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