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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/

Native Fall Plant Sale & Festival

By: Stacey Wildberger

Cape Conservation Corps is gearing up to bring you our 2nd Annual Native Fall Plant Sale & Festival.  The event held September 22nd from 9am-12pm in the field behind the clubhouse (1223 River Bay Rd Annapolis) is all about providing an opportunity to easily add natives to our home landscapes at a low cost!  It is often times difficult to locate true natives locally.  Although there are several reasonably close locations such as Adkins Arboretum, Chesapeake Natives, and Herring Run nursery that offer wonderful native selections, CCC will be right in your own backyard.  Our native plant selection committee tried to order plants that are best suited for our Cape yards—typically dry shade.  We also tried to have a selection of fall blooming plants such as asters, goldenrod and turtle head as well as many plants offering gorgeous fall color such as cinnamon fern, pink muhly grass, switch grass, little bluestem, and shrubs that will display radiant autumn colors such as ninebark, Virginia sweet spire and bayberry.

As I discussed in the August article, fall is the best time of the year to plant and we will have so many wonderful options to choose from.  All of our plants are native plants which mean they have co-evolved with the local fauna and therefore provide the best food source, host plant and shelter for them. There are many insects that can only lay their eggs on one type of plant, one that they have evolved with and without that host plant the species would be lost.  We will have ferns, groundcovers, grasses, perennials and shrubs.  Below is a sample of what we will (subject to availability) have at the sale.

Our selection of ferns includes the marginal wood fern, cinnamon fern and Christmas fern.  Ferns are a great addition to a woodland area, shade garden or as shade border. All of these ferns will thrive in shade to part shade conditions, the cinnamon fern would prefer moist to wet conditions while the other two would be fine in the dryer areas of your yard.

Cinnamon Fern

If you are looking for grasses we will have 8 different ones to choose from.  These ornamental native grasses will add fall and winter interest to your landscapes as well as provide seeds for birds and even turtles. If you are looking for grasses for those shady, dry areas we will have white-tinge sedge, Appalachian sedge and Pennsylvania sedge. If the shaded area is moister the creek sedge would work well.  We also have several grasses for the sun such as pink muhlygrass, switchgrass ‘North Wind’, and little bluestem (these last two would work well in your rain garden!). Many of these grasses thrive in poor soil conditions.

Little Bluestem

One important layer we often neglect is the groundcover layer.  Using plants as “green mulch” helps to retain water and control weeds.  Weeds thrive in under planted areas but if you use plants in place of mulch you will have a beautiful green layer of weed suppressing plants.  Our selection will include packera aurea, green and gold and a low growing shrub known as fragrant sumac that can be pinned down to encourage ground coverage.   The green and gold will do best in part to full shade with average to moist soil, the golden ragwort and sumac can handle part shade to sun.  One of my favorites is the golden ragwort for its amazing basal leaves that maintain their green throughout the winter and provide a rapid coverage.

Green and Gold

 

Turtlehead

Since fall is the best time to plant we also have a great selection of fall flowering perennials for immediate color in addition to a great selection of plants that will provide spring and summer color next year.  The combination of goldenrod (yellow) and the purple of the asters is not only beautiful and eye catching to us but it provides a welcome spot for migrating monarchs to stop and fuel up for their long journey.  We will have a show stopping variety of goldenrod known as ‘Fireworks’ and two varieties of low growing asters-‘October Skies’ and ‘Purple Dome’.  Speaking of monarchs don’t forget to stock up on milkweed (their host plant) for next year’s butterflies.  We will have swamp milkweed (pinkish-purple bloom) for sunny moister areas and butterfly weed (orange bloom) for sunny dry areas.   Another host plant we will have is turtle head for the hard to find Baltimore checkerspot butterfly (the Maryland State butterfly). There is also a large selection of sun loving pollinator magnets such as bee balm, obedient plant, black eyed Susan’s, coneflowers, Joe-Pye weed, NY ironweed, and phlox.  Of course we added some pollinator friendly shade plants as well including white wood aster, “lynnhaven’ carpet and a Heuchera ‘Autumn Bride’.

Finally, we will have a great selection of shrubs.  Many would be a great addition to a part shade to sunny raingarden such as inkberry, winterberry, witch hazel and itea would work in a shadier moist area.  These shrubs will provide food for many song birds, winter interest and will even offer shelter or nesting areas and can act as a privacy fence.  If you are looking for a native hydrangea, consider the oak leaf hydrangea with its attractive white changing to purplish/pink bloom. In addition to being a beautiful fall and winter interest shrub it will naturalize and form a beautiful hedge.  Another attractive fall and winter shrub is the bayberry.  Its fragrant leaves and showy fruit will attract birds as well.

Oak Leaf Hydrangea

In addition to these wonderful native plants we will have experts from Master Gardeners, Master Naturalist, and Watershed Stewards Academy on hand to answer your question and provide information about their programs. Cape St Claire landscape designer Chris Pax will be on hand to give a “tour” of the plants and will tell you which plants will work best together and in which conditions.  Nancy Lawson, author (The Humane Gardener) wildlife blogger, and speaker (she was CCC’s guest speaker in February) will be on hand as well to talk about gardening for wildlife and recommending host plants!

The complete list of plants is here:Plant List 2018

Planting your Autumn Garden

By: Stacey Wildberger

Typically when we think about gardening and adding new plants we think Spring but Fall is an optimal time to plant as well (shameless plug coming).  Cape Conservation Corps will be hosting our 2nd Annual Fall Native Plant Sale and Festival September 22nd at the field behind the clubhouse.  We will have many types of plants such as ferns, groundcovers, shrubs, and herbaceous plants, many for fall blooms and foliage.

Fall is an ideal time to plant as it gives a whole season to establish their roots without the stress of heat and drought and the worry of holding onto their leaves and flowers.  They are able to concentrate on growing stronger through underground growth.

It is important to have something blooming in all seasons starting with spring for early pollinators.  A few good examples of plants to plant in the fall for early blooming would be Baptisia sp ., False Indigo, Zizia aurea- golden Alexander, Geranium maculatum- wild geranium and one of my early favorite (and the hummingb irds) is Aquilegia Canadensis-  Eastern Red Columbine.  Baptisia Australis is a beautiful almost shrub like plant with spikes of purple blooms, golden Alexander makes a wonderful green mulch with its evergreen foliage, and the wild  geraniums are a breathe of freshness in the early spring.

The summer months our gardens are lighting up with colorful blooms filled with pollinators.  Plant some Echinacea coneflowers this fall to entice many species of butterflies, native bees and colorful flies. Phlox Paniculata– Tall Garden Phlox will add a beautiful pop of color in the summer as well as attract butterflies.  I talk about the monarch butterflies quite often and their requirement for milkweed as the host plant for their eggs, fall is a great time to add one (or all!) of the three varieties of native milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa, syriaca and incarnata–Butterfly Weed, Common Milkweed and Swamp Milkweed.

Coneflowers

When I think of fall flowers I always think of yellow of Solidago Goldenrod and purple Asters blooming together. Pick some of each of these pollinator plants and the monarchs will be able to fuel up for their long migration.  There are also many native grasses that put on fall color show.  Consider Panicum– switchgrass, Sorghastrum nutans– Indiangrass, and Schizachyrium scoparium– Little Bluestem for an explosion of autumn color.

If you leave the leaves and stems standing throughout the winter (that’s right save yourself the chore of cutting the grasses, and perennials) you will be rewarded with a garden full of Winter Interest, and you will be providing habitat for overwintering insects, and food sources for songbirds as they pick through the leaf litter and stalks.

In addition to being a great time to plant you can divide many of the perennials you have growing in your yard and share them with friends or make new garden beds right in your own yards.

Here are a few plants to consider for fall division and transplanting: Iris, Sedges, Wild Ginger, Spiderwort, Alumroot, Purple Coneflower, Wild Bergamot, Coreopsis, False Goatsbeard, Woodland Stonecrop, Pussytoes, Mountain Mint, Solomon ’s seal, Golden Ragwort, Mistflower, Black-Eyed Susan, and Phlox.

Black-eyed Susan

There are two ways to dig and divide the plants:

  1. Dig the entire plant out
  2. Cut it in 1/4, 1/3, or 1/2 depending on the size of the root mass
  3. Transplant each portion
  4. Keep plants moist throughout

OR

  1. Leave ½ the plant untouched in the ground
  2. Dig around the other ½
  3. Start by cutting back the foliage
  4. Use a shovel to cut around remaining plant
  5. Remove and transplant into new location
  6. Keep plant moist throughout

Not all plants can be divided; there are many plants that have a large or deep taproot.  The bigger and older they are the more the taproot is firmly entrenched, the less likely you will be successful.  Some plants that you should leave alone when dividing are milkweeds, coneflowers, compass plant and wild indigo.

Common Milkweed

As always, I recommend leaving your leaves lay as natural mulch and foraging material for birds and overwintering insects as well as leaving the stalks and stems stand into late spring- again for overwintering insects as well as winter interest.  If we re-think pretty and garden compassionately we can save ourselves many fall chores that are unnecessary and not good for the ecosystem.  Happy Fall Gardening! See you at the Cape Conservations Corps’ 2nd Annual Fall Native Plant Sale & Festival.  September 22nd 9am-12pm.

A Weed by Any Other Name, Any Name PLEASE!

By: Stacey Wildberger

The word “weed” has such a nasty and undesirable connotation.  We hear the word and we immediately want to rip out the offending plant or worse yet, spray it with awful herbicides.  Merriam-Webster defines a weed as “a plant that is not valued where it is growing: one that tends to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants”.  I disagree with this definition because many of the plants growing in my yard have “weed” right in the name and these ‘”weeds” are not only valued by me but by the many species of wildlife that benefit from these weeds.  Until all native plants get a better marketing strategy, please look beyond the names and consider the plants value in your landscape.

I have 3 types of Asclepias sp. milkweed growing in my yard-Incarnata swamp milkweed, Tuberosa butterfly weed and Syriaca common milkweed.  I enjoy their beautiful colors but more importantly this “weed” is the only plant that the Monarch Butterfly will lay her eggs on.  This is the only host plant for the Monarch caterpillars.  When the eggs hatch the caterpillars rely on the milkweed plant to sustain them through the 5 instars stages before becoming a chrysalis and then a beautiful butterfly.  Without this weed we would have no monarchs.

Swamp milkweed

Another weed growing in my yard is the Eutrochium purpureum Joe-Pye-weed the gorgeous vanilla-scented rosy pink flowers are a butterfly magnet.  Last summer the swallowtail butterflies swarmed this plant.  It can grow to a towering 4-7’ and is ideal in perennials gardens and butterfly gardens.  You can get shorter varieties if the height scares you! You will often find moth species and other pollinators on Joe-Pye-weed.

Joe-Pye weed

Vernonia noveboracensis New York Ironweed is another tall growing butterfly magnet.  This tall, narrow plant will fit nicely in the back of the garden as beautiful border plant.  The reddish-purple blooms will not only serve as nectar source for many types of butterflies but the seed heads can be left up throughout the winter to nourish many small songbirds.

New-York Ironweed

Along my side steps and among the front garden I have Helenium autumnale or commonly called sneezeweed.  Not only does the name contain the offensive word weed but they have added sneeze to its name, causing some to think it induces an allergy attack! I can honestly say this plant does not cause excessive sneezing unless you are using the dry leaves as snuff to rid your body of evil spirits as it was thought to do.  It does however attract an array of butterflies and small pollinators.  This late summer to fall bloomer can be excellent sources of energy as monarch start their fall migration.

Sneezeweed

One of early spring bloomers that flowers for several months is the dainty pink flower of the Dicentra eximia, commonly known as wild bleeding heart but it also has been referred to as staggerweed.  The lovely heart shaped flower and fern like foliage looks beautiful in my shaded woodland area and is an excellent source of nectar for early pollinators.  There is nothing weedy about this plant!

Staggerweed

As we continue to investigate the weeds growing in my yard we cannot forget about the aquatic ones growing in my pond.  The Pontederia cordata or pickerelweed has a beautiful purple bloom that is not attractive to our eye but an important habitat for frogs and fish.  It is also a food source fort ducks, turtles and other wetland critters.

Pickerelweed

 

Another gem that is referred to as a weed is Impatiens capensis or jewelweed.  This spotted orange flower attracts hummingbirds as the opening is perfectly adapted for these popular birds to reach the nectar.  This annual plant will self-sow to replenish itself each year.  Before you deem it a weed and yank it out consider what you are giving up, the joy of a flittering hummingbird on a bright summer day!   I have been told the leaves of this “jewel” can be used to treat poison ivy!

Jewelweed

Finally, the misunderstood Phytolacca americana or American Pokeweed.  This tall, large leaved branching plant have clusters of white flowers that becomes a dark purple berry will nourishes many birds in early to late fall.  Although the berries and roots can be poisonous the newly emerging shoots are often gathered before they turn pink and cooked and eaten (I do not recommend trying this!). The berry juice was used as dye by colonists.

Pokeweed

 

The next time you are deciding on what plants to add to your gardens please do not disregard a plant because it has weed in its name.  Instead take the time to get to know the plant and understand its important place in our landscapes.  Many of those weeds are not weeds at all but rather an important part of the ecosystem with a high value in creating biodiversity.

The Lazy Gardener

By: Stacey Wildberger

There are so many things on our to-do lists everyday wouldn’t it be nice to remove a few unnecessary gardening chores permanently?  While there is no such thing as a no maintenance landscape we can certainly have a low maintenance one by eliminating steps that are not only not needed but in some cases can cause more harm than good to our landsca pes.

  • Stop Tilling-when it is time to start a new garden or prepare an existing area for planting many people reach for the heavy equipment and till the soil but what you may not realize is that you are killing the microorganisms that keep the soil alive! Plants need these organisms to thrive—their nutrition, water and even defense against chemicals, diseases, and insects are in the soil. By turning it up you destroy the billions of microorganisms that have been working the soil for millions of years
  • Stop Weeding-pulling weeds causes soil disturbance which leads to seed disturbance and promotes more weeds. While we certainly don’t want our gardens taken over by weeds, consider trimming the weeds off at the soil level rather than ripping out the whole plant.  I have found a tool that works well for this—a Garden Hoe.  It has along handle with a sharp edge at the bottom of a triangular piece that, when you swipe it across the weed cuts it off at the soil level and provides for minimal soil disturbance.  It may sound like a chore but in the long run you will reduce the amount of weeds that are coming up by not digging into the seed bank.
  • Use a Green Mulch layer-this is another great way to reduce the amount of weeds that show up thereby reducing the amount of weeding that needs to be done. By using plants as “mulch” you will have a nice layer of green to keep the weeds at bay.  Some of my favorites are Packera Aura Golden Ragwort,  Chrysogonum virginianum Green and Gold, Antennaria Pussytoes, and Salvia lyrata Lyreleaf Sage.  There are always many native grasses that would work in this layer. Plant them closer together than any plant tag will tell you to do-about 10-12” so they grow together quicker a form a protective green mulch in your gardens to crowd out weeds.
  • Plant in layers-we talked about our green mulch layer but by having multiple layers at differing heights you will not only shade out the weeds but also cool the soil which will conserve water (less watering=less work). A good rule of thumb is the ground cover (green mulch) layer be less than a foot tall (50-60%), the next layer should be about 2-4’ in height (30-40%), followed by a smaller group of taller plants in the 5-8’ range (10-20%).  Not only will layering save time on watering, weeding and fertilizer it is also more beneficial to wildlife—including our beneficial pollinators.  (Benjamin Vogt)
  • Skip the Spring Clean-up-it is perfectly fine to leave the garden a “little messy” and begin to re-think pretty (did you read the March article “Re-Think Pretty”).  The later in spring you can wait to cut last year’s stalks (because remember we leave the stalks standing for overwintering pollinators) the more beneficial those stems are.  When you do begin to cut them back leave 12-18” standing: the plants will grow and hide the stalks but the beneficial bugs will still benefit from this messiness.  Try to leave the cuttings in place, let them lie in the garden as a natural “fertilizer’ and provide the plants with much needed  nutrients; many song birds will also forage in the messiness.
  • Plant Natives-you didn’t think I’d get through the whole article and not mention natives did you?  If we match the right plant to the right place we have just made gardening that much easier on ourselves.  Natives require less water, less prep and less maintenance and thrive in areas where they have co-evolved with native beneficial bugs over hundreds of thousands of years.   Understand what soil conditions the plant requires, as well as how big will it grow in its ideal conditions.  Be sure to consult reliable online sites for more detailed information than a plant tag tells you. Instead of wasting time and money getting your soil amended to the conditions required for a plant, buy plants that fit the conditions you already have.  Many native plants actually thrive in “poor” soil conditions and will get leggy and flop if they are in “rich’ soil.  Asclepsis sp. Milkweed is the perfect example of this. Your rocky, sandy, clay soil does not have to be amended with tons of topsoil and compost to make the soil more plantable.  Plants can have deep roots that grow beyond the soil you have amended and they eventually reach the native soil and don’t know what to do.  Use a soil test to see what type of soil you have so you can match the right plant to that place , but don’t spend money or time on fertilizers to keep an unhappy plant in that place, remove it and find one that likes the spot as is! Finding the native plants that thrive in the soil you have and you will save time and money.
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