Sunday, February 07, 2016

7 Pines Native Plant Nursery

One of the tough parts of moving is forging a new supporting network.  I expected to have to find a new plumber, new doctor, new electrician, new grocery store, new stylist, etc. etc., but I was flummoxed after the move to realize that I needed to find a new source of native plant material and that, even worse, I had no clue where to begin.

In Kansas, I had found a fairly robust group of alternatives for acquiring native plants, including roadside collection of seeds, a few excellent individual plantspeople, Dyck Arboretum, and the occasional nursery.  Here in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, I was finding nothing but...box stores.  Worse, when I looked at the plants in said box stores, they literally ALL bore the disheartening label, "We have been treated with neonicotinoid insecticides to provide a death trap for any and all insects in your garden."  Okay, maybe that wasn't exactly how the label read, but that's essentially what it meant.

Searching online, I finally found mention of a native plant nursery near DeFuniak Springs, about an hour away - 7 Pines Native Plant Nursery.  Last fall we made the trek up there and I was incredibly pleased by what I found.  Last weekend we went back, and I am happy to report that my initial positive impression was spot on.

7 Pines is a real treat to visit.  Located out in the country, north of DeFuniak Springs, I find that even the drive to get there is relaxing and enjoyable.  Of course, any decline in your blood pressure due to relaxation on the drive out will be immediately counteracted by the excitement you'll feel once you turn in at the gate!

For there, gleaming in front of you, are several long, well ordered beds of native plants, carefully labeled and just calling out to go home with you.  Best of all, as soon as you pull in, you will be greeted by Dara and Lloyd, the owners, who are both extremely knowledgeable and very friendly.

From common to unusual, 7 Pines has a wonderful variety of plants, reasonably priced.  I won't bore you with the entire list of what I've purchased, but it was enough to make Greg groan!  Best of all, the plants are healthy, well rooted, and NEONIC FREE!

Over the course of the last week, Greg and I have managed to get most of the plants we purchased into the ground, so I'm beginning to get the itch to return to 7 Pines and pick up more plants.  I have a sneaking suspicion this is a trip I will be making many times in the future!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Different Kind of Yard Art

This made my day last week, when I happened to notice it during an afternoon walk!  I have heard of leaving standing dead trees for their wildlife value, and I personally have left standing dead trees well away from our house when we had large yards or acreage and I could safely do so, but I have never before seen the remains of a dead tree left standing in a suburban yard, to decompose gracefully in place.  I truly love it and find it mesmerizing.

I have no idea what species this tree was, whether it was cut down or came down in a storm, or how long it's been quietly decomposing in place.  However, I think it's perfect...and perfectly beautiful, too. Now I know what I want to do with the 3 live oaks in our yard that will probably fade away over the next few years!

Native Plant Building Blocks

Having moved to a new (to us) house, new (to us) yard, in a different city, in a different state, I've shared that I feel like I'm starting completely from scratch again as I start to garden. This yard feels almost like a blank slate.

However, even a blank slate yard is never totally blank.  A suburban lot surrounding a house that's been lived in for almost 50 years is definitely not blank.  So, I've been watching the yard to see what's already living here, and I thought I'd share some of the native plant species I've found, the native "building blocks" that already exist in the yard for me to utilize.

Trees seem like the place to start.  The first thing I noticed coming up to our house last April was the big southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) by the driveway, dominating the front yard. 

Unfortunately, it's not a good location for this species, since southern magnolias grow way too large for this space.  So, sometime in the past, big branches were pruned out of the tree to allow the electrical lines to go through the canopy.  There is also a southern magnolia in the back yard, although it is younger and smaller than the one in the front.

Next on the current yard list are the oaks, live oak (Quercus virginiana) and sand live oak (Q. geminata).  In the photo above, the big tree to the right of the house is our largest live oak.  Although there are many sand live oaks in the neighborhood, I think we only have one, a relatively small one, in our (back) yard.  On the other hand, we have 5 live oaks, 3 of which are quite unhealthy.  Unfortunately, none of our live oaks are terribly picturesque, having been limbed up to be "proper" trees, judging from their form.

Right now we only have one other tree species in our yard, pignut hickory (Carya glabra), but we have 3 mature specimens of this species in our back yard.  Pignut hickory is the only deciduous tree species we have. 

This photo, of one of the pignut hickories in the back yard, was taken in late June last summer.  I kept waiting for these trees to turn colors this fall, but it was a long wait.  The trees stayed green until December, when they turned a beautiful, bright yellow.  Leaf drop was rapid, once the leaves started to fall, and took place right around Christmas.  Not a traditional yard display for the holiday season!  If my memory serves, these trees are late to leaf out and won't get foliage back until April.

While there is a lot of Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) in the neighborhood, we have very little in our yard - perhaps a result of how open the canopy is.  There IS some, though, and I'm hoping that we get more to grow over the years.

For quite a while, I've been eyeing this little prostrate vine and thinking that I recognized it - and I did. 

It's partridge berry (Mitchella repens), a gorgeous little evergreen groundcover with a wide natural range.  I had started to make the mistake of covering much of this plant up with mulch, but realized what I'd done when I went out to take the photo this morning. 

Here's the full scope of this plant, unearthed from below the mulch.  I'm hoping that this little guy will bloom (white) and maybe even set fruit (a bright red berry) later this year.

If you take a second look at the photo above, you'll notice a bare vine going up the tree trunk.  This vine is crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), a classic native landscaping vine in the south.  Here is a new stem, probably from the same root stock, climbing up a different side of the trunk. 

I'm excited to see this plant naturally in the yard, although this specimen doesn't look particularly luxuriant. Hopefully some better yard management will make it healthier.

Coming up in the middle of an old sand box, along the city storm drain easement, is a dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor). 

These are palm-y shrubs, with the trunk remaining underground.  I'm not very familiar with this species, although now that I know how to identify it, I'm noticing them all around.  This is one of many plant species I want (and need) to learn more about.

Last summer I noticed a rather handsome perennial plant growing at the base of one of the pignut hickories. 

I cordoned it off, so that it wouldn't get mowed, and watched it to see what it was.  Finally, in October, it bloomed a bright yellow. By the time it bloomed, though, the base of the plant had browned out badly.  I've figured out that this is golden aster, probably narrowleaf golden aster (Chrysopsis linearifolia), and the lower leaf brownout is actually listed in the plant descriptions. 

Most interesting is that, even with just a few buds open, there were actually little native bees using it in mid October.  So, now the challenge is how to disguise those lower leaves...and increase the plant population from my current n of 1, without jeopardizing that current, single specimen.

For now, the last plant I'm going to mention is Woolly Elephant's Foot (Elephantopus tomentosus), aka Devil's Grandmother, which I noticed and photographed last June.  I have no idea why it has earned either the name of "elephant's foot" or "devil's grandmother". This is not a showy plant at all, but it is both native and perennial.  I will almost assuredly keep it, but I may not try to expand its presence in the yard. 

I did like the fact that this little damselfly was using the bloom head to perch upon!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Time for a New Beginning


As I sit down to write a new blog post - the first in many months - the joyful screams of laughter coming from our grandson, Connor, are ringing through the room.  Grandpa is rough-housing with him, and 7 month old Connor loves it!

Life has changed a lot since last I wrote.  We're fairly well settled in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, now.  Every week day we care for Connor, generally for 8 or 9 hours a day, sometimes for as long as 11 hours.  Greg hasn't gone back to work; he will probably start working part time soon, but for now he is deeply enjoying this time with Connor.  Thanks to long hours during training, Greg missed much of our children's early years.  Even for me, who stayed home and raised our kids, there are new observations and opportunities.  I'm getting a chance to notice things I was too busy or too stressed to notice when our kids were young:  the development of smaller muscle control, the personal preferences that show up almost from the first day, and the changing patterns of babble, to name a few.

Between settling in and caring for Connor, what I haven't done in the last several months is garden much or blog at all.  With the holidays behind us and spring looming soon, the gardening juices are finally beginning to flow again through my veins.

I have no idea where this new garden will take me yet.  I definitely plan on using mostly natives, but I'm floundering a bit for a central theme, like "restoring prairie" was for our land and garden in Kansas.

This is a completely different situation, not too surprisingly.  We're in an older, suburban subdivision, developed in the late 1960's, about 4 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico.  Located on a small, man-made, freshwater lake, our lot is about 0.4 acres in an area of sand hills.  In the neighborhood, there is an overstory of sand live oaks, live oaks, and southern magnolias.  I suspect there were longleaf pines originally, too, but most of them have been removed.

While the neighborhood has a great deal of landscape personality, our lot is fairly bland.  There is a large live oak (Quercus virginiana) and a large southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) in the front yard, with some foundation shrubs and a few non-native plants under the magnolia.  The rest of the front yard could euphemistically be called "lawn."

The back yard is fairly similar, with a younger southern magnolia, 3 pignut hickories (Carya glabra), a sand live oak (Quercus geminata), a healthy live oak, and 4 unhealthy live oaks.  There are foundation shrubs along the back of the house, a tangle of azaleas and undergrowth along the west side (a city right-of-way over a drainage pipe), and a lot of open "lawn" dominated by dollar weed and assorted other nongrass species.  Next to the lake, two sea walls have been put in to terrace the hill, with an area of bare sand in between them that sits about 3' above the level of the lake.

The post I did last June, "A New Chapter Begins "Down South"," while we were here on "baby watch" shows our yard in its "virgin" state.  I've made a few changes - and, of course, it's winter now - but the basics are unchanged.  Since writing that post, I have realized that we actually only have one sand live oak - the others are live oaks, a similar but larger species.  Also, the hickories in our backyard are pignut hickories (Carya glabra), not bitternut hickories, as I originally thought.

I know that I want to add sand live oaks and maybe a few longleaf pines (Pinus palustris) to start restoring the yard's canopy.  I know that I want to add some shrubs, both for wildlife habitat and for privacy from across the lake.  I know that I want to add flower gardens for color and pollinator habitat.

And there my mind just sort of stops.  How much lawn should I leave?  How big should the perennial and shrub beds be, and how should they be shaped?  We want a vegetable garden (probably raised beds) - where should it be located?  How should we lay out the path leading to the dock and lower deck?  I feel like I can't place trees or shrubs until I have the answers to these and similar questions.

Winter is the best time of year to plant woody plant material here, so it's (past) time to begin.  Have suggestions?  I'd love to hear them!  Have other design ideas?  The more, the merrier!  It's a new beginning, for us...and for the garden.  There's new territory to chart and discover, so we'd best get on our way....

Sunday, July 05, 2015

A New Beginning and the Start of a Bittersweet Ending

Greg and I spent the month of June in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, on "Baby Watch."  Connor finally decided to join us about 10 days ago, arriving safely but with a whole lot of uproar.  Greg and I stuck around Florida for a week or so, getting him and his parents snuggled in a bit, then we hightailed it back here to Clearwater for a bittersweet fortnight to be spent doing a final cleanup and clearout here, culminating in a total packup and moveout.
Because of Baby Watch, we've literally been gone for over a month.  We've had a great couple mowing our lawn for us, once a week, but otherwise the yard has been on its own during that time.  No weeding (during all of April and May, too, to be honest), no watering, no transplanting, no nothing.  So I had no idea what I was going to find when we got back, especially as wet as the weather was for much of May.

Doing a walkabout yesterday morning, I found some good things and some disappointing things, some expected changes and some unexpected changes. To get the disappointment out of the way without further ado, I was very unhappy to see how weedy the buffalo grass was.  After 3 years of relatively careful weeding, I was hoping that there wouldn't be much crabgrass...but I was sadly mistaken. I'm hoping to find time to weed it out one last time before we leave...but I'm not counting on it.  Weeding the lawn is a pretty low priority right now.

The front flower garden is full, but not very floriferous, a common problem for this bed at this time of year.  The rain has made everything very tall this summer, which is a little overwhelming.  The daylilies bloomed while we were gone, as did the butterfly milkweed. The lanceleaf coreopsis and the pink evening primrose were just beginning when we left;  they are completely done now, but the Echinacea is still blooming nicely.

Looking down the front walk, there is a single tall wild lettuce dominating the center stage, but at least that will be quick and easy to pull out.  The eastern gama grass (Tripsacum dactyloides) that didn't get relocated this spring is liking its spot next to the walk entirely TOO well.  If no one wants it, it will get moved to the compost pile.  Five or six foot tall grasses right next to a front walkway are just not welcome, even if they are native.

The wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) bloomed while we were gone and it is just about finished.  I'm going to cut most of it way, way back and see what happens.  Or, actually, I guess I won't see, but at least it won't be quite so front-and-center with its drying seed heads.  If anyone wants some, I have several nice, healthy clumps that could use a new home.....

The back courtyard is rather wild & woolly and no flowers are currently blooming, but at least there is some open space left.  Looking out my back kitchen door, I just saw some fireflies beginning their nightly display.  Somebody's enjoying the beds in their rather overgrown condition!

The back courtyard was where I started a bit of work this morning, weeding away with a will until I accidentally backed into a healthy poison ivy plant I hadn't noticed.  I tried to go on, but it was hard to concentrate while worrying about how much oil I had on my bare legs, so I gave up and went in to take a shower.  Nine hours later, I can report that the shower, with large amounts of soap vigorously applied, did the trick - no itchy rashes anywhere, at least not yet.

The vegetable garden is the real problem child right now.  We have done absolutely nothing in it all spring, and it is an overgrown disaster.  Sigh.  So much potential and it's just totally buried from sight right now.

So there's lots of work to do this week.  On the plus side, the weather is supposed to be reasonable, with one or two days in the 70s.  On the negative side, I managed to put out my back very thoroughly yesterday afternoon.  On the plus side, as long as I sit in straight chairs or directly on the ground and move slowly and carefully, I can get some work done.  On the negative side, our air conditioner wasn't working correctly when we got home.  On the positive side, we broke down and called Bob Stith Heating and Plumbing and they came to fix it today, despite the holiday.  Cool temperatures in the house is a BIG positive!

I'll leave you with several more positives from our walkabout yesterday....

First, a tiger swallowtail nectaring at the wavy-leaf thistle (Cirsium undulatum) in the lagoon.  (Yes, the lagoon needs to be mowed, but we won't think about that right now.)

Second, our beautiful patch of smooth milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii) in the Cedar Grove beyond the Draw.  (No, I did not see any monarch caterpillars, unfortunately.)

Third, my Pitcher's clematis (Clematis pitcheri) is looking better than I've seen it look in several years!  Here are a couple of the blooms, on a stem weaving through one of the rose bushes.  They're not colored as deeply blue-purple as usual, but they are still quite attractive in my opinion.

And, finally, a gorgeous patch of whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) next to the path in the Front Tallgrass.  The pollinators were literally dizzy with delight as they fed on the blooms!

Wish us luck!  I'll try to share our progress over the upcoming several weeks.....


Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Buzz in the Meadow






I just finished reading A Buzz in the Meadow, Dave Goulson's latest book.  (He wrote A Sting in the Tale several years ago, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading last December.)  Goulson is a biology professor in England who has done some excellent research on bumblebees;  he is the founder of the Bumble Conservation Trust.  I was really looking forward to reading this book, especially as it was about the run down French farm Goulson purchased about a dozen years ago and his efforts to restore it to decent biological/ecological health. That resonated with my efforts to restore decent biodiversity on our 10 acres in Kansas, so I was curious to see what sorts of results a "professional" had had with the process.

At first I was a little disappointed.  His descriptions of the early years at the farm were fine, but they didn't spark me. In his introduction, he'd described how he'd organized the book into 3 sections, though, so I kept reading.

Things picked up as I read a bit further - some of the natural history relationships that he describes almost seem like the stuff of science fiction or legend, but they are processes that occur every day in the normal course of events.  Do hairstreak butterflies in Kansas have the same weird move, just prior to landing, that hairstreaks in Europe do?

This is the gray hairstreak, feeding on aromatic aster, in my fall garden a couple years ago.  I'll be watching hairstreaks as they land to feed now.

How long do OUR dragonflies stay coupled during the summertime - as long as European dragonflies do?  If so, why have I never noticed that before?

Can U.S. newspapers REALLY affect sexual development in European bugs?

WHY would some flowers evolve to be warmer than their surroundings?  (Remind me to check magnolia blooms in early spring, would you?!)

Apparently in Europe, treating a flower filled grassland with chemical fertilizer (even just for a year or two) will cause the flowers to disappear as the grasses go absolutely berserk and choke the forbs out.  Does the same thing happen in the American prairie???

There are also a few species of wildflowers in Europe that act as partial parasites on nearby grasses, so meadows with those flowers in them tend to have more species diversity as the grasses get kept "in their place" more effectively.  Does that happen in the prairie???

As you can tell, there were many things to think about as I read further into this book.

Then I got to the 3rd section. 

If I'd had one disappointment in A Sting in the Tale, Goulson's earlier book, it was that Goulson didn't seem too hot and bothered about neonicotinoid pesticides and their effect on bees.  I don't remember him saying much at all about colony collapse disorder.  Since he was a bumblebee researcher, this seemed like a huge omission.

Apparently a lot of other people were wanting him to weigh in on the subject, too, so he did what any REAL scientist would do: he decided to study the issue himself.   Then he wrote about what he learned in Chapter 13:  "The Disappearing Bees". This chapter gives a brief history of the issues, then goes into the research that he did on the topic of neonicotinoids' effects on bumblebees, what it revealed, and what happened after that research was published.

It's eye-opening.  If you use pesticides in your yard or garden, if you counsel people about whether they should use pesticides - I highly recommend that you read this chapter, even if you read nothing else in this book. I found my jaw dropping at times.

(Obviously I must be developing facial tics, after re-reading that last paragraph!)

Finishing up the book, the final chapter was so interesting that I read it out loud to my husband.   Talk about historical perspective! Goulson even worked the "hobbit people" in there!

Hobbit people or not, the book had important and interesting things to share.  Reading it left me feeling that I could make a real difference anywhere I lived by creating a small refuge of biodiversity in my yard and garden.  Each of us will change the world, at least a little bit.  I like to think I'll leave the world a little bit richer for my having passed through it.....

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A New Chapter Begins "Down South"...

I haven't been blogging lately because we're in the middle of a big transition - moving from the prairies of south central Kansas back to the Gulf Coast, this time to Ft. Walton Beach, Florida.

John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens while you're making other plans," and that sentiment fits this move to a T.  Our first grandbaby is due any minute now (literally), and we are moving down here to help with childcare, since both of his parents are active duty in the Air Force.

It's very hard to leave our little bit of prairie...but it's also enjoyable to have a new challenge greeting me.  I'll be bouncing back and forth between the two places for a while, but I'll try to be clear which one I'm talking about in my blog posts.

Having arrived in Ft. Walton Beach right as summer really took hold, I'm not doing much more than observing what is growing and living in our new digs.  Our new yard is much smaller - a bit less than half an acre backing up to a small, but picturesque, manmade, freshwater lake.  The soil in our yard is VERY sandy and there are good-sized trees, giving a rather savannah-like effect.

As far as plant material goes, for starters, we have 6 sand live oaks (Quercus geminata).  This species is THE major tree in the local area. Visually, however, it is less important in our yard than in the general area simply because our individual sand live oak trees are rather plain.  Here, in contrast, are a couple sand live oak trees in our daughter's yard, about a block away....

Back to our yard, there are also 3 reasonably large southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora), ....

...and 3 hickories that I'm pretty sure are bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis).

The native plant material essentially comes to an end there.  Obviously the previous owners were not native plant buffs.  We have camellias and azaleas, all carefully hacked - oh, sorry, "pruned" - into "manageable" sizes and shapes; ...

...and multiple Loropetalums (a large shrub/small tree that likes to top out around 12' tall) carefully planted in front of windows that go almost to the ground.

Finalizing the majority of the plant palette, there are Indian hawthorns pruned into green meatball forms, variegated Pittosporum, a couple Sky Pencil hollies that don't look too healthy, African iris, and Lily-of-the-Nile.

For those of you in areas where these plants aren't common, this array of plants is basically an almost complete list of "non-native shrubs every homeowner finds at Lowe's or Home Depot and plants to make their yard look like everybody else's yard."  The only plant missing is crepe myrtle.

Okay, I exaggerated.  There ARE a couple native shrubs - 2 (remaining of 4) yellow anise trees - planted right below our picture window in the kitchen.  Yellow anise trees naturally grow to about 20' tall and wide and these definitely like their spot, so they're doing well.  Therefore, they've had to be squared off into a 4' tall hedge, neatly nestled right up against the house.  A hedge that has, by the way, grown at least 6" just since the end of May, making sure we can't miss it as we look out the window.

All in all, this is a classic "challenges and opportunities" yard in which to make a garden.  The view to the water is fantastically picturesque without us needing to do anything except (maybe) mow our lawn.   There is a sprinkler system already installed (although it needs a lot of TLC). Drainage will absolutely not be an issue, between the lightly sloping land and the sandy soil.

On the challenge side of the site, did I mention that the soil is VERY sandy?

There is a flat, low area right beside the water, set off by "sea walls".  The soil there is pure sand.  The entire area is overgrown with brambles and weeds.  Obviously some thoughtful landscaping is in order.  However, we have to be careful about inadvertently creating "snake spots" while designing that landscaping.  Cottonmouths ARE a real thing here and, much as I like snakes in general, I don't want sudden surprises with poisonous ones if I can help it.

The neighbor to the west of us has an OLD chainlink fence half hidden with vines and shrubs in a wild area formed from benign neglect.  I don't mind wild areas, in general, but this one is full of popcorn trees and other weedy, woody, invasive plants that need to be judiciously removed.  Then I'll be able to see more clearly what's worth saving in that region.

The neighbors to the east have a gorgeous BLUE hydrangea right on the property line.  Friends in prairie places, eat your hearts out!  I'm more than happy to "borrow" this part of their yard, even if it isn't native.

Dewberries, a very thorny type of bramble, are coming up all over the yard, in the lawn and garden beds alike, so one of my first tasks will be weeding those out...for the first of many, many times, I'm sure.

There are lots of seedling sand live oaks and hickories, too;  I want to see if there are a couple seedlings I want to "save" to start regenerating the tree canopy, then weed out the rest.

And, of course, there are several species of greenbrier and lots and lots of gripeweed to go after.  Some plants seem to spring eternal in the modern southern yard.  In the photo above, taken under the magnolia in the front yard, is gripeweed lining the sidewalk, backed up by dewberry, and augmented with a small popcorn tree seedling.  This is supposed to simply be mulched ground between the two Indian hawthorns, those green meatballs towards the top of the photo.  Yes, I've got lots of work to do.

So wish us luck!  (And, incidentally, I'd welcome any design ideas or plant suggestions.)

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Maintenance in the Native Plant Garden: Springtime Editing, Part 1

As I mentioned in my last post, one of the tasks that I find needs to be done each spring is editing.   When you invite animals (especially birds) into your gardens, you are going to get quite a few seeds planted, all of which will be encouraged to grow with a nice dollop of fertilizer.  Many of these will not be plants that you want growing, especially not where they've been planted.

Of course, too, native plants are designed to reproduce on their own...and if they are happy where you've planted them, they may well decide to "go forth and multiply".   Some species are notorious for this, while others reseed or spread only when the conditions are particularly perfect.

So, as the native plant gardener, you can keep things looking relatively tidy simply by removing excess plants once a year - and I find that early spring is the best time to transplant.  Why not take advantage of free plants?!

Personally, I fully understand the need to edit plants out...but I have a terribly hard time actually doing it, especially if I have to discard the plants I remove.  To be truthful, I've gone for years without editing, so my beds tend to get somewhat overgrown at times.  Of course, I like the full, cottage garden look, so this doesn't usually bother me too much, but if you like a more controlled look, editing out is a step that you won't want to skip.

So, on to the actual editing that I'm doing this spring.

Once I got the two areas of my front garden bed appropriately and fully cut back this morning, it was much easier to evaluate what needed to be removed or moved.

The Peach Blossom tulips are planted almost on top of a penstemon, which isn't really a problem as the tulips will die back shortly...but there was also a healthy looking young honeysuckle growing up beside them.  You can see it growing from the base of the plant tag in the photo above.  I DO NOT want a 10' honeysuckle shrub in this location, so that seedling had to go.  Given their invasive nature around here, I don't have any qualms about getting rid of honeysuckle seedlings.  For that reason, I don't like to pass along honeysuckles, either. 

For this honeysuckle seedling, a single stab with a dandelion remover to loosen the soil around its roots, followed by a strong yank, removed it, root and all.

In the center of this next photo is an area under the Callery pear that I've not paid much attention to in the past.  If you look carefully, you can see 3 "small," skinny, woody, hackberry saplings.  At the base of the white plant tag there is a clump of green that is actually a cluster of seedlings which includes a honeysuckle and several Callery pears.  There is another biggish honeysuckle seedling to the left of the plant tag, and there are dozens of Callery pear seedlings in the center of this spot, too.  ALL of these baby woody plants had to go, or this will become a thicket in next to no time.

In removing woody seedlings, the sooner you get to them, the better.  That's why an annual sweep is such a good thing.  For the hardy plants that survive on the Plains, the roots will go down deep and strong;  by the time even a year has passed, getting a woody seedling out of the ground is infinitely harder than removing it shortly after it has germinated.  Give one of these plants a couple years' growth and it's going to be hard to remove without utilizing Roundup, probably multiple times.

On the other hand, if you catch a young tree seedling shortly after it has germinated, all you need to do is give a slight tug and it slips out of the ground, root and all.  If you break off the stem at this stage, there's no problem of future growth, because the plant has no reserves yet in its roots.

It's all about the roots, 'bout the roots, no cutting....  (Confession time:  I found myself singing, "It's all about the roots, 'bout the roots, no cutting...." to the tune of "All About the Bass" for way more time than was rational today.  You're welcome for the earworm, by the way.)  Once a native prairie, woody plant is established, if you simply cut it off at ground level, it will just come back, stronger than before.  Prairie plants are like that.

In the spot above, I had to dig down and cut out the hackberry seedlings as far below the soil line as I could manage.  It remains to be seen if that was far enough down to kill the plants.  If not, I'll have to repeat the process or resort to Roundup.  The honeysuckles came out with strong tugs, roots and all.  I must have pulled out 50 pear seedlings - but they were easy, as the soil was moist (I watered) and they had just germinated this spring. 

This little hackberry seedling located right next to the walkway is one that I let get too big shortly after said walkway was put in, then cut out a year or two ago.  Obviously I didn't get down far enough on the roots when I originally tried to remove it, so I had to repeat the process today.  Hopefully today's butchering will do the trick.

I have a LOT of Callery pears germinating in my beds this year.  Callery pear, Prunus calleryana, is the official species of pear that I usually call "Bradford pear."  Bradford pear is actually a cultivar of Callery pear, but there are also many other varieties of Callery pear on the market these days. This is not a native species, but the tree came with the house and I haven't had the temerity to cut it down.  As pretty as it is in the spring, it reseeds ridiculously.  I consider it a real nuisance plant.

I've got more plant editing that I want/need to do in these beds, but I'm waiting for a friend to come over and get some of the plants when I take them out.  Yeah, I'm putting off the next stage of editing again....  I'll show you that stage next time - I promise!

Maintenance in the Native Plant Garden

As I've given talks about utilizing native plants in our landscapes, I've become aware that many people are scared of "losing control" in their gardens by using native plants and by following organic gardening methods.  So I thought folks might be interested in a blow by blow account of how I maintain my native plant landscape.  I actually think that my garden chores are significantly less onerous than those of more traditional gardeners.

To start with (or, perhaps, to end with), I don't cut back my perennials in the fall or winter.  Many insects overwinter in or on dead plant stems, including some of our native bees;  other insect species overwinter in the leaf litter.  Predators are particularly likely to be among the insects overwintering this way.  The leaf litter also provides great foraging habitat for winter birds, as do the standing seedheads.  Watching the birds forage and seeing the patterns of the plant stems adds winter interest to the landscape.  When you add in the fact that standing vegetation holds snow (moisture) in place better than "clean" beds, you definitely have a winning winter combination for the garden.

Winter, then, is pretty basic.  Enjoy the scenery!

As the plants begin to green up in the early spring, it's time to do the first chore of the year:  cut back last summer's dead plant material.  I consider this the main "work" in the organic, native plant garden.  Otherwise, the garden takes very good care of itself.  The timing of the spring cutback is always a balancing act for me.  I prefer to wait long enough that there aren't many late freezes left, although that's not always possible on the prairie.  Since I have planted a variety of crocus, daffodil, tulip, hyacinth, and grape hyacinth bulbs, I've started using their early blooming as my signal.  Darn it - I planted them, so I want to see them!

This year my spring clean up has been particularly protracted, but that's okay.  This is gardening, not a precision dance routine or an accounting balance sheet.

So that I could see the petite daffodils which had begun to bloom in the front beds, I started the spring clean up on March 18th this year.  This photo was taken on the 20th, the day after we burned the front tallgrass (which you can see in the distance).  All I had done so far was cut back the asters at the very front left of the photo...and, if I remember correctly, a few perennials along the sides of the path itself.

Here is a slightly different view, taken at the same time.  Overall, this is what the front garden looked like for most of the winter.  When I looked out the front windows, it was a rare time that I didn't see birds poking around. When we had some snow, the patterns could be stunning.

By the 26th of March, about a week later, I had cut back about half of the stems in this bed, starting at the driveway.  Of course, a few more things were blooming, too, including the Callery (Bradford) pear.  It always amazes me to see how quickly plants green up in the spring!  Several more types of daffodils had opened, and the blue heirloom hyacinths by the driveway were putting on their annual show.  (You can always click on the photos to enlarge them and see more detail.)

Just 5 days later, on the 31st, you can even see how much the daylilies right by the foundation had sprouted up.  I hadn't done any more cleanup in the garden yet, though, because our kids were visiting for the last bit of March and the first week of April.

In fact, I didn't get more cleanup done until 2 days ago, when I noticed the Peach Blossom tulips in full bloom amidst the cacophony of last year's ironweed and Echinacea stems.  So I did a bit more work that day....

...quitting when I'd cleared everything to the south of the little brick access path...except for the aster stems under the redbud clump.  (See?  I told you this wasn't a remotely frantic process!) 

You can see the newly exposed Peach Blossom tulips a few feet in front of the wheelbarrow. The wheel barrow has the last load of stems for that day, which I take to the brush pile out back, while the yellow bucket holds deadheaded daffodil stems and other non-seedfilled detritus that can be put in the compost pile.   Right now there is a lot more for the brush pile than for the compost pile - but that ratio changes throughout the growing season.

This morning, I finished cutting off the last of the aster stems under the redbuds and took this photo of the bed between the house and the walkway....

...and this photo of the bed between the walkway and the buffalo grass, both looking south.  Although cutting back the stems took me bits and pieces of 3 weeks to accomplish, that was due to MY lack of stick-to-it-iveness, not due to this process taking any huge amount of time overall.  Now that my native flower beds are established, this is the primary job that I need to do in any of  these beds all year.  Period.  It's really pretty simple.

That said, the beds do look better if I follow up this tidying chore with some editing, which is best done at this time of year.  I'll discuss that in the next post.

Oh, by the way, I found 4 Carolina (praying) mantis egg cases and 2 black and yellow garden spider egg sacs among the plant stems as I cut them back.  If you look closely, you can see one of the mantid egg clusters at the base of this grass clump.

I saved the plant stalks with the egg cases on them and placed them strategically in the trimmed areas of the garden, so the young could hatch out and do their thing without further interference.  Last year was obviously a good year for predators in my garden!