Check out our progress on the turf-to-habitat project in Seekonk, MA, like it if you like it and subscribe it you want to know more about native plant design and consulting in SE MA.
Pollinate New England Program in Wellesley Shows You How to Plan and Plant a Pollinator Garden
The Wellesley Natural Resources Commission hosted a live Pollinate New England program (pre-Covid) on the importance of using native plants to support New England’s bees, insects and other pollinators. Watch this video of the program to learn the actual steps of creating a pollinator habitat garden.
Learn how to design and create a pollinator garden
You’ll learn how to attract native butterflies and moths, birds and bees to your garden and
- put the right native plants in the right places
- design the spacing of your plants to maximize their potential, have good looks and reduce weeds
- get your pollinator plants established with organic gardening practices, proper watering and care
- use ecological mulching materials and learn their benefits, such as retaining soil moisture, moderating soil temperature, and reducing weeds
The goal of Pollinate New England is to teach and encourage homeowners to plant diverse, systemic pesticide-free native plants that support a wide variety of pollinators throughout their life cycles. It’s an initiate of the Native Plant Trust (formerly New England Wild Flower Society), which received an IMLS grant to create a network of pollinator gardens, collaborating with twelve partners throughout six states, supported by a suite of in-person and distance programs and resources.
What to do for your habitat and pollinator gardens this winter? It’s learning season!
Nothing like having something inspiring to look forward to during a pandemic – like learning! The Ecological Landscape Alliance’s 27th Conference and Eco-Marketplace lights up my calendar on March 3-4 and I can’t wait to sample the design, climate change/resilience and inclusion tracks. Below are the top ten talks I’ve circled so far. For more info, visit https://www.ecolandscaping.org – I hope to see you there!
Learn about top new trends in native plant and pollinator gardens, design and consulting:
- Toby Wolf, Wolf Landscape Architecture: “Sharing the Adventure: Design Communications for Ecological Landscapes”
- Gerdo Aquino, SWA Group: “The Aesthetics of Ecology and Why Design Matters”
- Nadia Malarkey, Nadia Malarkey Design: “Regenerating Suburbia One Garden at a Time”
- Lisa Hayden, New England Forestry Foundation: “Engaging Landowners in Sustainable Stewardship”
- Leah Penniman, Soul Fire FarmFarming While Black: “African ” Wisdom for Farming and Food Justice”
- Ryan Serrano, Earth Steward Ecology Inc: “Regenerative Landscape Essentials: Tethering Function and Aesthetic
- Pamela Conrad, CMG Landscape ArchitectureClimate Positive Design – Going Beyond Neutral
- Dan Jaffe Wilder, Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary: “Taking on the Big Places: How to Build and Maintain Self-Sufficient Landscapes”
- Thursday’s Luncheon Discussion: “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Horticulture”
- Anna Fialkoff, Wild Seed Project: “Rewild in 10 Action Steps
About the ELA (Ecological Landscape Alliance)
Here’s the scoop on the ELA, of which I’m a member, quoted from the ELA website:
“Since its founding in 1992, the Ecological Landscape Alliance has been a leader in promoting sustainable approaches to landscape design, construction, and management. ELA’s commitment to innovative ideas and evidence-based practices has made the organization both a trusted resource and a vibrant community of landscape professionals and devoted gardeners.
The Ecological Landscape Alliance advocates for ecological landscape practices through education, collaboration, and outreach.
Everyone who interacts with the land is a steward whose actions are informed by an understanding of and respect for natural systems.”
For more info visit https://www.ecolandscaping.org
Nice sticky snow clings to colorful leaves of a native red maple tree, Acer rubrum, in a Sharon, MA garden. In landscape design, red maples work hard as structural elements, framing other features of the garden. As habitat, they’re provide shelter, food, and nesting nooks and crannies for wildlife.
I am so thankful for our native trees, like this red maple in a Sharon, MA garden. Like most natives, they provide vivid horticultural value in color, form, and texture; provide habitat for wildlife; and intercept and absorb storm water to help mitigate flooding. Every square foot in your garden, and every plant matters.
Walking the Garden-911 display garden today, these red elderberry flower buds caught my eye. With the color of deep purple lilacs, these native Sambucus racemosa flower buds, combined with their emerging compound leaves, put a smile on my face and took my mind off everything for a few minutes. Gardens, especially native plant gardens, have long been known to be restorative. If you’re staying at home to ride out the coronavirus, it may be a great time to pause to enjoy spring emerging in your landscape – even if it’s just weeds emerging in last year’s containers, or up through the cracks in a sidewalk.
DESIGN AND CULTIVATION When designing with elderberry, keep in mind that they prefer, and will spread and fruit most robustly, in a sunny exposure. Red elderberry is found on a wide variety of soils but favors deeper, loamy sands and silts and nutrient rich sites with good drainage, ample moisture and a pH of 5.0 to 8.0. It’s best to plant at least two genetically diverse individuals. Before you purchase a plant, always inquire as to how it was grown. Even though you’re purchasing a native plant, it may have been grown in a conventional nursery that uses conventional propagation methods like vegetative cloning, where all plants are genetically identical. It’s best to find a nursery that sells sustainably grown specimens. Grow Native Massachusetts has a terrific resource list of nurseries they recommend.
The dense roots and rhizomes of red elderberry make it useful for soil stabilization and erosion control on moist sites including streambanks. It provides fair to good food and cover for birds plus small and large mammals. Hummingbirds collect nectar from the flowers. The fruit is high in ascorbic acid. Stems, bark, leaves and roots contain cyanide-producing toxins but berries may be consumed as jelly or wine after cooking. This versatile plant can also be used to make dye, insecticide, medicine, and musical instruments. The colorful fruit attracts birds and several cultivars have been developed for ornamental applications.
NATIVE PLANT GEEK INFO Other scientific names include Sambucus callicarpa, Sambucus microbotrys, Sambucus pubens, Sambucus pubens. var. arborescens, Sambucus racemosa var. racemosa, Sambucus racemosa ssp. pubens and Sambucus racemosa var. pubens. Alternate common names include scarlet elder, stinking elderberry, stinking elder, red-berried elder, bunchberry elder, and red elder.
The magic of botany. If you love botany, or appreciate nature, you would have loved Uli Lorimer’s Plant Adaptations class at Native Plant Trust. Right down to the molecular level, every feature of a plant is a result of an adaptation designed to afford reproductive, environmental or cultural success. This class explored the myriad ways plants have adapted to different habitats, soil types, pollination and dispersal schemes while co-evolving with other organisms in shared, co-dependent ecosystems.
Some adaptations may make it very difficult for a plant to survive in different environments, cultural and/or ecological conditions than those in which it evolved over time, which is why climate change makes it so difficult for some plants that their populations and distributions have declined, and some are vulnerable to extinction. Other plants are able to thrive and reproduce in a wide variety of situations, and so can overcome and replace vulnerable populations.
Native Plant Trust’s mission is to conserve and promote New England’s native plants to ensure healthy, biologically diverse landscapes, and vision is that through their leadership, New England’s native plants will exist in vigorous populations within healthy, evolving ecosystems, and people across the region will actively promote and protect them in the wild and in their gardens.
As Director of Horticulture at Native Plant Trust, Lorimer oversees Garden in the Woods, a botanic garden in Framingham, MA, and Nasami Farm in western MA, a nursery focused on propagation of and research about New England native plants.
A monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, feeds on the nectar of white snakeroot flowers, Ageratina altissima, during its southern migration in a Sharon, MA garden on September 26, 2019. This pair of natives co-evolved since the retreat of the last ice age, and they depend on one another, and the entire web of life, for their continued existence.
September 26th was like a dream to me. I looked out the kitchen window while doing the dishes, and there were several monarchs in my gardens, all at one time. I’d seen one or two here and there this season, but never a parade of several at a time, like that day. I dropped the dishes and dashed out with my camera.
Later, on arriving at a Sharon, MA client’s gardens, Monarchs flew up every time I turned a corner on the mowed paths that snake around many beds where clouds of white snakeroot are now in bloom. I counted at least two dozen monarchs at least twice, and twice saw four monarchs on one snakeroot. It was like living and working in a dream where the monarchs have recovered and are robust in numbers again. It wasn’t a dream, but it was a remarkable parade of flight and feed that I shall not forget. Of course there were other native butterflies, like spangled frittilaries, and native bees, like Bombus sp., and other native plants in bloom.
THE BEST PLANTS FOR POLLINATORS: We can all make a difference in our yards, our gardens, our landscapes, our containers, one plant at a time, by design. Please join me doing so! These are the native plants that support the entire life cycle of the most butterfly and moth species:
Trees and shrubs:
- Oak trees – Quercus sp. such as white, red, pin, black, bear
- Willow trees – Salix sp.
- Black cherry trees – Prunus serotina
- Goldenrods – Solidago sp. such as blue-stem (axillary), seaside, bog, white, showy, downy, zigzag
- Asters – Symphyotrichum, Oclemena, and Aster sp. like New England, tartarian, heart-leaved, large-leaved, purple-stem, bushy, small white
- Milkweeds – Asclepias sp. like common, butterfly weed, swamp, poke, butterfly, clasping, green
Have fun, and let me know if you need a hand!
What’s so great about a great lawn?
- Do you want a lawn that looks like a lush golf course? It’s going to cost you…and your neighbors, your town’s water quality and other natural resources. The typical best-in-the-neighborhood MA lawns are a mix of bluegrass, rye and fescue turf grasses. These are all cool season, non-native grasses that do not naturally do well here in our summer heat and droughts; these lawns need lots of time, energy and money to look as good as they do for as long as they do.
- The conventional practice is to follow the conventional high-input “advice” of landscape chemical companies’ and landscape vendors’ marketing efforts, including expensive fertilizer, insect and weed killers, bacteria and fungus killers, plus frequent mowing and watering.
- Your resulting “chem” lawn may look good, but it has negative and potentially hazardous impacts on your health and that of others; your wallet and that of others; and the wetland and ecosystems that filter pollutants from your water and mitigates flood damage, pollinates your food (everything we eat was once a plant), and provides natural settings for recreation and relaxation for you and others—among many other free but essential life services.
- Add it all up and you may realize what many others already know: that a “chem” lawn is actually more expensive and damaging than you ever thought. So ask yourself, “Is it really worth working and paying for a perfect lawn?” “Why should I care?” and, “What are healthier alternatives that save me money and time?”
What’s a sustainable lawn and why would it benefit you?
- SOIL AND WATER: Turf grasses naturally want to send their roots down about 6-12 inches into loamy topsoil that contains about 10% organic matter, such as compost. Established lawns want to be watered deeply (one inch of water) once a week, or one inch twice during hot weather. That way, their roots never dry out for extended periods and thus they don’t go into summer brownout/dormancy. Most irrigation systems are not programmed to water lawns on this kind of schedule. Instead, most water lightly several times a week, never delivering enough water to penetrate fully to the whole root system, so the water is largely wasted. What if you don’t have appropriate soil to support a robust lawn? See three bullet points below.
- TEST YOUR WATERING SYSTEM: You want one inch of water per week for established laws, so how do you find out how much water is actually being delivered? Before you turn on your sprinkler or your irrigation system comes on, put out a bunch of clean cat food or tuna fish cans to collect water. (Ask your friends and neighbors if you don’t have your own supply). After the system runs, use a ruler to measure how much water is in each can. If it’s not a little over an inch—the ruler will displace some water and increase the reading on the ruler—increase the run time and test again. Repeat adjustments until you get about an inch.
- SOIL TESTING: Get your soil tested to find out what kind of soil you have, your pH, your organic matter, and what amendments you can add to make your soil more ideal for your turf grasses. The most crucial part of soil testing is getting a truly representative sample. UMass has easy to follow recommendations for soil sampling, and they test soil for a reasonable fee. Learn more at https://ag.umass.edu/services/soil-plant-nutrient-testing-laboratory
- IF YOU DON’T HAVE IDEAL SOIL:
- Follow the recommendations from your soil test.
- Adjust your expectations and know that any lawn is a living work in progress.
- Good or poor soil, add ¼ to ½ inch of compost to your lawn every year late in the fall, after your last mowing. Over the winter it will improve your soil quality and improve lawn health. Do this every year, along with allowing your mowed grass clippings to fall and decompose in place, and you will not need to spend time and money fertilizing.
- Lime in the fall only if your soil test results call for it.
- If you feel you must fertilize, NEVER FERTILIZE WITHIN 100 FEET OF A WETLAND, VERNAL POOL OR POTENTIAL VERNAL POOL (or according to your local bylaw specifications). Beyond 100 feet (or according to your local bylaw specifications) of a wetland, vernal pool or potential vernal pool, apply an organic, slow release fertilizer just one time—and never just before or during a heavy rain—to your lawn between April 15th and October 15th. Limit that application to a maximum of 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet.
Organic fertilizers have non-water soluble nitrogen that releases to the soil at a steady rate over time. They help to build a healthy soil food web, as compared with conventional chemical fertilizers which are water soluble and result in nutrients (and your money) washing away as pollution into our waterways before they’re needed by your plants. A couple of readily available organic fertilizers are Espoma Garden-tone and Espoma Plant-tone. These are typically made of ground up feathers and bones rather than conventional petrochemicals.
- Consider lawn alternatives
- Instead of turf grasses, use native, low-input sedges. Pennsylvania sedge, for instance, needs mowing only once a year and is drought tolerant after getting established.
- Add white clover to your lawn seed mix. Clover moves nitrogen from the soil to the ground and makes it available to green up your lawn
- Turn part of your lawn into an ornamental planting bed. Include native plants that are well adapted to our native soils. If well planned and designed, you’ll be saving time and money, supporting pollinators, improving water quality and the environment.
- SUN: Pay close attention to how many hours of mid-day sun each area of your lawn gets. Get a high quality grass seed mix to match the sun exposure. You can do many things to improve your soil—but changing the amount of sun your lawn gets is usually a bigger undertaking.
- MOWING: Set your mower to cut no lower than three inches. Use a mulching blade and let the clippings fall onto the lawn, where their nutrients will recycle right back into your soil, increasing your soil’s organic matter for free. Also, save time and money by not raking your leaves in the fall. Just mow them with a mulching blade and without a grass catcher, and leave them to in place to decompose. Again, free organic matter. Note: If mowing leaves a thick layer of leaves, though, spread them out with a rake so the grasses can still get some sun.
- WEEDS: Weeds don’t stand a chance if your turf grasses are robust, aka appropriate for where they’re growing and therefore nice and dense; grown in good deep soil with proper nutrients, organic matter, soil chemistry, water and sun.
- INSECTS: Most insects, approximately 99% by number of species, are native insects that play a crucial role in the food web that supports our environment, that in turn supports people. Properly identifying and learning the life cycle of pests is the most important step in managing them. Many are beneficial. If you don’t want to learn about it, get help from a natural or organic horticulturist to learn if you have a normal amount of bugs or an infestation that needs management.
- BACTERIAL AND FUNGAL CONDITIONS: Most bacterial and fungal conditions in lawns occur because the lawn’s cultural conditions—including soil nutrients, pH and organic matter; sun exposure and water—do not favor a robust lawn planted with non-native, cool season grass species. You can spend lots of hazardous chemical resources and still not get the results you want.
- AERATING YOUR LAWN: Most lawns do not need to be aerated annually. Lawn areas that have high traffic have compacted soils that make it very difficult for grasses to thrive. Most of us are familiar with the fact that plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, but this is only what the plant does above ground. Plants’ roots do the opposite, taking oxygen from the tiny spaces between tiny soil particles. If the lawn soil is compacted or constantly wet, your turf grasses’ roots cannot get the oxygen they need to thrive, and the above-ground portion of the grasses will not do well. If you choose to aerate, do not use any device with a solid spike shape, as these will only compact your soil further. Instead, use a tool or machine that has cylindrical-shaped fittings that will remove plugs of soil. These greatly reduce compaction and bring oxygen into the soil for the roots.
- WHEN TO TOP DRESS OR INSTALL A NEW LAWN: The single best time by far is September, for a long list of reasons.
- ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:
- Do not use Wikipedia
- Use the site that searches only state extension service sites that provide peer-reviewed scientific information: https://impact.extension.org/search/
- Town of Falmouth, MA Healthy Lawns, Health Waterways document on how to grow a healthy lawn without fertilizer: http://www.falmouthmass.us/DocumentCenter/View/950/Fertilizer-Facts—Falmouths-Nitrogen-Control-Bylaw-PDF?bidId=
If you care about your chickadees, what does this range of numbers mean: 350 to 570? My environmental and social justice pal Ellen Schoenfeld-Beeks let us know at her “Why We Need a Garden Revolution” talk at the Unitarian Church of Sharon, MA on May 3rd. The answer is, 350 to 570 is the number of caterpillars one pair of chickadees needs every day to nurture their chicks from hatching to fledging. That’s just one pair of one kind of bird! Ellen inspired us to think and be mindful about every plant and practice in our gardens, and whether and how each helps or harms the natural systems that support all living things.
Ellen, who manages the church’s extensive gardens, showed examples of native plants at the church’s gardens and at her own home through the seasons, and how they support or harm our native pollinators, wildlife and local ecosystem at large. She even talked about plants she introduced to her gardens on purpose, only to find out years later that they were actually exotic invasive look-alikes of native plants. For example, she thought she was planting yellow marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris), but they turned out to be fig buttercups (Ranunculus ficaria, or, Ficaria verna), which are on the MA list of plants that are prohibited from sale.
After about three years they had spread like a spring carpet of yellow, in part because they aggressively reproduce by three different mechanisms. Once she realized her error, Ellen took responsibility and removed them by hand, an intensive but organic gardening practice. It took three seasons to bring their numbers to a reasonably manageable level.
Ellen also reminded us that one of the Unitarian Universalist Church’s guiding principles is respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. She urged us to think carefully and learn about the impact of each of our plantings, as every plant in our landscapes matters, and your landscape supports, or doesn’t, those chickadees who need all those caterpillars every day to raise their young.
The design of her home garden, also in Sharon, features primarily native plants with mowed and gravel paths that sweep around her layered ornamental planting beds and stone walls, leaving the visitor wondering with curiosity what lies just past the next curve. Each of her beds have themed names, such as Mountain Laurel Hill, the Meadow and Old Rose Garden. Some of her favorite native plants are mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia – obviously – with an area named just for them; apothecary rose, Rosa gallica, which though not a native has been cultivated by people since the MIddle Ages; and various goldenrods, which support at least 115 species of butterflies and moths.