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.
Gardening With Hellebores – Durham Garden Forum November 13, 2018, 6:30 – 8 PM
Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson St, Durham, NC 27705
Hear from expert Richard Tyler, owner of Pine Knott Nursery, about how to successfully use hellebores in your garden, adding an array of beautiful colors, blooms times and deer resistance! Richard will review the many different species and hybrids available as well as companion plants. Pine Knott Nursery Hellebores will be available to purchase at the presentation. Meet in the Doris Duke Center.
For membership information, email email@example.com.
$10 per meeting for non-members, payable to Durham Garden Forum. Forum members free with $25 annual membership.
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.
November is upon us. The really active gardening season is nearly over. It is time to harvest the last of the tomatoes and peppers. Perhaps there is a winter squash or two still clinging to the vine. I don’t know about you, but I am sooo over pumpkin spice anything and sooo ready for eggnog (any way you like it). So, let’s wrap up this gardening season and toast the upcoming holiday season.
Lawn Care All of your neighbors with warm season lawns are smirking at you still mowing your fescue and bluegrass. (Really some of them—the ones chasing leaves with the John Deere—are jealous.) Just keep the cool season grasses mowed to 3.4 to 4 inches and everybody should keep lawns reasonably clear of leaves. Continue the battle with fire ants.
Not much going on here. If your soil pH is low, less than 6.0, apply the recommended amount of lime. A good way to incorporate it into the soil is to core aerate the lawn before the application.
Wood ashes from your fireplace can be spread on your gardens and shrub beds. Be careful to avoid acid-loving plants such as azaleas, camellias, gardenias, etc.
Let me repeat, “Fall is for planting!” There is still lots of time to add/transplant plants in your landscape (per your PLAN, naturally).
Plant one-year-old asparagus crowns now.
Sow a cover crop over the veggie garden if it is finished for the year. A planting of annual rye, wheat or barley will help prevent erosion and keep weeds to a minimum. Besides you can just till it into the soil in the spring as a bonus.
After Jack Frost has claimed the last of your herbaceous perennials including existing asparagus, they can be cut back to the over-wintering rosettes or the ground.
Dead and/or diseased wood can be pruned out at any time.
Weeds and undesirable trees can now be removed without the three bottles of water per hour, head sweat band, and insect repellent.
Surely by now you have cleaned up and put away the spray equipment. If not, Just do it.
Other stuff to do that will keep you outside and prevent eggnog overdose
As mentioned earlier, add lime where recommended. No fertilizer until spring.
Walk around the yard on mild days. It may be awhile before we see any more of them.
Okay, you can go inside now and order those fruit trees and vines you’ve been talking about. They will be delivered in time for planting in February or March. (Did you know hardy kiwi will grow well in a sunny place and produce a prodigious amount of fruit?)
While you are inside look at your plan and make adjustments based on this year’s experiences.
Oh, yeah. Don’t forget to stuff that bird, mash them taters, and bake that punkin pie. May your Thanksgiving be bountiful.
In September, a fellow master gardener found a strange-looking worm crawling across her porch. At 8 to 12 inches long it was hard to miss.
A few weeks later there was another one under a container in her ornamental garden. Since it looks a lot like an earthworm and earthworms are beneficial to a garden, she let it be. And then she learned it’s true nature. The worm, commonly referred to as a land planarian or hammerhead flatworm (Bipalium kewense and Dolichoplana striata are two species), is an invasive species from Southeast Asia and its favorite food source is the gardeners’ beloved earthworms.
Hammerhead flatworms thrive in high temperatures and humidity. They are typically found in dark, moist areas such as under rocks or logs, beneath shrubs, and in leaf litter or garden debris. They may appear on the soil surface after a heavy rain. The worms can endure freezing temperatures by hiding under objects or in commercial greenhouses where they arrive in container plants. Though this was my friend’s first sighting of one, they have been present in the U.S. for more than a century. Like Count Dracula, they shun daylight, feeding and moving about under the cover of darkness.
Unfortunately, the worms mucus membrane repels would-be predators. And don’t even think about squishing one – they can reproduce via fragmentation. But when food resources are low, the land planarian resorts to cannibalism. So, they may be their own worst enemy, afterall.