A couple came to the farm today. I asked them what they were interested in and they responded that they would like to do the "Doug Tallamy" thing. It was music to my ears. Most gardeners want to do the "show stopping" garden. The big beautiful double blooms, the unusual and the exotic. Sadly, pollinators are uninterested in the cultivated exotics, preferring pure native species (the common plant) over the exotic, and cannot get nectar from the double blooms rendering the "show stopping" garden a kind of desert. Some of these cultivated varieties have pesticide introduced to the plant itself making the plant a deadly trap should pollinator make use of it.
I have long done the "Dough Tallamy" thing - even before Dr. Tallamy wrote his book. I'd like to say I started planting natives because it was the right thing to do. That would not be true - I planted natives because an ex-husband wanted to and continued to do it because said ex paid little attention to the care of them after the planting. I expanded the initial plantings and began to love it. Now I plant for a different kind of beauty.
The common garden, the "Doug Tallamy" thing, incorporates common native plants in the garden landscape thereby bringing the beauty of wildlife. The beauty of soaring swallows who feast on the mosquitoes in the yard, butterflies of all colors who sip the nectar, a monarch chrysalis sparkling in the sun. new born bunnies that hide in the garden beds, bumble bees buzzing on the roses and the garden spiders who live in the meadow. The wildlife adds beauty in their life and death.
It is not easy to walk this path. Humans are drawn to the exotic and prefer the unusual. I have often been on the receiving end of heated comments for suggesting native plants over exotics. The mere mention of native plants can bring many to angrily defend the use of cultivated plants. While not a purist I primarily plant native and have not regretted it. The beauty I have discovered in planting native is the beauty of life itself.
Doug Tallamy (Bringing Nature Home, The Living Landscape, Nature's Best Hope) tells people about the inclusion of native plants on private lands as a way to sustain ecosystems ravaged by non-native invasive and cultivated natives. These species can escape to form large colonies on disturbed and vacant land, displacing native species and providing little in terms of food, shelter and homes for their young.
Dr. Tallamy has also suggested that there are some species that are critical to the landscape. These keystone species provide the most value should be a focus for anyone wanting to increase resiliency in the ecosystem. The most valuable keystone species is the oak tree. Oak trees native to Western New York include Quercus alba (white oak), Quercus bicolor (swamp white oak), Quercus coccinea (Scarlet Oak), Quercus macrocarpa (bur oak), Quercus montana (chestnut oak), Quercus muehlenbergii (yellow oak, chinquapin oak), Quercus palustris (pin oak), Quercus rubra (northern red oak), and Black Oak (Quercus velutina).
Native oak trees are difficult to transplant once grown given they do more growth below the soil (roots) than they do above the ground. Oak trees bought in a commercial nursery often cut off the tap root or are so root bound they struggle to survive.
The CW Native Plant Farm sells oaks commonly found in other nurseries (Pin, Red and White oaks) as well as the uncommon oaks (chestnut and black). These oaks are container grown to provide the healthiest trees but are smaller than can be found elsewhere. While smaller in size they will adapt better once planted in the ground and will have a better chance of surviving when brought home.
If you are looking for a tree to add value to your property and have the space consider an oak tree for your property.
Spring is almost here and gardeners are thinking about their garden. Well, to be honest I have been thinking about my gardens since November.
If you are like many people you have not planted native plants but have heard that they may be beneficial to the environment and are interested in them. Where do you start and how do you know which plant to choose. You may have received mixed messages about the value of natives and whether it is worth purchasing one.
In my experience native plants are more attractive to pollinators than cultivated natives and exotic species. I have watched bees pass by the cultivated native in favor of the naive plant so now believe that if you want to plant to benefit pollinators the straight native provides the greatest benefit. If you are planting for the pleasure of looking at the plant you may have a different calculation. Most gardeners are not purists - they simply want to help with some native plants. If you are one of those gardeners please read.
Plant for few species and provide more:
There are some native species that do more for pollinators than others. Native Oak trees provide for hundreds of local wildlife including blue jays who value the acorns in the winter. Other trees provide food and shelter but don't provide for as many in the ecosystem.
There are some early small trees and bushes that are a critical food source in the spring. Pussy willows, spice bush and redbuds are important spring food sources and fit into lots of yards. Redbuds are striking and spicebushes are hosts for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly.
You may not be interested in trees or bushes but still want a native plant or two. A pollinator plants in the front yard is more valuable to pollinators than in the back yard. One or two (or more) native plant species, such as bee balm, swamp milkweed, butterfly bush, asters or zig zag goldenrod, in a garden bed in the front yard or "hell strip" in the city are easily seen by bees or butterflies scanning for food.
Avoid Pesticides and Lawn Services:
Unfortunately there are no safe pesticides for pollinators. Spraying at any time will kill whatever is in the lawn both good and bad. The best way to have a great lawn is to buy eco-friendly grass species and/or mow higher. Even a few inches will give your lawn a healthy boost.
Remove as much Lawn as practical:
I'd rather have a yard full of pollinator plants than a mono-culture. If you want to mow less and provide more then give up a portion of your yard to a meadow. There are easy ways to do this - stop mowing, over seed with native seed in the winter and plant plugs in the area letting wind and birds spread the seed for you.
Consider devoting 10% of your yard to Native Plants:
If everyone did more - everyone could do less.
Stop in at the CW Native Plant Farm and find out more about native plants.
Winter sowing is simple and requires no special equipment. You can winter sow any seeds. The difference is when and how you sow them.
Find a plastic container, such as milk jugs, vinegar jugs, soda bottles or deep foil pans with clear lids.
Native perennials or grasses do not need a top as long as you protect them from furry creatures but the “greenhouse” aspect of this method means there has to be a top on the container.
Poke drainage holes in the bottom of the container.
You will need to poke drainage holes in the bottom of the container as well as the top of the container. The bottom of the container needs to drain the water so the seeds don’t swim and the top requires holes so that water can seep into the container.
Fill the container with potting soil and sprinkle seeds on the seed starting soil mix.
I fill the bottom half of the container about ¼ of the way up the container with an organic seed starting mix with some cocoa fiber and worm casings. All you need is the seed starting mix but it dries out easily and there are no fertilizer in it. This mix should be good for the seed from the time you put it out to the time you open the container in the spring. Sprinkle the seed in the soil mix and then cover lightly with a soil mix and coarse sand. The coarse sand stops the seed from moving around when you do have to water it. Soil depth for covering the seed can depend on the seed but a light coat of soil seed and coarse sand should work for most seed.
Put the lid/top back on and secure with duct tape.
Many websites show the duct tape method but I jam the top of the container into the bottom leaving the opening of the jug open so there are plenty of openings and vents for air to circulate and water to seep in while keeping the “greenhouse” aspect when the sun starts to warm the seed.
Label the bottom of the container with the seed type and position the containers somewhere outside where they can get snowed on and are protected from the wind.
You can monitor the seed by looking into the jugs and open the jug during the spring on warm sunny days. After frost danger has passed you can divide the plants and pot them or plant them.
Kathleen M Contrino