As home gardeners learn more about the role of native plants in the ecosystem and their importance to pollinators, wildlife and people, many are turning to “rewilding”. The term refers to a landscaping approach that depends on the use of native plants to conserve insects, bees, birds and butterflies.
By embracing the movement, these gardeners are eliminating their lawns, replacing exotic species with native plants, forgoing fall clean-ups to provide food and shelter for wintering birds and insects, and turning their lots into habitats.
Others, however, worry about what they see as a “messy” landscape and are intimidated by the work and potential expense of a complete garden makeover. Those who live in neighborhoods governed by homeowners’ associations often face restrictions on well-manicured lawns and restrictions on plant selection.
The good news is that adopting native plants doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. It is possible to incorporate natives into a conventional garden without having to tackle a full renovation.
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Just a native potted plant feeding a pollinator will make a difference. More is better, of course, but including a few native plants—whether in containers or in the ground—along with traditional garden plants will create a more sustainable, mixed garden that attracts beneficial insects. A bonus: native plants are generally drought tolerant.
If replacing your entire lawn with a meadow or even native ground cover sounds daunting, consider trimming it down. Install new beds and borders or expand existing ones around the perimeter or center and fill them with plants native to your area. You’ll be rewarded with the hum of bees and the flutter of butterflies, as well as less mowing, weeding, watering and fertilizing, and spending less.
And your flowering plants, fruits and vegetables will bloom better with the help of the new residents of your garden.
Seeding native wildflowers would be ideal, but if a meadow aesthetic doesn’t sit well with you — or your neighbors — consider maintaining a small border of manicured lawns. It will define your planting and make the garden look neat.
In my garden just outside of New York City, I started a gradual transition a few years ago. I’ve minimized the lawn and covered it with clover, which attracts pollinators, fixes nitrogen in the soil (free fertilizer!) and withstands my dog’s “visit” better than peat grass.
Although I’ve kept my beloved hydrangeas, roses and lilacs, the only new plants I’m bringing home these days are native ones. After just a few years, native plants outweigh the exotic ones in my garden. This ratio will continue to grow as my old garden favorites decline and are replaced with plants that belong here.
Along the way I spotted beautiful flowering perennials such as Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium caeruleum), Tortoise’s Head (Chelone obliqua) and Spitzbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), all of which provide nectar for pollinators. I planted the roses with native Goldfeather (Liatris spicata), Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) and Spurge (Asclepias), which serves as the sole food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars.
I’ve always loved black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), aniseed hyssop (Agastache), and joe pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum). They are all native to my region, although to be honest I didn’t know or take this into account when I first brought them home a few decades ago.
My containers include annuals, yes, but also native Coralbells (Heuchera Americana), New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), and Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum).
Fall leaves are still raked, but instead of being bagged and placed on the curb, they are pushed into garden beds to serve as winter mulch and hiding places for beneficial insects.
I am working on gradually replacing the monkey grass (Liriope muscari) with the sedge (Carex pensylvanica) native to my area, which could also serve as a nice lawn alternative.
I expect the transition will take a few more years, but it’s another step in the right direction. In gardening, as in life, we do well to strive for progress – not perfection.
How to protect your garden before and after heavy storms
Here’s what gardeners can do in the face of storms
While we celebrate blooming roses, ripening tomatoes, and the pollinator frenzy in our backyards, we gardeners should also be aware of the downsides of summer: thunderstorms, tropical storms, and hurricanes.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is forecasting an “above-average 2022 Atlantic hurricane season,” and even as the tornado season draws to a close, some year-round threat remains in parts of the country.
So what should a gardener do? After making sure people, homes, and other structures are safe, our thoughts naturally turn to our beds and borders. We’ve poured our blood, sweat, tears and money into it, so it’s important to protect our investment – and the joy it brings.
Before the storm
Close parasols during storm warnings and store garden furniture indoors if possible. Inspect trees for cracked or broken branches and remove them before they are ripped off and blown away by high winds. If these trees are large, hire a certified arborist to inspect them. the cost is nothing compared to the damage they could cause if they break or fall over.
In warmer climes, palm trees are well adapted to strong wind conditions, so you don’t need to prune them but can remove coconuts and safely store indoors.
If your soil is wet – either naturally or from recent rains – apply 3 inches of mulch over beds and borders. This provides protection from the soaking effects of a flood that could uproot trees, particularly shallow rooted ones such as white pine, birch, willow and tulip poplar, among others.
Tack any newly planted trees to support them and add hanging baskets and planters to the home, shed or garage. If that’s not possible, place them around the house or in another sheltered spot.
Protect the flowers of small flowering plants by covering them with buckets or bells covered with something heavy, like a brick, to hold them in place. Wrap larger plants in burlap secured with twine. Orchids, bromeliads, succulents, air plants and other tree-dwelling plants can be attached with fishing line.
Check that all climbing plants are attached to their supports and that the supports are firmly anchored to the ground. If they don’t feel safe, remove the supports and place them – and the plants – on the ground until the threat passes.
Lay row cover fabric over tender, young seedlings and secure with landscape pins.
after the storm
Once the storm is over, remove fallen fruit and veg that could attract rodents as they rot on the ground, and remove the shelter around the plants.
Inspect trees for damage. If you can safely remove hanging, broken branches while standing on the ground, do so. However, avoid trimming anything higher than your head or climbing a ladder to trim. These jobs are best left to a professional – and that doesn’t mean someone will show up at your door with a chainsaw who probably doesn’t know what they’re doing and could be a scammer.
The International Society of Arborists maintains a list of certified arborists on their website at https://www.treesaregood.org/findanarborist; Start your search there.
If a small tree has been fallen or uprooted, straighten and stake it as soon as possible, and tamp down the soil when replanting. Drive stakes into the ground around the trunk, attach twine, rope, or string to the stakes and secure to the tree. Apply 3 inches of mulch or straw to the soil, keep it 3 to 4 inches from the trunks, and water the tree regularly for the rest of the growing season. This will help restore the root system.
Wind fluctuations help trees develop strong trunks and roots, so don’t stake the tree for more than six months to a year.
Salt spray can dry out or desiccate trees and shrubs near shore, and they may not show symptoms until the following year. Apply mulch around trees to retain soil moisture and water deeply and repeatedly to flush out salts.
Refrain from pruning evergreens or removing dry tops until new growth appears the following spring.
When floodwaters spill over onto your property, salt is likely to form a crust on the soil surface, causing it to dry out. Most plants will not survive such devastation, but the soil can be restored: water deeply, then spread plaster of paris over the soil. It reacts with the salt to form sodium sulfate, which is washed through the soil by repeated watering. Keep watering vigorously for the rest of the year.
Jessica Damiano is a regular contributor to The Associated Press about gardening. As a master gardener and educator, she writes The Weekly Dirt newsletter and creates an annual gardening calendar with daily gardening tips. Message her at firstname.lastname@example.org and find her at jessicadamiano.com and on Instagram @JesDamiano.
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