Sunday, April 11, 2021

Orange Slime on the Muscadine


This has been a better than usual year for spotting bright orange slime on native muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) vines. Almost every large vine on our property has it compared to just one that had it a couple years ago. This is Fusicolla merismoides, a fungus or, more often, a complex of fungi and yeast that colonize the sap that leaks from a tree wound.

It doesn’t hurt the vine (or tree if it is on some other woody plant) and usually is just a springtime occurrence as sap is rising and leaking from wounds on woody plants. Obviously the bigger the wound or amount of sap, the more orange you might see.

So if you see an orange smear, take a moment to appreciate what’s happening and then go happily on your way. I visited all of ours this year with grandson in tow and we admired them and remarked on the small bugs enjoying the slime.

The slime on the upper right is fading while the left is gooey

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Go Forth and Multiply


Packera aurea
Valeriana pauciflora

Multiply the supply of native plants in gardens, that is. As I’m prowling through my garden this time of year, admiring flowers and pulling early weeds, I always find extra plants to pot up. In years past, I’d pot them up to donate to plant sales. I’m not participating in a local sale this year so they’re going to friends and neighbors. The two plants shown above were given to me by friends as extras from their gardens.

As I wrote in January, my son’s family has a new yard. They’re getting beardtongue (Penstemon sp.) for the mailbox. It’s a tough as nails perennial that is fairly deer resistant (they have deer). I have two species to share with them: Penstemon digitalis and Penstemon tenuis. As the season progresses, I’m sure there will be more for them – we’ve been removing nandina shrubs at their house to create a new area for pollinator plants.

Even Max potted up some small trees
Penstemon ready to go

Several friends who are building their native plant collections are getting an assortment of extra perennials and shrubs. I love how I can get extra room for my garden while still making other people happy!

I’m also creating a grouping of native perennials along the property line with my neighbor. This has to be composed of deer resistant plants. So far I’ve planted beardtongue (Penstemon), mountain mint (Pycnanthemum), sedges (Carex), perennial rye (Elymus), and bushy St. John’s wort (Hypericum densiflorum). Helping to hold the sloping ground around it is the native dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis). As the plantings grow, I reduce the cinquefoil.

If you’re a native plant gardener, take advantage of new spring growth to find plants to help other gardens grow. It’s as nice for you as it is for them. Pot them up with a lightweight mix of topsoil (house-brand from a big box store is good) mixed with shredded mulch (not dyed) or bagged soil conditioner. Sometimes I use a small amount of perlite in it. No need to buy expensive growing mix. Now you’re ready to go forth and multiply the amount of yards with native plants!

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Small Bits of Beauty


Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Spring has sprung, but it is more of a journey than a destination, especially when it comes to native plants. We don’t suddenly wake up with a full-blown blooming yard in our native plant gardens; rather we discover it one species at a time. As the trout lilies (Erythronium) and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) finish up their blooms, early trilliums (for example, Trillium cuneatum) are in now full swing and Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are just getting started. 

The early shrubs (spicebush and early blueberry) are giving way to red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) and the later blueberries. My earliest viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) is just days away from making a spectacle of itself. The serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) next to it is enjoying its time to shine.

Phacelia bipinnatifida

Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

I share many pictures on my blog of plants in my garden; I imagine some people think it must be a showplace. It’s not. I work full-time and have activities that keep me from being fully attentive to maintaining a perfect landscape. We have deer and chipmunks and squirrels (maybe rabbits too) who nibble, rub, and uproot things at will. Perfection does not live here.

Instead of big sweeps of color, my garden delights me in small bits of beauty scattered throughout the property and throughout the seasons. A quiet walk finds them: returning blooms from favorites as well as plants blooming for the first time. This year found my first bloom on twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) and Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens). I might find new plants: a new trillium sprouting (or was it moved by a critter?) and a new group of slender toothwort (Cardamine angustata) in the path (note to self to move that one later).  

Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla)

Here are some of the special blooms for this week.  I learned this week that the female flower on the Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens) is located at the base of the panicle (see the arrow below). There is so much more to come, and I look forward to appreciating each one as the season progresses.  

Caulophyllum thalictroides
Pachysandra procumbens

By the way, I want to help promote another metro Atlanta area blog that you might like. The author’s journey to appreciating native plants and passion for spreading the message is much like my own:

American plum (Prunus americana) starts as Chickasaw plum finishes

Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Impermanence of Plants

Wild comfrey (Cynoglossum virginianum)

Plants don’t live forever; that’s probably not a shocker to anyone. Annual plants have the shortest lifespan, one growing season, but we know that when we plant them and set our expectations accordingly. Woody plants can have the longest life, and we hope for that when we plant them. 

But plants don’t always live as long as we want, and this is perhaps the mostly likely time of year when we realize that a plant that we had has vanished or is just dead in place. My wild comfrey, shown here in 2012, faded away within a year or two.

Each spring we discover what comes back from winter slumber, anxiously looking for that first bit of green as a leaf emerges on a woody twig or an herbaceous plant puts up that first stem or fiddlehead (in the case of a fern). Each green discovery is a joy and, to be honest, a reaffirmation of my talents as a gardener. Until I find the one that didn’t make it ….

A ladyslipper (2011); it bloomed for several years then faded out

Sometimes I might not have realized something was gone until I discovered the old plant tag sticking in the ground. I pull it out and save it for potential reuse but the pile of ‘dead tags’ builds up over time. Or I might not remember that I even had the plant until a friend says “Remember that plant we got at Cullowhee, how’s yours doing?” Then I realize that I’ve lost it at some point: a sad moment of realization.

Storms come and knock plants down – I lost a big pine tree last year; unfortunately it took several other small trees (like 10!) with it. It’s just part of natural change and opens up the area to more sun and gives different plants a chance to grow until the canopy fills in again.

I bid a final farewell this year to the azalea shown on the right: Rhododendron x 'Milleneum' was tortured by deer and then shaded out by a blueberry that was growing ever larger. The azalea was no more than a dead stick with a tag at this point. I am really happy with the blueberry (Vaccinium elliottii) that has taken over the space; it is much more productive for the bees than the azalea was.

So to garden is to experience change and that’s no different with native plants. Plants come and go either because of their life cycle or some other reason. The garden is different every year in some way; and I guess that keeps it interesting.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

A Moment in Nature for March

Following on the post I shared for February, #amomentinnature for March is my best patch of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) showing off at just the right time for me to actually get a good picture of it!

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

March is typically a very good month for spring ephemeral native wildflowers. In addition to the trout lily that I featured in February, I now have spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) blooming, sweet Betsy trillium (Trillium cuneatum), rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) and false rue anemone (Enemion biternatum). 

There are plenty of good things yet to come so now is a good time to take a moment and appreciate the early ones. Don't have these early flowers in your yard? Take a hike! Here are several good ones in North Georgia; consider also visiting one of the locations of the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area (NRA). Find 17 maps for it here and pick a spot.

Cloudland Canyon State Park - my blog on a visit there
The Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail - my blog on a visit there

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Wasps (The Book)


Spiders, scorpions, wasps … these are some of the least welcome insects around our home. Of course, most of us realize that they have a job to do in our local ecosystem. Without spiders, we’d have far more insects than we realize, and some birds love to feed spiders to their babies (apparently they can be a good source of taurine, an essential nutrient). Scorpions eat a lot of insects too. Wasps, however, benefit their ecosystem in more than one way: not only do they eat extra insects (adult female wasps capture insects to feed their babies) but as adults they are also important pollinators.

A recently published book, Wasps: Their Biology, Diversity, and Roles as Beneficial Insects and Pollinators of Native Plants, gives abundant details on understanding these oft-misunderstood insects. Heather Holm has published several key books on bees and pollinators of native plants, both of which I’ve reviewed before. Her books are always detailed, attractive, and contain exceptional photographs and illustrations. Her website also includes free downloadable resources.

Who would use this book? According to her website, “This is an essential book for conservationists, naturalists, insect enthusiasts, biologists, nature photographers, native plant aficionados, and anyone interested in beneficial insects and pollinators.” I could not agree more. I was always fine with wasps being in the garden; I now have even more respect for them. The book has some fascinating details. I learned that the reason that females are larger than males is because the mother puts more food in their chambers (the mother knows very well whether the larva will develop into a female (fertilized egg) or a male (unfertilized) ).

As large as the book is, 416 pages, it doesn't even cover all the wasps in Eastern North America. These are the most common flower-visiting wasps: 68 genera and 150 species are covered. The author hopes that better knowledge of wasps will encourage citizen scientists (average folk like us!) to identify the more common species for appreciation and to help document them (you can log your findings on iNaturalist, for example).

A brief breakdown of the chapters is as follows:

Chapter 1: Overview of wasps, types of nests, and the concept of social vs. solitary (most are solitary), plus nest construction (making the materials using their mouth!).

Chapter 2: Life cycle of wasps, including the 5 stages of growth, how eggs are laid and nests are provisioned (While all the food is some type of insect, there are several different ways for the food to be provided; it is fascinating how different they can be!).

A queen bald-faced hornet
An old paper wasp nest

Photos above: My grandson and I rolled a log over this week and found a queen bald-faced hornet quietly over-wintering in a cavity. [We rolled it back.] Above right is a paper wasp nest from last season; it looks like two wasps never finished emerging.

Chapter 3: Wasp anatomy, including several very detailed photos and drawings to help explain. I was surprised to learn that wasps have two different kinds of eyes. Females use the length of their antenna to help make perfectly shaped cells every time.

Chapter 4: Diet, and here is where we learn how our native plants support them because flower nectar is the primary source of energy for adults. Their relatively short tongues dictate what they use but, like some bees, they will chew through the base of longer flower tubes to get nectar. In the spring, adults may use spring sap flows on trees until enough flowers are open. Some of the social nesting wasps may resort to cannibalism in times of scarce food.

Chapter 5: Ecosystem services are provided in two areas: 1) pest insect control (great table on p.64), and 2) plant pollination. Of course, both of these areas are rather species specific. Did you know that some wasps are specialists on spiders?

Chapters 6-17: Family profiles of the wasps included here, 12 in all. Each chapter is quite detailed with photos that help identify the species. On page 412 there is a section called "Wasp genera at a glance" which points back to these sections for further id.

Chapter 18: Planting guides, including the Southeast one on page 395. For guidance on which to use in your garden, look for the flower icon. Pages 386-7 provide specific wasp/plant tables for those who look to support a certain species.

I hope you consider buying this book; it certainly has given me a better appreciation for these vital insects. It is so well done, exceptionally detailed, and beautifully shipped. You can order it here; shipping is free.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Turf to Trees – Reclaiming Space for Nature


The concept of reworking America’s big lawn spaces to more nature-productive vegetation is not a new concept, but we certainly can use not just reminders but good resources to do it. A friend in Georgia has recently put together a new website to help provide those resources. I contributed some of my photos to help. The goal of the website is to convince people to do it and give them the help they need to implement changes.

The website TurftoTrees goes into detail about the importance of creating more diverse landscapes (lawn is a monoculture of a single plant, of course, the very opposite of diverse) by replacing lawn with native plants. The concept isn’t limited to using only trees, adding shrubs and perennials helps build a better plant community. Turf grass contributes very little to native insects and birds and when chemicals are used to maintain it, the net effect is even more negative when chemicals get into groundwater and damage soil organisms.

Sections on the website include “What” to provide ideas and links about what plants are right for your plant community; “How” for tips on making it happen (including how to remove turf); and “Management” for dealing with competing invasive plants in various ways.

After you’ve explored the resources, send any feedback on how to make this site more useful to the email found on the Community page. I hope it inspires you to reduce some of your lawn and add some productive native plants. Once you do that, you should see more of these in your own landscape:

From my confusing Dark Swallowtails post

Sunday, February 21, 2021

A Moment in Nature for February


Trout lilies at 28 degrees 

Following on the post I shared for January, #amomentinnature for February is the appearance of blooms on the dimpled trout lily (Erythronium umbilicatum). This spring ephemeral is always one of my first to bloom and this particular patch is always the first of them.  Even though we had cold temperatures into the 20’s, I watched the leaves bravely emerge and the bloom stalks rise up. Each pair of leaves has one flower; plants with a single leaf are too immature to bloom.

Trout lilies, same patch, around 46 degrees

I’ve written about this plant many times before so if you’d like to take a trip down memory lane with some old February posts, here are the links:

After snow covered it up in 2020, it kept right on going. 

After the death of a friend in 2019, I remembered it was always one her favorites too.

A trip to south  Georgia in 2018 to see a most amazing display of plants at Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve in Grady County (just starting to happen now and trips this year are self-guided).

Spring photo post  in 2013.

Native ephemeral post in 2011.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Hike Local: Old Mill Park

The mill dam as viewed from the upper trail

Winter days can be mild and rainy and those are perfect conditions for small outings with waterfalls. In our ongoing efforts to entertain our young grandson, we visited a fairly local waterfall this week. Old Mill Park in historic Roswell is a favorite local park for its easy trails and scenic views.

Our mid-morning arrival found plenty of parking and few visitors, allowing us to ramble mask-free along the trails on both sides of Vickery Creek. We crossed over the covered bridge and hiked up the steps to the Vickery Creek Trail, part of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. You can also reach this trail from their parking lot off Riverside Road.

That side of the creek has amazing native vegetation: as we walked high above the creek, the path was lined on both sides with a mixture of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) and Piedmont rhododendron (Rhododendron minus). In fact, these two evergreen shrubs were so unusually abundant that the view reminded me of the more familiar, but invasive, privet. I can’t wait to go back in May and see these in bloom! In the meantime, there was plenty of Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), evergreen ginger (Hexastylis arifolia), glowing moss, and rosettes of native asters and goldenrods.

Vickery Creek Trail with Rhododendron
Rhododendron minus buds

On the Old Mill Park side of the creek, there are more facilities: restrooms, concrete paths, restful spots, and trash cans. It was the perfect place to enjoy a snack next to the roaring waterfall and answer questions like “Does the water ever stop?” Think about that … all night long, water is pouring over that dam! We also talked about the many birds we could hear around us. Sandy ‘beaches’ next to the creek keep a lot children entertained, I’m sure, and ours was one.

That side of the creek is also the place where you’ll see weedy and invasive plants; the bright fruits of the non-native Nandina domestica were showing in several places. Local parks need volunteers to help manage invasive plants as well as landscape crews educated in the plants of the area. If you’d like to help manage invasive plants at your local park, call the managing entity (city, county) and volunteer. Balmy winter days are also perfect for pulling weeds!

Ginger and Christmas next to the path

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Remote Education: Yea or Nay?


This week I attended a Zoom presentation with Doug Tallamy, a free event sponsored by the Cherokee Library Garden which is part of the Atlanta History Center. Many years ago, I attended a presentation by him sponsored by the Georgia Perennial Plant Association held at the Atlanta History Center. Both presentations were just as effective but a huge difference was not having to drive 90-minutes each way to be there. Of course, I missed out on seeing friends in person but the glass of wine I enjoyed during the talk smoothed that out.

While the pandemic restrictions will continue for many more months, I think that the availability of remote education will greatly outlast it. There are too many advantages of remote education to ignore.  First of all, people who can’t travel or don’t like to travel at night will now be able to attend events they could not before. This means that education can now reach more people than before.

Second, events that were limited in attendance due to physical space can now serve more people. In fact, the ability to have some folks in person and a separate feed via Zoom (or another tool) is more likely than ever. Most of us were too inexperienced with streaming to consider that before.

Third, using tools like Zoom also brings us closer (if not entirely there) to recording sessions for people to watch later.

Fourth, savings associated with remote education (lower speaker fees, zero location costs, digital handouts) should allow more groups to be able to host more education events than before as they can stretch their budgets further.

And finally, the ability to provide remote presentations means that even small remote groups can tap into speakers that might have been unable to travel for an in-person meeting.

So, if you haven't tried an online presentation, take the plunge. As I said earlier, I think they are here to stay, at least part of the time. There are many free ones to test drive how you like the experience. The photo at the top is for a presentation by the Cobb County Master Gardeners. Upcoming for me is the co-sponsored symposium by the Georgia Native Plant Society and Georgia Audubon on Feb 27-28 (2 sessions).

P. S. I also like the ability to take a quick screen shot to remind me of things to follow up on, like the recommendation by Dr. Tallamy to register my property at the Homegrown National Park's website (which only has 61 properties registered in all of Georgia - let's get to it, Georgians, it only takes a few minutes):


Sunday, January 31, 2021

Take a Hike!


Georgia is fortunate to have rather mild winter weather even in the northern areas. While we have occasional snow, more often there are several warm days when we can get out and take a hike (or a walk) on well-managed paths. One day this past week we had a high of 68 degrees!

I like to encourage people to get out because I feel that time spent in nature brings us a little closer to appreciating nature (and native plants) each time that we do. I heard recently that some flowers are already blooming at The Pocket’s Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail in Walker County (you can’t get more northern than that). I’ve written several times about the flowers there; here’s a link to my blog about a February visit in 2017. I did a follow up post in March 2017.

I’m going to list some other ideas, most of which I’ve covered before. Another good North Georgia hike is Amicalola Falls State Park (this post is from a workday there). It has good trails and its steps make for good exercise; less energetic folks might opt for the West Falls Trail which is perfect for older folks and families with strollers. It can get crowded on weekends, so go early.

Sharp-lobed hepatica is always one of the first to bloom at the Pocket

In metro Atlanta, try Big Trees Forest Preserve in Sandy Springs, Chattahoochee NRA in Cobb County, or Cascade Springs Nature Preserve in Atlanta. A little south of Atlanta, I recommend Chattahoochee Bend State Park in Coweta County and Newman Wetlands Center in Clayton County.

Further south is a park that I hear wonderful things about: George L. Smith State Park in Emanuel County. It’s on my list of places to go. I have visited High Falls State Park in Monroe County and enjoyed it very much. The falls are really beautiful. FDR State Park is another excellent one in middle Georgia (here is another blog about the Pine Mountain Trail in FDR State Park from a June visit).

Providence Canyon State Park offers incredible views

South and on the west side of the state is a great winter destination: Providence Canyon State Park in Stewart County. Adults and kids alike will enjoy learning about the little grand canyon of Georgia as well as hiking the good trails and discovering native plants. In Grady County in February, Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve is a breathtaking sight. Visit them on Facebook for weekly updates on the bloom cycle.

Look for tiny carnivorous sundews plant in wet edges at Okefenokee

In the southeastern part of the state, visit Stephen C. Foster State Park in Charlton County. It is the primary entrance to the Okefenokee Swamp. The kids will love learning about the many types of carnivorous plants found there. Winter can also be a fun time to visit Georgia’s Golden Isles without so many other tourists; I have enjoyed several trips to Jekyll Island.

With Georgia’s plentiful winter rains, waterfalls make for good trips as well. Here is a blog post I did that listed several places in North Georgia.

All state parks require a daily fee ($5) or use of the annual pass ($50). Your fee helps pay for good parking, bathrooms, and maintained trails (you can download maps from their website). They also often have nice visitor centers during certain hours.

And don't forget your local parks. Here is my grandson on the kid-friendly trails at Autrey Mill Nature Preserve.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

How to Get the Most from This Native Plant Blog


I’ve been writing this blog every week for over ten years; the first post was in October 2010 and today’s post is #539. The reason I started it was to provide more content for search engines to find when people were looking for information on native plants, specifically about using them in their landscapes (hence the name “using” native plants). Since I live in Georgia, my focus is on plants that are native to Georgia.

In the beginning, I wrote about some of my favorites (the first post was about a favorite shrub: maple-leaf viburnum) and places like roadsides, unique environments and the native plants they harbor. Some posts are educational (like my first winter twigs post). Later I wrote about places that I visited; new plants that I found; and a favorite theme has been the relationship between plants and insects/birds. Occasionally, a rant would pop up, and I’ve also done a lot of book reviews and suggestions for reading.

I’m not planning to stop blogging, but it is getting harder to find weekly topics (especially since I’m not going on many outings this past year). I feel that most of the content here can help people for years to come (plants don’t really change, although their names do sometimes). One of my guiding principles in choosing topics for the blog was that they were seasonal. So here is tip #1, reading the archives:

On the right side of the blog (using the desktop/laptop/web view), you can go to the archive arrows (the symbol that lets you expand a list to more detail). If you’re using a mobile device (phone, tablet, iPad), you’ll have to scroll to the bottom (select a post first, then scroll) and find the “View web version” link to get to it. 

For example, you can go to any February and read topics that are relevant to February: what’s visible, what’s blooming, good places to go. Sprinkled in there might be a topic that is timeless, like my February 2020 post on cultivated native plants or February 2016’s post on native shrubs for small gardens.

The second tip has to do with the search box provided by blogspot (the software that I use for this blog). On a desktop/laptop/web view, you can find the search box in the upper left corner. While this search box is very useful, it does occasionally vex me when it doesn’t find something that I know is there. For example, the post “Native Plants for Butterfly and Pollinator Gardens” from 2014 is one of my favorite posts, but searching for “butterfly” doesn’t find it!? So, try several ways to find things.

Use the box in the upper left corner

A list of entries will be returned from the search

The third tip for using this blog going forward is to have new posts sent you in a reader or via email by using the Feedburner service (no charge). Use the hotlink I just provided or you can find this in the upper right section of the desktop/laptop/web view. This is not managed by me but I use it to get a copy sent to me every week and it still works great.

Click on the orange box to go to Feedburner site

At the Feedburner site, the choice at the bottom is email

Thanks for visiting and I hope you learn something. I’ll keep writing as long as I have ideas. Thanks to my husband for his support over the years. Notably, he helps me with graphics; here are some of the posts with his creative contributions:

Native Plant Pyramid

I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Native

Native Plants for Native Bees

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