Author: Philippe Ourisson

Preparing Your Site for a Successful Garden

By: Stacey Wildberger

Preparing an area to install a new garden is an important step that must be done with care and consideration. The site needs to be clear of all existing vegetation in order to minimize weed growth.  How you prepare the site will affect the environment and the success of your garden.  There are many weed seeds hidden in the soil.   Once the soil is disturbed and the seeds are exposed to sunlight, they will quickly sprout and take over the area making establishing your plants more difficult.  One of the worst things you can do is till the area as this will quickly bring dormant seeds to the surface.

We will examine four methods to prepare your site to minimize disturbance and be safe for the environment.  Even though synthetic herbicides such as Round-Up are effective and cheaper than organic herbicides their long term effects can be devastating to the ecosystem.  The process of site preparation should not be rushed; don’t be in a hurry to plant or sow your seeds.  The better prepared your site is the less time you will spend controlling weeds in the garden down the road.

Smother method is the process of using organic material to kill the vegetation.  You will need some basic tools such as a wheelbarrow, mower, shovel and rake in addition to newspaper, cardboard, organic product and mulch.  Start by mowing the area in the design you wish the garden to be, cover with 4-5 layers of newspaper, then 1 layer of cardboard, spread weed free mulch over the top and level it off.  The next step is the hardest-let it sit for 3-12 months! I like to either start the process in early spring and plant in the fall or prep in the fall for spring planting.  Once you are ready to start planting, cut a slit in the cardboard and newspaper if it is not fully decomposed and plant directly into the hole you formed.  Tip: do not use plastics or other non-organic materials that will not decompose over time or add nutrients to the soil.  They can also generate too much heat, killing the good soil organisms. To speed up this process you could spray the area with a non-synthetic natural herbicide prior to layering the newspaper.

Strip method involves removing the vegetation, including the roots with a sod cutter or hand tools.  This method can be a little costlier if you need to rent the tools but it allows you to remove a large area of vegetation quickly.  The composted sod becomes rich soil that can be used in other areas as well.  Start by defining the shape of your bed using a garden hose, paint or flags then strip the vegetation in your area with the sod cutter to remove it—composting it. Apply a natural herbicide to any new growth.  Tip: you can use the smother method to prevent the re-growth if you are plating plugs or plants, not seeds.

Spray method uses non-synthetic, natural herbicides to kill the vegetation.  You will need a tank sprayer, safety glasses, gloves, dust mask, spreader and a chemical safe measuring cup as well as Colorant, blood or alfalfa meal, water and herbicide.  There are several benefits to this method, including being able to cover a large area, and when used on slopes it can diminish erosion.  The negatives are cost (a concentrate can save you money), and you may have to apply up to 6 applications and it still won’t kill certain vegetation, including woody plants.  Once again stake your design, mix the concentrate with water, mixing only what you will need for the measured area, spray evenly and repeat until all vegetation is killed off.  Now you can plant! Examples of natural herbicides are Burnout, Matran, Scythe, and Natures’s Avenger.

Speed is the final method; it involves stop mowing and plant directly into the lawn.  With a few simple steps to avoid soil disturbance you can begin planting immediately with this low cost, environmentally friendly method. This method works great if you are trying to establish a meadow. Select your plants, dig a hole about twice the diameter of the pot, shake off the loose dirt, place the plant in the hole and fill it with the soil from the area.  There is no need to amend the soil if you are choosing native plants, they do not need it!  All it will do is encourage strong growth of the weeds. Right plant, right place.  You can mulch deeply around the plants in the beginning until the plants begin to establish themselves and grow together to form “green mulch”.

As always, I encourage you to choose native plants to add to your newly established gardens as the local fauna has co-evolved with these native plants over thousands of years and they depend on each other for their survival.  You may see native pollinators on a non-native plant but many times it is not getting everything it needs nutritionally from that plant—like when we eat ice cream and other junk foods.  Your landscape can provide two things living creatures need, food source and a place to live, make it the best environment for them to not only survive but thrive in.  Please choose the best plants for this-Native Plants.

If you begin your site prep this spring it will be ready for fall planting.  You can stop by Cape Conservation Corps annual Fall Plant Fest for a great selection of native plants at low prices and speak to the many experts we will have on hand to answer your questions.  Happy Planting!

A True Winter Habitat Hero

By Stacey Wildberger

Our fourth Habitat Hero winner is Bill Rappoport, a Cape Conservation Corps board member and active volunteer with CCC.  Bill has spent the better part of 2018 installing a Milkweed Garden and converting his yard to native plants.  In addition to the many pollinator friendly native plants he has included several species of native milkweed.  Milkweed is he host plant for Monarch caterpillars, meaning they can only lay their eggs on milkweed as that is what the caterpillars eat when they hatch.

When the time came for “fall clean-up” Bill took what I call the Lazy Gardener approach and left the stems standing throughout his garden.  By leaving the stems he is allowing insects to safely overwinter in the pith of the stalks. This spring, the later the better, Bill will cut the stems back but leave 12-18” still standing as many of them will still house those insects.  Once the garden begins to pop up and green out you will not even notice those stems but it will be noticeable to our beneficial bugs.  In time the stems will break down and add organic matter (natural mulch) to the garden.

Another “lazy gardener” trick Bill has done is to leave many of his fall leaves in place or rake them into garden areas.  The leaves also make a perfect winter home to insects.  You will often find birds picking through the leaves to make those insects a tasty meal.  If you are lucky enough it may attract a Northern Flicker to this backyard buffet!

A “messy” yard should not be viewed in a negative light, it actually provides the right habitat for so many of the creatures we want to attract: those that benefit our gardens. If we rake away all the leaves and cut back the stems we are disposing of next year’s butterflies and beneficial bugs.

Leaving areas of your yard untouched you will also be providing habitat or shelter for a variety of birds and other wildlife species.  A good compromise if you don’t want the “mess” in the front of the house is to tidy up your front gardens and leave the back as untouched as possible.  Let the leaves lie, the stalks stand and leave some undisturbed bare soil for our many ground nesting native bees.  If the plant material is diseased, remove it but if it is just dead let it decay naturally, adding nutrients to the soil as it does.

This spring when Bill goes back to work on his butterfly garden he will be richly rewarded by his lazy approach to gardening.  He will have preserved the larvae, egg masses, hibernating bees, dormant spiders and loads of other hibernating insects. These beneficial bugs will emerge in his garden ready to pollinate his plants, destroy garden pests, nourish the baby birds and provide months of enjoyment as they flit among his native plants.

The following plants are just a few examples of plants that offer winter beauty in any garden:

  • Blue Wild Indigo Baptisia australis the large billowy seed heads make a striking winter view
  • Joe-Pye Weed Eutrochium spp. They hold their wrinkly leaves atop their tall hollow stems giving the birds a place to perch as they enjoy the seed heads
  • Culver’s Root Veronicastrum virginicum birds will delight in the seeds found on this often spooky silhouette in the cold winter months
  • Ironweed Vernonia spp. This super tall plant makes a nice accent against the winter skies as it stands up strong in the face of wind
  • Goldenrod Solidago spp. There are many species available for a range of conditions with their fluffy seed heads that catch your eye
  • Coneflowers Echinacea spp. long after purple has faded the seed heads stand erect and nourish many songbirds, particularly goldfinches
  • Native Grasses and sedges amongst which so many have attractive foliage to add winter interest as well as habitat and food source for insects and birds.

Cape Conservation Corps Membership Drive

CCC is fortunate to have a strong group of volunteers who come out to support our restoration efforts of the natural areas of our community.  In order to continue our efforts of restoration we also rely on funding in the form of donations, grants and memberships collection.  Your annual $20 CCC membership goes to supporting our restoration projects.

Please consider renewing for 2019 or becoming a new member.  There are 2 east ways to join or re-new

Visit our website at http://capeconservationcorps.org/product/yearly-dues/ and pay online or

Mail checks payable to Cape Conservation Corps 1223 River Bay Rd Annapolis MD 21409.  Please include your contact information (name/address/email/phone#)

Thank you for your continued support of our mission to ignite community pride in our native landscape through projects that promote stewardship, create healthy natural spaces and champion swimmable, fishable waterways.  We try to meet our vision through understanding our impact on the environment and quality in CSC, eliminating storm water runoff, controlling erosion, eradicating invasive plant species by replacing them with native plants.

Join us for a FREE EVENT

Identifying Native Bees with Sam Droege

Please mark your calendars for this remarkable lecture and stunning slides with Sam Droege on Friday March 22nd 7:00 PM (doors open 6:30 PM).  Sam is wildlife biologist at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.  Sam will be talking to us about the importance of native bees in our ecosystem and how to identify and name these beneficial insects.  The pictures contained in the slide show are truly remarkable and not to be missed.

Light refreshments provided.  Please bring your own adult beverages.  Admission is free!

A Carex for Every Condition

By: Stacey Wildberger

Let’s keep talking about grasses.  In the last blog I discussed how grasses are often overlooked and underused in our landscapes and some of the benefits of using native grasses.  I would like to talk about a group of native grasses that has a species for just about every growing condition—Carex.  I touched on them briefly last month but let’s take a look at some Maryland Native Carex that will add texture and beauty to your gardens!

DRY SHADE

Carex pensylvanica Pennsylvania sedge is a low growing grass with a tough disposition and spreading habit that makes an excellent shade groundcover. This ½-1’ sedge prefers part- to full-shade with dry to medium moisture.  It can tolerate moisture so it could even be used in a rain garden in dappled sun.  The soft, delicate arching leaves provide wispy clumps that spread and naturalize your space.  If you are looking for a lawn alternative, something to work in those dry, shady spots of Cape St Claire, this is the sedge for you!

 

 

Carex albicans White-tinged sedge is another native grass that would work well in the Cape with its part shade to full shade, and low moisture requirements. It will tolerate dry and even drought conditions.  Albicans will spread through rhizomes and self-seeding.  The 5-20’’ tall clumps have narrow, upright-arching bright green blades and are typically up to 16” wide.  They work best when planted in mass for a full foliage effect and offer year round interest.  I have planted this around the base of some shrubs to fill in a as groundcover and control weeds.

Carex appalachia Appalachian sedge is one I have used to stabilize a slight slope in the back part of my yard that has shady and dry conditions.  This sedge grows in dense mounded tufts that sweep along the slope with its willowy foliage.  This ‘moisture challenged’ sedge is another one that can be used to replace lawn in your hard to grow areas.  Used as erosion control, as a ground cover, in a rock garden or low maintenance beds this sedge will also provide a nectar to native insects, seeds for birds, and as a host plant for several butterflies.

 

 

MOIST SHADE

Another great choice for your landscapes is Carex amphibola Creek Sedge, this highly adaptable, shade tolerant grass prefers medium to moist, even wet soil.  Bright green mounds form attractive fountain-shaped clumps that can be very ornamental.  Use this sedge in shade gardens, rain gardens (can tolerate some sun if it stays moist), meadows and along streambanks.  It is deer resistant and a host plant for many skipper butterflies as well as food source for turtles (seed heads).

 

While we are still in the shady moist areas of the yard, let’s talk about Carex plantaginea Plantainleaf sedge. A 1-2’ tall sedge with red-purple at the base and bright green, broad evergreen leaves up to 1” across.  This stunning sedge prefers the shady, moist, rich woods areas.  I planted it in a wet spot of the yard this fall and cannot wait to see how it performs this coming year. With its bright foliage this would make an attractive ornamental plant but it offers wildlife benefits as well, it is a host plant to several woodland butterflies and the seeds are food source for woodland birds. This low maintenance plant will also add texture to shade gardens, act as a groundcover or a woodland trail border.

 

Carex grayi Grays sedge was one I found recently that work well in moist to wet shady conditions.  It forms slow spreading clumps with narrow shiny, upright semi-evergreen foliage.  The seed head forms a spiked club that turns green to a golden brown which makes for an interesting addition to the winter garden for year round enjoyment.

 

Carex glaucodea Blue wood sedge is another interesting clump forming ground cover that works in average to moist conditions in shade to part shade areas.  It can also tolerate some drought conditions. Blue wood sedge is typically found in wet woodlands or swampy grounds.  The evergreen foliage is a fine-textured, narrow grass-like blue-green leaf. This sedge would well in small group in a woodland garden, shade garden or rock garden and makes a lovely edging along a pathway or around a pond.

MOIST SUN

Carex lurida Lurid sedge has narrow bright yellow-green 1” leaves and grows up to 3’ tall when its “flower” stalk shoots up in the spring.  It thrives in sun to part sun in damp or wet areas making it a great addition to rain gardens and wet meadows.  This sedge works well planted in mass for erosion control, low maintenance gardens and wetland restoration areas.  This is another one with many wildlife benefits.  The Sedge Wren feeds and nests in large areas of wetland sedges, and it is the host plant for the Eyed Brown butterfly and several Skipper species and moths

 

Carex crinita fringed sedge works well in moist to wet up to standing water full sun so another great rain garden or pond addition or low lying areas of the yard.  It can even tolerate drier shady spots.  This short creeping evergreen sedge grows in dense clumps 2-3’ tall which sends up an arching flower in late spring.  Fringed sedge has similar wildlife benefits as the lurid sedge—another favorite nesting spot of the Sedge wren as well as a host for Eyed Brown butterfly, skippers and moths.

 

 

The emergent Carex stricta Tussock sedge is a favorite of mine around my pond.  This moisture, sun loving sedge forms colonies with underground rhizomes.  Its fountain like bright green foliage makes a beautiful addition to wetlands, bio-swales, and storm water projects.

 

 

And finally, Carex vulpinoidea fox sedge thrives in part to full sun wet areas.  This sedge is useful for wetland restoration, erosion control, storm water management and wildlife gardens.  The delicate arching foliage is mostly evergreen creating year round beauty in the landscape.  The seed and rising spike turn a deep brown color in autumn.

I hope you will consider using a Carex or two in your landscapes to add texture, color and movement to the garden.  Many of these sedges are beneficial to wildlife by providing both coverage, and food for birds or caterpillars.  The benefits to storm water management, erosion control and wetland restoration are also an important reason to use these beauties.

Native Grasses: Overlooked and Underused

By: Stacey Wildberger

As I looked around at the Cape Conservation Corps Plant Fest last month, I saw the colorful, late blooming, and pollinator plants head out first. The goldenrods, asters, turtle head and of course the milkweed because by now everyone knows the important role they play for monarch butterflies-their only larval host plant. The fall blooming perennials are just as important to fuel the monarchs for their fall migration. But I also noticed that the grasses were left behind. It started me thinking that many people are not aware of all of the benefits native grasses have to offer. They do not have the same pizzazz sitting on the table as the aforementioned blooming perennials, and sometimes they are cut back so their full beauty is often hidden. They sit there-waiting for someone to discover their unique qualities.

Let’s take a look at what benefits native grasses can offer to your landscape. Because they are native they are well adapted to our climate conditions. They are attuned to our climate, moisture, diseases and pests. Therefore they perform well in these conditions. Being well suited to the environment allows them to remain low maintenance, to decrease their dependence on water, and to eliminate the need to use fertilizer because they typically thrive in poor soil conditions.

Grasses also have high wildlife value. Many native butterflies depend on our native grasses to lay their eggs as a larval host plant.  Many of the often overlooked skipper butterflies are threatened with habitat loss. The grasses provide a place for larvae (caterpillars) to build a shelter at the base of the plant by weaving blades of grass together, providing for both their food and shelter needs. The seeds of the grasses provide food for many birds and small mammals. Birds also use parts of the grasses as nesting material.

Another important benefit of native grasses is erosion control. Their dense root systems with small fibers loosen and hold soil, allowing stabilization of slopes during sudden downpours and windstorms which prevents loss of soil and controls erosion. Native grasses roots run deep, typically 3-5’ and as much as 15’. The roots die and regenerate adding rich organic material to the soil and recycling nutrients. By absorbing and filtering water they help to control erosion. Their fibrous nature can also choke out weeds and control weeds- an added bonus!

One of my favorite quotes by author Benjamin Vogt is “re-think pretty”. This adage can be applied to my final native grass benefit-aesthetics. There is no question in my mind that grasses lend a beauty to landscapes from the textures, colors, sights and sounds to the internal beauty they provide for ecosystem around them. Grasses create motion in the garden as they gently rustle in the background. They can invoke all of our senses from the vivid eye catching autumn colors on display in the golden seed heads of Indian grass, and the fragrant scent of prairie drop-seed, ranging from licorice to buttered popcorn. The texture we feel and experience with our hand and eye is unique to grasses. And who doesn’t love the whisper of the grasses in a warm summer breeze?  Grasses provide year round interest in your landscape; something for your eye to rest on in the dead of winter, seeing the snow highlighting the long forgotten seed head. They also improve the aesthetics around you. Their quick growing nature allows them to be used as privacy between neighbors, around patios, in high traffic areas and around unsightly equipment (HVAC), or even define an outdoor space. While all of these are important attributes, their contributions to the ecosystem are by far the prettiest thing about them.

So, let’s talk about some specific native grasses and their unique characteristics that make them a must have in your own landscapes.

Little blue-stem

Schizachyrium scoparium Little blue-stem is a warm season grass with stunning blue-green foliage turning to rose gold, red or maroon for a splendid fall display. It grows best in full sun, well drained poor soil. A common cultivar ‘standing g ovation’ can stand upright through the winter snow.

Prairie dropseed

Sporobolus heterolepis Prairie dropseed creates a fountain like effect with its fine textured slender blades. The fall colors are a show stopping yellow to bronze that will stand out in a dreary backdrop. The name drop-seed comes from its tendency to drop little round hard seeds when it is done blooming-which are gobbled up by songbirds.

Indian grass

Sorghastrum nutans Indian grass is a striking grass that can grow 5-7’. It thrives in full sun and is adaptable to a variety of soil conditions. The golden seed heads of autumn not only provide a beautiful sight for our eye but they double as an attractive food source for birds.

Switchgrass

Panicum virgatum Switchgrass is another warm season clump forming grass. It features an open, lacy spray of small seeds. The straight species stands up to 6’ tall but there are many cultivars that would fit into a garden setting Switchgrass offers a variety of year round interest from the reddish purple seed head to pale yellow of fall blades lasting into winter. Seeds are consumed by song and game birds, and it provides cover and nesting material for birds and is the host plant for most banded skippers and satyrs.

Carex Sedges are the final native grass I’ll touch briefly on. They are a very large group of grasses that I could write a whole article on. There is virtually a Carex for type of soil, moisture, light condition you can have.  A few of my favorites are C. pensylvanica , C. albicans, C. appalachica  and C. amphibola. There are just too many to list. Stay tuned for Native Carexes!!

I urge you to consider using these and many of the other wonderful native grasses in your landscapes. The benefits to the ecosystem are immeasurable as we must remember who we are gardening for. And their beauty to our eye is a bonus as their true beauty is reaped for the flora and fauna around them. Re-think pretty.

Backyard Baby Critters

By: Stacey Wildberger

We are fortunate to live in a community with such diversity of flora and fauna and to have so many caring people who provide habitat in their landscapes and who want to help sick or injured wildlife.  While there are times human intervention is the right thing to do, often times we can do more harm than good.  It is fine to let nature take its course as I firmly believe in survival of the fittest:  they are all parts of a larger food web. The natural order of the wildlife community should be honored and respected.  Here is a look at a few animals, their caring for their young, their place in the cycle of life, and how you can help.

Let’s start with rabbits, specifically Eastern Cottontails that have made their home in my side yard.  They typically mate from March to September and have litters of 3-8 babies at a time and up to 5 litters per year! They typically build shallow nests of grass and fur in grassy areas right in the middle of your yard.  Most predators won’t venture into the open so it is a safe option.  If you stumble upon a nest in your yard, it is best not to move it to an area you deem safer.  Mama rabbit knew what she was doing.  She comes back twice a day to feed and groom the little ones, avoiding being spotted and drawing attention to the nest.  If you notice babies visibly injured, bleeding or missing limbs, you could intervene at that point by contacting a rehabber or let nature take care of it. One step you can take to prevent injuries is to check your lawn for nests prior to mowing and mark the area with a flag or small marker so you know where they are.  After predators, lawn mowers and weed whackers are the biggest threat to the babies.

I also often see people “rescue” baby squirrels.  Gray squirrels are the most common in the Cape.  They have 2 litters per year between December and February then again between May to June with anywhere between 2-6 young at a time.  Their nest is typically in the forks of trees, consisting mainly of dry leaves and twigs. If you come across a baby out of the nest the best course is to determine if it is injured.  If not, do not handle the baby, leave it on the ground where you found it, the mother will retrieve it.  If it is injured avoid over handling it, place it gently in a box with ventilation and contact a rehab center.

One of the most misunderstood and most abused animals is the opossum.  I personally think they are adorable. Some people are scared of opossums, feel threatened by them, or think they are rabid.  In reality they are one of the most docile, harmless critters you will come across.  Their defenses include freezing and playing sick by drooling and swaying, which is why people think they are rabid.  They have extremely efficient immune systems and low body temperatures so they are resistant to rabies.  A benefit to having them around is they can eat up to 4,000 ticks a day, reducing the spread of Lyme disease. Opossums breed between January and July and babies are typically the size of a honeybee at birth.  They are the only marsupial found in North America, meaning the babies live and nurse in their mama’s pouch. If you come across a baby opossum please understand their importance and accept their place in the ecosystem.  If the animal is less than 7” he is still in need of care by the mother.  Stand very quietly and listen for “sneezing” sounds the baby uses to call to its mother.  If the animal is over 7” then he is just a juvenile and not needing intervention or care.  He is best left alone.  It is illegal to care for opossums unless you are licensed rehabber.  If the animal is injured or you truly believe it to be orphaned or abandoned then contact a local rehab center.

Raccoons, on the other hand are considered a vector species, meaning they can transmit rabies to humans and other animals:  you should never handle them bare handed if at all, and they should never be trapped and relocated.  Raccoons typically breed from January through mid-March with an average brood of 2-5 kits.   The female raises them into the fall.  Baby raccoons do not become nocturnal until adulthood so they can often be found wandering away from their mother during the day while she sleeps.  If you spot a baby alone it does not mean it is orphaned.  If you have determined it truly needs help, contact a vector-licensed rehabber (not all rehabbers can take vector species).

Deer are often seen in abundance in the Broadneck peninsula.  Unfortunately due to development their habitat is shrinking rapidly and they are visiting our yards more often.  Fawns are often found alone and mistakenly thought to have been lost.  If the fawn is lying down calmly and quietly their mother is nearby. She will only visit their babies a few times per days to nurse them so they can avoid attracting predators.  Leave the fawn as you found her.  The mother, though wary of human smell will return, but only after you left.  If the baby is wandering and crying incessantly for a long period she may need help, in this case contact a licensed wildlife rehabber.

Another common Cape mammals is the fox, also a vector species of rabies. They are not nocturnal and can be seen throughout the day, especially when raising their young.  Foxes breed from January through March with an average litter size of 4-5 kits.  Babies are often left alone for long periods of time while their parents are hunting for food.  They stay around the den playing until they are old enough to join hunting trips.  If they appear energetic and healthy leave them alone.  If you have reason to believe that both parents are dead then contact a vector-licensed rehabber.

To find a rehabilitator, contact the USDA Wildlife Service at (877) 463-6497, and here are a few links:

http://dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/Pages/plants_wildlife/rehabilitators.aspx

http://www.arkofva.org/

http://www.mary.cc/rehabbers1.html#md

http://mwrawildlife.org/wildlife-resources/referral-directory/

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