to it.

I’ve posted many times about fall color so this is just a reminder that if you are looking for ideas, I’ve got some. Some of these posts link back to others.

Fall Today, Gone Tomorrow is a general post with links to 3 others.

Fall Color at Home encourages you bring the color to your personal landscapes and gives you some ideas. 

Specific ideas for adding plants with yellow fall color can be found in this post.

Need more red, orange or purple? Try this post.

Find dependable fall color in this post with lots of ideas. Need a small tree with color? Try this post about that very subject.

American beech (Fagus grandifolia), one of the last to color
Maples are specifically featured in two posts: one about wild maples and another about the most commonly used landscape maple (this is the Parking Lot Maples post).

Scarlet oak is the star in this post while this other post is a good summary of parking lot oaks, some of which have reliably good color.

If you like fall color, consider factoring it into your choice of native plants in the landscape. You'll be glad you did come autumn.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Christmas Fern

There lives in the woods of the Southeastern U.S. a large and hardy evergreen fern known as Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). Range maps show that it has been reported in almost every county in Georgia as well in most counties in nearby states. This plant is so ubiquitous near me that we are surprised when we don’t find it on sites designated for plant rescues.

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Christmas fern is happy in dry shade, a trait that is sure to endear it to many a homeowner if they only knew. My backyard is full of it but the area near the house didn’t have it when I moved here. The ferns were probably cleared out during construction. I have since added them back here and there, often first using them to define the edges of pathways through the area and then filling in more as I get them from plant rescues.

A nicely designed use of Christmas fern at McFarlane Nature Park
A sweep of Christmas ferns in a landscaped garden

They transplant so easily. A friend of mine once collected 100 of them from rescues and then used them to plant into a sloped area where she’d cleared out English ivy. I like to plant young ones into small spaces and then watch them grow to fill it up like they might do in a natural crevice in the woods. They also grow easily from spores, especially if the area has a little moss (moss is like nature’s germination nursery, especially for ferns). I’m sure that I’m one of the few people that have ferns in the lawn (I do transplant them out of the lawn when they get too big).

Christmas ferns in my lawn
A bit of moss is perfect for germination

Christmas fern in snow (2017)
The common name of this fern probably refers to its evergreen presence at Christmas time. I certainly enjoy seeing its greenery during the winter months.

I especially welcome the sight of a green frond sticking out of one of our light snowfalls. That just seems so Southern to me – “I have snow, but I still have green plants!”

By mid-March, the fronds from the previous year are near the end of their life and hairy, golden fiddleheads rise up from the center of the clump to replace them. See a picture of that and read more about other landscape-worthy native Georgia ferns at my earlier blog post.

A beautiful natural sweep of Christmas fern at Red Top Mountain State Park

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Climate-Wise Landscaping (the book)

‘Practical actions for a sustainable future’ is the subtitle of this new book and it is all that it promises. I like practical books and I like books that help guide us into actions. Regardless of the reason behind climate change, Climate-Wise Landscaping offers guidance. You might need ideas on plant selection and landscape design that can deal with hotter/drier/wetter conditions than you had before. Or you might be looking for ways to have a lighter footprint on the planet. The authors have covered both areas of concern in this time of changing conditions.

I am familiar with the book’s two authors, Sue Reed and Ginny Stibolt, from a native plants blog team in which I participated. Each author brings her own perspective to the text, but they blend together beautifully, integrating design with practical tips and coming together through a love and belief in the usage of native plants in our landscape.

The book has 10 sections to explore: Lawn; Trees and Shrubs; Water; Ecosystems; Soil; Planning and Design; Herbaceous Plants; Urban Issues; Food; and Materials. 

You might think that you know what they’re going to say about things like Lawn, and you’d be right that the section advocates for less of it. But the section also includes other tips for those of us that will keep a bit of lawn  like using tools that don’t pollute, reviving a lawn or prepping for a new one, adding some meadow space as a replacement, and other ideas that help you reduce your landscape’s negative impact on the environment.

The book is especially good with explaining a topic while providing depth to enhance your understanding of it. Within each section are ‘Action Topics’ and each one begins with a ‘Why This Matters’ section so that you go into the topic knowing why it matters. Sprinkled throughout the book are quote and knowledge boxes.  Knowledge boxes explore a concept with a little more depth for those who need it.

One of the many knowledge boxes to expand on key concepts

Quote box

The quote boxes include inspirational quotes from a variety of experts and noted environmental authors over a wide range of time (all perfectly true for today): E.O. Wilson, Sara Stein, Lorrie Otto, Darrel Morrison, and Doug Tallamy to name a few.

For those of you in urban areas, check out Section 8: Urban Issues. I particularly like the action topics on maximizing urban vegetation and creating wildlife corridors because, of course, I am all about the plants.

The action topic on cool pavement techniques in the same section is one that I wish that more people, urban and not, would consider. Beyond the heat aspect, the concept of permeable surfaces for driveways, pathways, and gathering spaces, also covered here, is important for a variety of reasons including water quality.

If you’ve been wondering what actions you can take in your own landscape (or how to inspire someone else) to make a difference in this changing climate, this book is a well-compiled tool to guide the average person. Making a change in our own landscapes can seem like a drop in the bucket, but our changes do contribute and can inspire others to add another ‘drop,’  and some drops can be larger than others, depending on who we inspire (imagine inspiring an organization with large land holdings!).

You can order a signed copy of the book here. For occasional bits of inspiration, follow the authors on Facebook: Sue Reed and Ginny Stibolt.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Plant Id Using Smartphones and Internet

This buttonbush is unique enough to be
identified by apps; others are not so easy
It may be a plant whose label you lost or something that just popped up in the yard, but the mystery is real and you want to figure out what it is.  You take a picture and email it to a few friends but they don’t know it either.

Someone suggests a smartphone app or a Facebook plant group and off you go. Your success depends on a number of factors, and I’d like to offer some thoughts on getting the most from your efforts.

  1. Smartphone apps (software): these tools are getting better but they are only as good as their data, which could be incomplete (so your picture is being compared against an incomplete set of possibilities). My suggestion is to try it out on a plant or two that you already know and see how it does.
Pro: Their guesses might point you in the right direction even if they didn’t give you the final answer.
Con: You should verify their answer against other sources, taking into account the appropriate range for the plant they are suggesting (one source guessed a plant that wasn’t even in the US).

  1. Internet groups (real people on Facebook and websites like Houzz and others): these groups can be friendly and helpful, prodding you for more information to help narrow down the choices.
Pro: Their queries for more information (are there hairs on the leaves, cut open the fruit to see how many seeds) can help you learn more about what to look for when identifying plants.
Con: Not every person who answers is actually knowledgeable,  unfortunately, so take every answer as a suggestion that you can use to look up comparisons.

  1. Search engines (Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go): I think that effective searching is almost an art, but with practice you can improve on your results. I am really only familiar with Google, but I make use of both the regular search and the image searching function. Here is a page that I find very helpful with identifying native plants in Georgia: Name That Plant.
Pro: There is a lot of data out there and, like using the other two, your search might give you more clues to follow even if it doesn’t give you the perfect answer.
Con: You are really on your own with interpreting the results, but that’s not as bad as it sounds. A word of caution using the image search – sometimes a picture is not the plant that you searched for, but it comes up because your plant might be mentioned in the description or some accompanying text.

Example of using iNaturalist with
Virginia creeper photo
Whatever help you use, always double check, compare to the appropriate range for where you found your plant (use USDA range maps), and compare to other pictures in books or on the Internet. [Note: If you don't like the app after you've tried it, consider deleting it from your device so that you don't use it in the future, especially if it was wrong or misleading.]

Bottom line is get out there, try things, learn from your efforts, and keep going. Being curious about identifying things was exactly what got me started. Tools are great as long as you understand how to get the best out of them and when to seek further help.

Here are just a few of the available plant id apps for smartphones (apps are free to download unless otherwise noted). Some apps note that certain OS levels are required or needed for best experience. All are available for iOS, most are also available for Android:

iNaturalist - not technically listed in the App store for “plant identification” but it’s a good tool. Use “observe” function and then choose “what did you see” for suggestions. Developed in the US.

PlantSnap - $.99 at App store, this one seems to have the most ratings.  The app says it uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to make the matches (probably not uncommon approach). Developed in the US.

Leafsnap - one of the earliest apps but now poorly rated on App Store. Uses recognition software. Developed in the US.

PictureThis  - mixed reviews, the app says it uses artificial intelligence to make the matches. Developed in China.

Garden Answers - One review says that you can pay a small fee to have an expert review your picture; not sure if that applies in all cases. One review definitely sounded fake. Owned by a US company,  but it is not clear where it was developed.

An example of a plant group on Facebook; look for local groups too like
Native Plant Groups and state Master Gardeners. The first answer is not always right!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Flowering Dogwood – Iconic Southern Beauty

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) has long been one of the most beautiful and iconic symbols of the southern United States. Perhaps I think that because I grew up in Virginia where it is the state flower (it is also the state flower of North Carolina and the state tree for Missouri). The beautiful floral display of flowering dogwood graced many a home d├ęcor item, from tea towels and throw pillows to china and table accessories. The tree itself was in our yards, where its blocky bark and red fall fruits were just as familiar as the flowers.

Over the years I’ve come to appreciate this tree for its many qualities to humans and wildlife alike. In this fall season, two of those qualities are front and center: excellent fall color and fruit for wildlife. Throughout the year, it is a nice medium-sized tree, perfect for smaller lots (or plant a bunch if you have more room).

Flowering dogwood fall color and fruits

Where you plant this tree affects its performance. It needs enough sun to set sufficient flowers and fruit, yet it needs enough shade to achieve the elegant layered branch structure and to avoid crispy leaves. I think it is perfect for areas with morning sun and afternoon shade.  Allow room for it to gracefully spread 20-30 feet wide and tall over about 30 years. The white “petals” are really modified bracts; the flowers are small yellow flowers in the very center.

A mature flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) has a beautiful shape

I’d like to offer a few thoughts about a health problem that has been with us since 1987: dogwood anthracnose, a fungal disease that has spread into the region (first detected in the south in 1987 after initial detection in the US in 1978). First, choose quality trees and I recommend getting them from a nursery (rather than transplanting from the wild). Second, site the tree appropriately and protect it from the stress of dry conditions (e.g., water as needed, mulch appropriately). If you notice problems, consider applying a fungicide. I found two good resources from the Forest Service and from the Connecticut AES with helpful pictures for diagnosis and care.

Flowering dogwood is native throughout the Eastern US, from the deep south all the way to Canada. It is a member of the dogwood family (Cornaceae) which also includes black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), another native tree with good fall color and fruit for wildlife. It is related to several other dogwoods that are more shrub-like (read my earlier post about those dogwoods here).

An unusually red one from 2012

Seeing the fall color now is a good time to notice how beautiful this native tree can be. If you have fond memories like I do, you can now appreciate it even more for its other qualities.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Muhly Madness

Some native plants get all the love. Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a rock star in the garden world, and nurseries have developed all sorts of colored cultivars from it. Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) is a much-appreciated native shrub that is popping up in all kinds of designed landscapes. In the world of ornamental grasses, pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is getting a lot of attention these days.

Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is peak form

Also called hair-awn muhly or pink hairgrass, this southeastern native grass is found in both the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain regions but in different environments. According to the Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States (May 2015), in the Piedmont it is found “primarily in clayey or thin rocky soils (especially in areas which formerly burned and were prairie-like) and in open woodlands.” In the Coastal Plain, the habitat description is “in savannas, dry woodlands, and coastal grasslands (where sometimes in close proximity with M. sericea), in the Mountains around calcareous rock outcrops.”

In researching this grass, I talked with Elaine Nash, a longtime friend and member of the Georgia Botanical Society and a Georgia expert on native grasses. She feels that a lot of what is being sold as Muhlenbergia capillaris is actually Muhlenbergia sericea (syn. M. filipes) which is sometimes called purple muhly grass. This species has been used for many years for basket weaving in coastal areas where it is known as sweetgrass. According to the same Flora noted above, this species is found in “maritime dry grasslands, maritime wet grasslands, interdune swales, low dunes, sometimes edges of freshwater or brackish marshes, apparently limited to the barrier islands (sometimes in close proximity with M. capillaris), sometimes locally abundant.”

Whatever is being sold, now is the time to notice it in landscapes as its tall spires of pale to deep pink inflorescences wave in the breeze. I’m seeing it in new landscapes, such as completely new construction areas like new subdivisions where it is planted in the main entrance or in the landscaping of the new homes. Many of these new areas lack mature trees and so have bright, sunny areas that are perfect for ornamental grasses. A large sweep of this grass makes a bold statement when it blooms in October, just as flowering perennials might be diminishing.

Muhly grass with non-native grasses in the background

I am also seeing it in road medians and interchange landscaping (two areas where it is hard to safely take a good photo).  In John’s Creek, there is a fabulous median strip near Sargent Rd that has muhly grass, beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), and dwarf wax myrtle (Morella cerifera) mixed with some non-native landscape plants. On GA 400, exit 6 near Dunwoody/Sandy Springs was recently landscaped with a lot of muhly grass.

A creamy-colored cultivar by the name of ‘White Cloud’ is also starting to get more use. I think it lacks the impact of the pink flowering one, but perhaps some people don’t like as much pink.

This property has huge sweeps on both sides of the driveway, several rows deep

You can buy muhly grass in stores and online nurseries and even places like Amazon and Etsy (I do like local native plant nurseries when possible). It does best in landscapes where it can get full sun and good drainage. In the spring the old foliage can be clipped. In natural areas, the occasional use of fire probably benefits it, but residential usage should probably stick to traditional pruning for good health.

Nimblewill (Muhlenbergia schreberi)

I'd like to point out a smaller but perhaps more widespread perennial relative known as nimblewill (Muhlenbergia schreberi). This native grass grows up to 18 inches, but sprawls on the ground later in the year where it might root from the nodes that touch the soil.

When it showed up in my yard, I though it was Bermuda grass. A closer inspection reveals that it has no runners like Bermuda grass and the inflorescence is different as well. Here is a picture from my yard (this is a small one, only 10 inches).

Muhly grass is but one of our southeastern native grasses being sold for landscape use these days. Schizachyrium scoparium 'The Blues' is getting a lot of attention and there are other choices. If you are looking for a larger grass, look to switchgrass and the cultivars of Panicum virgatum.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Just Don’t Do It

There comes a time when one might realize that a plant has outgrown the space in which a human planted it. The human has several choices to rectify his/her mistake: prune the plant or remove it. It seems that not enough people consider the second option.

Behold the latest pruning catastrophe in my area: a long, double row of ‘Bradford’ pear trees that have been hacked to deal with their overgrown size. I have seen this group of trees many times and they were absolutely overcrowded. However, I think the better approach would have been to remove every other tree (note: the best approach would have been to remove every one of these useless pest trees).

There are at least two other properties within a 5-mile radius that have treated their pear trees in the same fashion over the last 10 or years (and they look horrible during the 4-5 months when they don't have leaves). I wonder if they used the same tree service (Would some tree services actually refuse to do this? I hope so.). I don’t believe that this treatment fits the definition of pollarding which implies that regular pollarding maintenance will be followed.

Please take this as a reminder to research the growth of your plant before you plant it. The internet is the perfect tool to find the mature width and height of any commonly grown plant.

And if you should find that your plant has outgrown its space, please consider a more appropriate method of pruning or removal.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Fueling the Migration

The migration story of the monarch butterfly is one that seems to resonate with a lot of people. The story of plucky insects making their way from Mexico to Canada and back again is inspiring, all along the way depending on the availability of a native plant called milkweed (Asclepias sp.) to make the next generation.

Monarch populations have sharply declined in the last decade due to lack of milkweed and gardeners all over have responded by planting more milkweed to help them.

Milkweed is only part of the story. Last week I wrote about the native plants that we might choose to put in our gardens for fall residents and especially migrating monarch butterflies. They are the nectar plants. These plants provide the fuel that adult butterflies need.

2018 Migration Photo from Journey North

Yet, as hard as we try, our gardens can’t do it alone. I know what most residential gardens look like by now, and there are not a lot of flowers left. The reported migration numbers show a lot of butterflies still north of us. What are they going to eat? The answer lies in the flowers of the goldenrod (Solidago) and aster (Symphyotrichum) plants that line our roadsides, fill up vacant fields, and populate the spaces beneath our power lines.

Late blooming field of goldenrod (Solidago altissima)

These are the messy, tangled places that some people disparage. They are lifesavers to these butterflies. Roadside populations can outnumber what we do in our gardens. I look at the asters on the side of the road, in ditches and messy places, and cheer: “Go, tiny white asters, go!” I see late blooming fields of goldenrod and silently thank the landowner who mowed it mid-summer, producing this late flush of fresh flowers just in time.

How can we help keep these roadsides going? Knowledge is the key, whether you have it or you share it:

  • If you are the owner of places like these, don’t mow them until the flowers are done (or better, wait until just before new growth starts in the spring so that the flower seeds can feed winter birds).  Resist the urge to ‘tidy up’ for human aesthetics. Want to tell people it's deliberately left unmowed? Post a pollinator habitat sign.
  • All of us can educate others on the importance of these late flowers. Let your city/county/state road departments know that these areas are important. They can mow a ‘safety strip’ close to the road and leave large areas untouched (and that could save them money!) until spring. Pollinator health can be a part of their community goals. This communication from the Federal Highway Administration written in 2017 might be a good start to encouraging them to understand that managing roadsides can be “a significant conservation opportunity.”
  • Utility companies are responsible for large areas of vegetation in and around power lines. They often contract out for vegetation control but they can dictate the schedules of the work, ask for cutting over spraying (cutting allows perennials like goldenrods and asters to regrow in the same year), and communicating in general that they are trying to support pollinator health in their management practices.

Mow strip (Photo: Jennifer Hopwood, Xerces Society)

Support our roadsides and fall-flowering areas of wild native vegetation. Recognize that there are insects that depend on them (and actually birds too). Just like planting milkweed in our gardens, our support of these places is part of what we can do as humans to help restore some of the balance disrupted by our own buildings and infrastructure.