Editor’s note: This is the second post in a series about bird-friendly native gardening written by Wendy Diaz, EMGV. The third and final post, a plant list, will appear next week.
After a visit to my yard by representatives from the New Hope Audubon Society, I resolved to rid my garden of invasive species. My goal is to achieve Platinum Certification and, consequently, invasive plants cannot cover more than 10% of my property; an improvement from the Gold Level I received in August. A helpful guide on how to plan and implement a more bird-friendly yard, by selecting native plants that suit your needs as well as birds, is provided by the Going Native website1. A particularly useful tool is the plant selection guide that helps you select plants that fit your gardening needs and conditions so you can make your own plant list2. A native plant is suggested just by entering your region, light requirement, soil moisture, leaf type, wildlife value target and bloom period.
This fall, the first plant to be removed is my non-flowering Chinese wisteria that I will probably replace with Audubon’s suggestion of a crossvine or trumpet vine. The second plant that I will take on will be the Big Leaf Periwinkle (Vinca major). About 1,000 square feet of my yard, beneath my hardwoods is covered with Big Leaf Periwinkle so I plan on using several plants to replace this ground cover in the part shady area with varying degrees of soil moisture. This will also increase the diversity of plants in my yard and year-round color interest. It is relatively easy to pull the Vinca major up by the roots, although they recommended mowing it first, because of the abundance of rain this year. Although I have already removed the Mimosa and Bradford Pear trees years ago, their former presence is evident by the frequent seedlings that still germinate in my yard, so this effort of eradication will require ongoing vigilance.
Planting of the alternative native plants will occur gradually over time as I source the plants from area nurseries, optimize my budget and observe the plants’ performance ornamentally and ecologically. I already have some of the native plants and I will encourage them to spread and may propagate them.
On August 5, 2018, the New Hope Audubon Society visited my yard after I filled out a simple online request form1. I heard about their Bird Friendly Habitat Certification Program2 after attending the Backyard Biodiversity talks which were presented at the Chatham Conservation Partnership meeting on July 19, 2018. My growing interest in the importance of my garden to wildlife came about because I began reading Doug Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home3. The book was recommended at a Durham Garden Forum discussion this spring on native plants by Ken Moore, assistant director of NC Botanical Garden Emeritus.
Before The Visit
The certification level (silver, gold or platinum) is determined by calculating the percentage of your available property (about 13,250 sq.ft. in my case) covered by native or invasive plant species and the number of wildlife habitat options4 available in the yard. My 0.37 acre (16,117 sq. ft.) pie-shaped property benefits from a mature hardwood buffer area in the backyard so I thought I would achieve at least some degree of bird friendliness. The process is more efficient if you have a good plot survey of your property and a preliminary list of your plant species. I already had these items as a master gardener because we compiled these documents in our Landscape Management Plan as part of the Master Gardener Certification. I was also thankful that in previous years we removed invasive species such as the ice-damaged Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana) and a messy mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin). There are multiple lists of invasive species to avoid planting in the Piedmont available at education institutional websites such as the North Carolina Botanical Garden5 and North Carolina State University Going Native website6as well as other organizations7,8.
During the Visit
Three representatives from the New Hope Audubon Society slowly walked around my yard and natural buffer area and patiently answered all my questions and took notes pointing out species of plants that were good, not so good and considered an invasive threat for birds. It was a customized assessment of my yard and garden with respect to native plant species and wildlife habitat and a very educational two hours. I was very delighted to be informed that I had the diminutive native Crane-fly orchids (Tipularia discolor) under my beech tree (Fagus grandifolia) which I had never noticed until they pointed them out as well as identified a shade-tolerant native Redring Milkweed (Asclepias variegata L.) near a very large white oak (Quercus alba). One of North Carolina’s smallest woody plants, Spotted Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata, aka pipsissewa) was observed in the natural area. A native ground cover of Virginia snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria) was also scattered throughout the leaf litter. Other native shrubs of arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) and St. Andrew’s-cross (Hypericum hypericoides (L.) Crantz) were quite common in my backyard, not to mention a young Black gumtree (Nyssa sylvatica).
As a gardener, I have been reformed through education. The New Hope Audubon Society pointed out the many invasive species and also the natives in my yard. Why are natives important? Native plants, especially native trees, host a variety of insects that are necessary for birds to feed their young and these plants host the insects that are vital to birds and the complex food webs that have evolved in our local area2,3. Lists of native plants ideal for your area can be found on these educational institution websites5,6 or you can use the helpful online tool9 by just entering your zip code into the Audubon Society database of over 700 bird-friendly North Carolina native plants10. I obtained a list of 116 native plants that are important bird resources, relatively easy to grow and available at area native nurseries for my area.
Native plants covered about 30% of my available property (14 native canopy trees, 10 understory trees, 11 native shrubs, 18 native herbaceous plants, 8 native vines as well as leaves and decaying ground matter). I would like to take credit for most of these plants but the truth is, the homebuilders left the natural area behind my house with the existing forest more or less intact. Nevertheless, I did plant several native herbaceous plants such as beauty berry (Callicarpa Americana) in my perennial borders, pollinator and rain gardens and native magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) and red cedars (Juniperus virginiana) for privacy screens. I also had several wildlife habitat options such as a snag (part of a dead tree), leaves left as mulch, pollinator garden, bundles of branches, blue bird houses, bird baths and no cats.
I did some damage in the past and roughly 10 % of my available property contained what they referred to as high threat invasive plants. When I first moved to the United States, I was a dangerous gardener ecologically speaking. Armed with very little knowledge of the southeast ecology but a strong desire to plant attractive flowering trees and vines that I could not grow in Canada, I planted a golden rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata)8, Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis), a mimosa (Albizia julibrissin), burning bush (Euonymus alatus), Bigleaf periwinkle (Vinca major) and English ivy (Hedera helix). The Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana) planted by the homebuilders was not my fault. The Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium viminium), heavenly bamboo (nandina) and purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) invaded from elsewhere.
Native beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana) Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on August 9, 2018
After the Visit
The following week, I went to work pulling up some of the invasive species. I already was in the habit of pulling up mimosa seedlings as they germinated after a good rain; despite the removal of the mimosa tree over 3 years ago! Also on the clean up list were a small patch of Japanese stiltgrass, spiny olive, Chinese holly seedlings and the bigger job of removing tall nandina.
A few weeks after their visit, I received a package from the New Hope Audubon Society. In the end, my garden was certified a Gold Level wildlife habitat garden. They provided a plaque/sign that I hung proudly near our porch, a two page summary of their assessment listing number of native plant species in the canopy, understory, herbaceous and native vines along with recommendations for habitat improvement and provided a list of alternative plants to achieve the same landscaping goals only with native plants11. They also provided recommendations on the highest threat invasive species (10%) and other potentially invasive species. Am I going for a Platinum certification in the future? Yes, but that requires reducing the available property with high threat invasive species to less than 10% and increasing the coverage by natives from 30% to 50%! I will do the work in stages after I make a plan and that will be the subject of my next blog.
Ever since their visit, three things have happened to me 1) I am noticing invasive species everywhere and 2) I am more observant of the birds and caterpillars and enjoy taking their photographs and 3) I am more appreciative of the commonly ignored but important native species in my yard. Our HOA discourages fences so I have resolved to embrace the wildlife that use my yard as a transportation corridor and as for my much loved ornamentals like hostas and other deer-loving plants, they are restricted to zones near my house where the deer do not seem graze. I found this exercise educational and rewarding and I enjoyed getting the attractive sign and recognition for my gardening hobby and stewardship. I encourage like-minded gardeners to contact the Audubon Society for their own certification.
Well, wasn’t September fun?! Dry, wet, dry, OMG wet. Heartfelt sympathies to those who suffered loss by Florence. For those of us whose gardens were only moderately affected (or not at all) here is the October calendar.
Fertilizing Not much to do here unless you are planting spring flowering bulbs. Should that be the case, incorporate a little balanced fertilizer (10-10-10 or equivalent) into the soil as you plant. Store any leftover fertilizer in a dry place for the winter.
The above-mentioned spring flowering bulbs (e.g. hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, crocuses, etc.).
Pansies! Those plucky members of the Viola genus who can brighten up a gray winter day should be on everyone’s list unless, of course, there are deer nearby. Apparently, the pansies make a great dessert after a meal of azalea branches. Plant them soon as the more established they are when it gets cold the better able they will be to withstand the cold.
“Fall is for planting.” It’s not just a slogan from the nursery industry. It is gospel. The very best time to plant any new landscape plants you have been planning is now.
Peonies can be planted or transplanted now.
In the vegetable garden consider a nitrogen fixing cover crop like red clover, hairy vetch or winter rye. This will help keep down the weeds and add nitrogen to the soil. In the spring just till it into the soil to add nutrients and organic matter.
If you happen to be one of the foresighted people who have a cold frame now is the appropriate time to plant a winter’s worth of salad. Lettuce, green onions, radishes, carrots, spinach and other leafy greens will grace your salad bowl all winter if planted now.
Pruning Once frost (It’s October. It is going to frost!) has finished the decimation of the perennial garden cut off all the dead tops and throw them on the compost pile. Root prune any trees or plants you plan to move in the spring.
Spraying Unless you have a lace bug problem, it is time to clean up and winterize the sprayer and store the pesticides in a secured, dry location that will not freeze. As for the lace bugs, they are active whenever the leaf surface temperature is warm enough (i.e. whenever the sun shines on the leaves). A horticultural oil spray can be helpful in controlling both feeding adults and egg stages.
Lawn Care Maintain adequate moisture levels for any newly seeded or sodded lawns. Avoid leaf buildup on lawns.
Tall fescue and bluegrass (not the fiddlin’ kind) can still be planted in October.
Propagation Keep an eye on any new cuttings in the cold frame (the one without the salad greens in it). They should be checked at least twice a month and watered as needed.
If you are a gardener lucky enough to be able to grow rhubarb now is the time to dig and divide it.
Other stuff to do that will keep you outdoors while the leaves turn color:
Take soil samples while they are still FREE. NC Department of Agriculture will charge for them from November to April.
Put those raked 0r blown leaves into the compost bin or till them into the veggie garden.
Clean fill and put out the bird feeders.
Dig and store (cool, dark, dry) tender summer flowering bulbs (E.g. gladioli, dahlia, caladium) before frost.
Clean up lubricate and otherwise prepare lawn and garden equipment for its long winter’s rest.
A mea culpa. This writer neglected to inform you that it is time to band trees that are susceptible to canker worm invasions. This involves wrapping and securing the trunk with a coarse material like burlap or quilt batting about 4 or 5 feet above the ground. That in turn is wrapped with a corrugated paper wrap that is then covered with the stickiest gooeyest stuff you’ve ever played with. All these materials are available at some nursery/garden centers, one of which is very proximal to the Durham Cooperative Extension office.
For a fun activity now that will yield fresh living flowers in the bleak mid-winter try your hand at forcing spring flowering bulbs. Plant bulbs in pots early in October and place them in the refrigerator. In twelve weeks bring them out into the house and watch them grow and bloom. Kids love it.
A mole has taken up residence in my yard and, seemingly overnight, disrupted a couple of landscaped ornamental beds and killed two biennials. Well, it’s time to send that critter an eviction notice!
I immediately installed a spike as I’ve experienced good results with them in the past. These low-tech devices periodically emit a sonic vibration that supposedly moles find irritating. It worked, somewhat; The critter vacated the one bed, waddled (I imagine) across the walkway leading to my front door and dove into the next nearest bed to begin again. Aargh.
So, I poked another spike into the soil thinking, “can’t hurt, might help.” True enough–no moles were hurt. Extension resources say my go-to solution has not been scientifically proven effective.
Know thy enemy Solving a problem is more difficult when you know next to nothing about its cause. It was time for me to do some reading and uncover a few facts about moles:
Moles are solitary animals and, since they live underground, have few predators (snakes and foxes are two). Three to five moles per acre are considered a high population for most areas.
Moles are carnivores; they prefer to eat insects and grubs. They eat 70% or more of their body weight each day. With an appetite like that it is no wonder they cover so much (under)ground.
Moles are very efficient at tunneling. Observe their front feet in the accompanying photo and you can see why. The feet are broad and flat with long, protruding claws to help toss soil aside. They “swim” through the soil. They can tunnel forwards or backwards. Their deep (10 to 18 inches) and wide tunnels can destroy plant roots in their path, which is likely what happened to my biennials.
Moles do not eat plants. If you notice plants or their roots suddenly vanishing, that is the work of white-footed mice or voles who are opportunistic herbivores – they make use of a mole tunnel to reach their food source.
In addition to grubs and insects, moles eat earthworms, spiders and other beneficial soil microorganisms. Moles like shaded, moist, cool loamy soil. No one warned me that a reward for improving my clayey soil would be moles. They also enjoy mulched areas and compost piles.
North Carolina is home to two species of mole: the Eastern mole and the star-nosed mole. The latter is a rare species and thus, moles are a protected species in this state.
Actions that may solve a mole problem A 24-inch square piece of hardware cloth, bent in half and buried in the soil may work to protect a small area or a treasured plant. This option is hardly practical for my larger landscape and besides, I treasure all my plants.
Chemical repellents, toxicants and fumigants are not recommended as their effectiveness is limited at best and potentially dangerous to humans, pets and other wildlife. Extension also recommends not planting Euphorbia latharis (mole plant) nor Ricinus communis (castor bean plant) for similar reasons.
The most effective way to control moles is to trap them. Since moles are a protected species in N.C., you need a depredation permit to trap them. Depredation refers to wildlife causing property damage.
Benefits moles bring to nature I am highly unlikely to experiment with trapping a mole, permit or not. And the problem would have to get pretty bad before I paid someone to trap a mole for me. So, it is time to consider what benefits moles bring to nature. Maybe we can coexist.
For starters, moles eat white grubs and the larvae of pest insects. Grubs become Japanese beetles so hooray for moles.
Tunneling loosens and aerates the soil. It also mixes the soil near the ground surface with deeper subsoil.
Borders of marigolds may repel moles from gardens. This method has not been scientifically tested but who would object to planting marigolds? Thus, I am counting it as a benefit.
Alas, there are just too few benefits of moles in the landscape. Sigh.
Drawing a conclusion
I might have won the battle, after all. One source noted that spring floods are probably the greatest danger to adult moles and their young. I know it’s not spring, but Hurricane Flo just dropped several inches of rain on Durham. Maybe the two inches of water that seeped from the over-saturated soil into my basement was also enough to wash away the smorgasbord that my resident mole was enjoying and he will soon pack up for new digs. Wishful thinking? Can’t hurt, might help me feel better.
Sept. 18, 2018, 6:30 – 8pm Arboricultural Tree Climbing Demo – Durham Garden Forum
Sarah P Duke Gardens, Durham, NC
Leaf & Limb Arboriculture Company will present a climbing and roping demonstration and discussion of the value of proper tree care. This session will be both indoors and out to see the tree roping and climbing demonstration.
Free for members, $10 General Public. No charge for parking.
Sept. 23, 2018, 3-4pm Raised Beds – South Regional Library
South Regional Library, 4505 S. Alston Avenue, Durham, North Carolina 27713
Join EMGV Charles Murphy for a presentation about raised bed gardening.
Class is free. Registration is required.
Register with Pana Jones (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call 919-560-0521
Register online at the Durham County Library website durhamcountylibrary.org. Click on “Events” to find the full calendar of events. Go to the date of the class and sign up.
You can also call the Information Desk at South Regional Library to register: 919-560-7410.