Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Planting for Nature

Doug Tallamy is a well-known advocate for native plants. In his book “Bringing Nature Home: How you Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants,” he discusses strategies for planting landscapes that attract insects, birds and other animals who have developed specific relationships with native plants. As an entomologist, Doug is particularly interested in attracting herbivores like caterpillars, which serve as a vital food source for birds and mammals and provide the foundation for a healthy ecosystem.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Monarchs depend on milkweed for survival.

Monarch butterflies, for example, depend on native milkweed plants as their sole food source. With the number of milkweed plants in decline, Monarch populations have declined as well. With nature suffering around us, what’s a homeowner to do?

There are a number of strategies you can act on and some of them might surprise you. Most people think of adding native perennials to attract butterflies and bees as a first step. In terms of positive impact on the environment, priority tasks for homeowners who want to be more sensitive to our natural world include removing invasive species; planting native, disease resistant woody ornamentals (trees and shrubs); and reducing lawn space.

Eliminating Invasives

Not all the species within a genus are invasive, but many are. Buddleia davidii is on the invasive list, but some of the newer cultivars are sterile. The same is true for Berberis, Ligustrum, and Euonymus. With over 3300 documented invasives in North America, I can’t list them all. Consult with your state’s department of conservation and natural resources or your local extension office for additional information on invasive species. Pennsylvania maintains a comprehensive list of the current offenders. You can also research Invasive.org for extensive information on invasives in the United States and learn about methods for control. We need to eliminate invasives on our own properties to help mitigate their consumption of our forests and other natural habitats.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Invasives like this barberry consume our forests and destroy the native landscape.

Planting for Impact

In a recent online interview, Doug Tallamy informed the audience that a Chickadee needs access to 6000 to 9000 caterpillars to raise a single brood. Even the red fox we love so much depends on insects, which make up 25% of its diet. A single perennial won’t support that kind of food source, but a white oak would help. An oak supports 557 species of caterpillars. In your own landscape, start your native plant transformation by installing trees and shrubs. In an environment where rampant construction and pests like the Emerald Ash Borer are destroying the woodlands, one of the best things you can do for our ecosystem is to plant a native tree. For additional information on the most suitable trees and shrubs, I recommend Garden for Wildlife, created by the National Wildlife Federation and Native Back Yards. Both sites offer helpful information. Another great resource for attracting birds to your home garden is the Audubon Society’s native plant database.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Make sure you have some native trees and shrubs on your property.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
My Amelanchier (Serviceberry) attracts many birds with its edible berries and feeds an estimated 124 species of caterpillar,
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Chickadees and other birds need our help to provide the food sources they need to raise their young.

Limiting Lawn

Many homeowners are very proud of the expansive, emerald-green lawns and go to extreme measures to keep them weed free and perfect. But a pristine lawn does nothing for the ecosystem except pollute it with chemicals. A better approach is to reduce your lawn space by 50% and install plants instead.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Limit your lawn to best provide for nature.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Cedar waxwings spent three days frolicking in my water feature.

Once you have addressed the priority tasks in your garden, keep going. Install a water feature to simulate a wetland environment. Plant drifts of native perennials to attract pollinators year-round. Most of all, notice the change in nature’s response. In my own garden I have witnessed a flock of Cedar Waxwings in my water feature, welcomed hundreds of other birds and pollinators, and seen a lot of mammals trapsing through the garden. I couldn’t feel more at home in my little wildlife preserve and I wish the same for you. Don’t let me keep you. I know you have some research and planning to do, and I fully support those efforts.

woodland trail

Taking Notice

I love hiking in the woods. I find that moving forward step by step on a natural path while inhaling fresh air is therapeutic on many levels. I often wonder how many people really notice what is around them when they are walking in the woods. Have you taken note of the plants along your hiking path? Our natural environments give us great opportunities to observe some of our native plants as well as some of the invasive species that are infiltrating our forests.

During a recent hike in the woods near my home I found a number of wonderful native plants worthy of adding to any shade garden. Most of these plants are considered spring ephemerals. They grace us with their presence in early spring and disappear by early summer.

Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman’s Breeches) provides a delicate texture to the early spring garden with finely dissected foliage. The flowers resemble little pantaloons, which gives this plant its common name.

dicentra cucullaria foliage
Although this plant wasn’t blooming, the texture alone made it garden worthy.

 

Erythronium Americanum (Dogtooth violet or Trout Lily) has spotted leaves that resemble a trout’s markings. The graceful, nodding yellow flower adds contrast to the striking leaves.

yellow dogtooth violet flower with log
The gorgeous foliage and blooms of the trout lily

Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple) has umbrella shaped leaves. While many are solid green, some display impressive color and variegation.

mayapple foliage in green
The umbrella shaped leaves of the Mayapple plant
variegated mayapple leaf with moss covered log
This particular Mayapple had attractive variegation

Allium tricoccum (Ramps) provide two seasons of interest and food for the table. Sometimes called wild leeks or wild garlic, they can be harvested for tasty meals. I prefer to leave them in the ground so I can enjoy the adorable Allium like flowers that emerge in the summer after the foliage has disappeared. Polemonium reptans (Jacobs Ladder) grows to a 12-inch mound. In addition to the interesting leaf structure and delicate purple flowers, these plants happily seed around my garden.

ramp foliage emerging
The strappy foliage of Ramps combined well with the tiny leaves of Jacob’s Ladder

 

Symplocarpus foetidus (Skunk cabbage) loves moist conditions and can often be seen along streams or in low areas. The flowers are quite impressive in form and color. Don’t worry, the plants only smell like skunk if you bruise the leaves.

skunk cabbage emerging from wet soil
Skunk cabbage emerging from a boggy site
skunk cabbage with maroon flower
A maroon Skunk cabbage flower

 

Claytonia virginica (Spring Beauty) have narrow leaves and pretty white or pink flowers with dark pink veining. They naturalize easily and can be planted in lawns for an early season display of color.

pink spring beauty flower with red veining
The pink-veined flower of a sweet Spring Beauty

Despite many wonderful native plants (I have only featured some of what you might see), there are some invasive plants as well. If you see them on your property, it’s best to remove them. By doing so, you’ll help save the forests and make room for other, more desirable plants!

Rosa multiflora (Multiflora Rose) is considered a noxious weed in Pennsylvania. These plants rapidly expand by seed and by a process called layering where the arching branches touch the ground, root and expand into an impenetrable thicket.

multiflora rose foliage
The foliage of Multi-flora rose

Berberis thunbergia (Japanese barberry) is a non-native woody plant that became popular because of its color forms and deer resistance. Barberry has escaped into the wild and is now disrupting natural ecosystems. Plant breeders have developed sterile varieties that produce no seed. If you are going to plant a barberry, I suggest you seek out one of the newer, non-invasive options.

barberry growing in woodland
A barberry shrub growing on the woodland floor

Elaeagnus angustifolia (Russian olive) is tough and fast growing, quickly crowding out native vegetation. Originally planted for erosion control and valued for its deer resistance, this plant should be eradicated if found on your property.

russian olive leaves with silver backs
The silver-backed foliage of Russian Olive helps with identification of this invasive

Lesser celandine is one of the most aggressive weeds I have seen in recent years. Favoring moist soil, it colonizes quickly and produces inordinate amounts of seed. To make matters worse it also spreads by bulblets and tuberous roots. Many think the yellow flowers are pretty, but trust me, it’s best to eradicate this pest as quickly as you can before it controls your landscape.

lesser celandine yellow flower with green foliage
The noxious Lesser Celandine weed that seems to be taking over many natural areas and even residential lawns.

The next time you hike through the forest, take notice of what’s around you. Cherish the wonderful native plants you see and learn how to spot invasive species  Being good stewards of your own property is good for the soul, just like a walk in the woods.