Posts Tagged ‘Gardening’

Slow But Sure

September 4, 2009
Plant it and they will come.

Plant it and they will come.

The end of summer is here, so an update is due regarding the native plants garden I started this May. Some species are growing strong, others are just hanging in there. Maintenance consists mostly of saving the little seedlings that get buried under wood chips, plus keeping everything watered.

Great Blue Lobelia

Great Blue Lobelia

Notes from the field:

  • Prairie Blazing Star: The monarch butterflies appeared the first day of the first bloom. If you plant it, they will come.
  • Great Blue Lobelia: Blooming strong and the bees love them.
  • Cardinal Flower: Blooming bright red. A few white flowers appeared, which can happen.
  • Pussy Toes: Spreading nicely.
  • Solomon’s Seal: All the stems broke off almost immediately. I wonder if they’ll re-appear next year?
  • False Lily of the Valley: I am nurturing just a few leaves the size of my fingernail.
  • Columbine: Shriveled up, but now is making a come-back.
  • New England Aster: Getting ready to bloom.
  • Grasses: Doing well; have bloomed with little tiny flowers.
  • Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Bishops’ Cap, and Baneberry: Needed more shade so I moved them.
  • Everything else: Slow but sure.

Last week I couldn’t help myself and purchased 21 more plants from the blogger at Urban Natives. I never used to be a gardener, but now I suspect I have found a new hobby.

Bye-bye turfgrass. Hello native plants!

July 4, 2009

In my last post I talked about why to garden with native plants. Well, in an effort to provide food and shelter to wildlife (namely bugs and birds), H and I turned much of the front yard into a native plants garden. To see photos of the yard and all the new baby plants with their common and scientific names, visit EcoStride’s Flickr site.

Here are the steps we took:

  1. Learned about native plants and their requirements (Web sites, books, seminars)
  2. Drew a plan (It was hard to stick to, but you have to start somewhere)
  3. Ripped out lawn with rented sod cutter (You must be very strong to attempt this)
  4. Created border with pavers and added bird bath, large rocks and stepping stones (Hardscaping adds interest and improves the overall impression)
  5. Shopped for plants (A full day of shopping)
  6. Planted trees and shrubs
  7. Spread out wood chips (We had wood chips from a non-native tree we cut down)
  8. Planted native plants
  9. Shopped for plants again to fill in empty spots

May was a busy month of planning and implementing this garden. The portion of lawn we converted to native plants is roughly 450 square feet. If you’re wondering how much we spent on plants (so that you can start planning your own native garden) the answer is $450, so that’s $1 per square foot. We bought 1 small tree, 6 shrubs, and 210 plants. Most of the plants were just little “plugs”. To promote biodiversity we planted 5 species of woody plants, 7 species of grasses, and 39 species of forbs (flowers).

I find it ridiculous that the large, local garden stores sell hardly any native plants. I had to drive 45 minutes for a good selection, which I found at Prairie Restorations and Landscape Alternatives. These companies are committed to native plants and the environment.

Working on such a big project in the front yard can be quite a conversation starter. Neighbors and strangers alike would stop to talk about it. We also found plenty of takers for our old, weedy sod.

I still cannot picture what the yard will look like when these plants grow up, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Hopefully next year we can do something similar in the backyard.

Why Native Plants?

July 1, 2009

Minnesota native plants are those species that grew here naturally before European settlers arrived and began introducing plants from other areas. In the book Landscaping with Native Plants of Minnesota, Lynn Steiner explains the importance of native plants:

Unlike most introduced plants, a native plant fully integrates itself into a biotic community, establishing complex relationships with other local plants and animals. Not only does a native plant depend on the organisms with which it has evolved, but the other organisms also depend on it, creating a true web of life. This natural system of checks and balances ensures that native plants seldom grow out of control in their natural habitats.

Douglas Tallamy, an entomologist, recently wrote a very compelling book, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. His research shows that most native insects either cannot or will not eat non-native plants. Most insects are specialists and only eat plants with which they share an evolutionary history. Insects play a very important role in ecosystems. In fact, 96% of birds rely on insects and spiders to feed to their young. To protect biodiversity, we need to restore native plants wherever possible, including in our yards.

Tallamy describes how we have turned our yards into sterile environments:

All too often the first step in the suburbanization of an area is to bulldoze the plant assemblages native to our neighborhoods and then to replace them with large manicured lawns bordered by a relatively few species of popular ornamentals from other continents. Throughout suburbia, we have decimated the native plant diversity that historically supported our favorite birds and mammals.

Habitat destruction is widespread across the state. In Minnesota’s Natural Heritage: An Ecological Perspective, John Tester states that less than 1% of the tallgrass prairie remains. Nearly all of the Big Woods has been cleared for agriculture. Most of the red and white pine stands have been logged. Loss and degradation of habitat has been the primary cause of species becoming rare and endangered. Back in 1989, Minnesota had listed 57 species (plant and animal) as endangered, 49 as threatened, and 181 of special concern.

So little habitat remains for our wildlife, that we need to do what we can, where we can. Even a non-native plant that appears to do no harm is taking space that could be occupied by a native species. Not to mention that non-native plants often become invasive and compete unfairly with the native species.

We often hear that native plants don’t require much watering or pesticides. But the most compelling reason to garden with native plants is that our ecosystems are depending on us. Tallamy goes on to say,

… Gardening has taken on a role that transcends the needs of the gardener. Like it or not, gardeners have become important players in the management of our nation’s wildlife. It is now within the power of individual gardeners to do something that we all dream of doing: to “make a difference.” In this case, the “difference” will be to the future biodiversity, to the native plants and animals of North America and the ecosystems that sustain them.

Looking Forward to Spring

December 3, 2008
Hoping that the sage and rosemary make it through the winter indoors

Hoping that the sage and rosemary make it through the winter indoors

I am already looking forward to spring. I know, I know—winter is not even here yet. But next year I plan to convert areas of grass (weeds, really) to gardens with flowers, herbs, and berries. I’ll be spending time this winter strategizing with the book Landscaping with Native Plants of Minnesota. Gardening is a lot of work, so I’ll be taking it one step at a time, starting with the sunniest patch in the yard.

Simple Pleasures

November 23, 2008
  • Walking around the neighborhood with my dog
  • Lying in a hammock in the backyard looking up at the leaves
  • Seeing how the garden goes from nothing to something during the season
  • Enjoying a drink in the porch while watching the snow fall
  • Waking to birds singing in the springtime

Barrels of Fun

November 9, 2008

In the spring I was looking into buying a rain barrel and a compost bin. Then H offered to make them out of faux wine barrels. I found some ideas for him on the internet and he went to work.

A Rain Barrel

Rain Barrel

Rain Barrel

The wooden barrel is just decoration. There is actually a plastic barrel inside to hold the water. Like most projects, this one required several trips to the store to buy the following parts: faucet, flexible downspout, sump pump hose for the overflow, and a screen to keep out mosquitoes and leaves.

It only takes one good rain to fill it up. I thought I’d be able to use a sprinkler with the rain barrel. Silly me! There isn’t enough water pressure, of course. If the hose is stretched out flat, the water drains out slowly.

A Composter

Tumbling Composter

"Give Me A Spin" Composter

The inspiration for this rotary composter comes from a YouTube video. The barrel lies freely on top of four upside-down wheels which are attached to the top of a wooden frame. It can be easily rolled to mix the contents inside. No pitchfork necessary! Small holes were drilled all over to allow some air circulation. The door has been problematic because the wood expanded and warped.

The contents inside are breaking down into compost, but very slowly. My plan is to fill it up during six months, then stop adding scraps and give it six more months to finish the process. In the spring I’ll empty it out in the garden and start over.