Sunday, September 26, 2021

A Moment in Nature for September

As the growing season comes to a close, my #momentinnature for September spotlights ripening fruits. Fruits like these nuts on red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) provide food for critters (several on the ground had already been nibbled) as well as the beginning of new plants. 

Ripe fruits (a nut) of red buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

I usually gather most of my buckeye nuts because I know people who like to propagate them for others who want to add more native plants to their landscape. Red buckeye is a wonderful plant to support hummingbirds as well as bees. The squirrels have added many of them to my woodland over the years. If I find them early enough, I can dig them up and donate them to plant sales or give them to friends. After the second year of growth, the roots are usually too deep to move.

Seeing this ripe cluster made me smile this week and think about how much our landscapes can nourish the local ecosystem.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Leaf Pounding – Keep Those Leaves Forever!


Several weeks ago I heard about “leaf pounding” which is a way to use the juices in a leaf to make an imprint on paper or fabric. It seemed like a fun idea to immortalize a favorite leaf and create a unique shirt (and involve kids). I searched around for instructions and decided that I liked these instructions the best.

I found that their tip to tape the leaf down with masking tape was a good one. Once you start pounding with a hammer, the leaf can slip around so don’t skimp. The best color comes from taping the leaf to the front of the fabric (like a shirt) and then turning it inside out to pound. Be careful, the color can go through to the other side of the shirt so put some paper between fabric layers.

Netted chain fern, initial taping

My husband had a thin board and that worked well for doing it on the counter; I could not imagine trying to do this in my lap as they suggested. The hammering does make a lot of noise so others might want to leave the house for a while.

It is late in the season so it is possible this would work better earlier in the year when leaves have maximum moisture. I used 4 different types of leaves (all native, of course!): netted chain fern, oakleaf hydrangea, redbud, and oak. The stems and mid-rib of the leaf are the juiciest so I thought the fern did the best because it has a lot of mid-ribs. I do agree with their recommendation that you pound all the edges first.

He loved to pound the stems, they were juicy

Of course, I got the grandkid involved to make a shirt of his own and then we made one for his mom. He especially wanted to use the ‘heart’ leaves (redbud). I have the cultivar Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ and while the burgundy was mostly faded, it came through well on the stem. Once the sassafras and maple leaves start to turn orange, I plan to try one of those to get some color.

If you’d like to preserve some leaves in a unique way or create a very nature-themed shirt, consider giving this a try.

Upper left: oakleaf hydranga; Right: redbud and netted chain ferns

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Grandma Lisa's Humming, Buzzing, Chirping Garden (book)


It is only when you want something that you realize there isn’t enough of it. Children’s books that thoughtfully and accurately talk about appreciating nature is one such item. Now that I have a grandchild of my own, I appreciate finding books that can inspire the youngest of us to recognize the value of what we do in our garden. Grandma Lisa's Humming, Buzzing, Chirping Garden is an excellent new one.

There are a number of things to like about this book, starting with the rhyming cadence that children love so much as well as the accurate depictions of native flowers (asters, beebalm, goldenrod, oh my!). I also particularly like how it tells the very real world story of taking an existing landscape and working through the steps to transform it into an actual habitat garden, including the step of removing the English ivy and other non-productive plants.

The book introduces children to a number of concepts (my grandson shouts “We need bugs!” every time that we read the line “But Grandma, why do we need bugs? Don’t they sting and bite?”). Just including ‘native plants’ into their growing vocabulary is incredibly worthwhile but you’ll also read to them about the ‘food web’ and why plants like violets are not weeds to the insects. For the curious older child, a glossary of terms is included at the end.

Three years ago, just after my grandson was born, I wrote about The Puddle Garden. Both books, as well as others for children, are available at The Pollination Press website which also has great books on bees, wasps, and supporting pollinators. I’ve ordered several copies for holiday gifts and door prizes for when we have meetings again.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Imperfect Leaves

Leaves support the trees during the growing season, absorbing the sun, turning sunlight into energy and helping to nourish the tree. Deciduous trees, those who drop their leaves each fall and the vast majority of the plants we have in the Piedmont, only need their leaves during the growing season.

Leaves then fall to the ground and decompose, nourishing the tree further and surrounding plants as they do, with the help of insects and critters in the soil. Tiny soil organisms, including fungi, consume dead plant material and create materials and processes that enrich the soil.

Sometimes we get frustrated when insects chew on the leaves while they are still on the plant. Earlier this year, the leaves on white oak (Quercus alba) were especially affected by leafminers, tiny insects (1/4 of an inch at maturity!) that feed from inside the leaf. I saw lots of posts on Facebook from concerned homeowners and some of my own plants showed evidence of them. According to this source, “Heavy infestations cause browning and premature leaf drop. This injury is largely cosmetic. If severe, infested leaves may die, but the overall health of the tree is rarely in danger.”

White oak leaves with leafminer damage

Late summer also brings many of the most visible caterpillars, those like fall webworm moths that make big webby enclosures as well as the ones that eat in large groups like the oakworm moths. These are all good sources of food for migrating birds, many of which are insectivores.

Webworms on Persimmon

I’m here today to remind you that these are all part of the natural process in our ecosystem: native plants feed insects who then feed birds and others. The number of leaves damaged or the timing of the damage (in the case of fall caterpillars) is something our native trees can handle. Welcome to habitat gardening.

A hungry bunch on Sourwood
Caterpillar damage on fern