Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

First Wednesday Challenge: Every Day Needs A Night

 Wildlife are increasingly threatened by artificial light at night.

Southeastern USA from NASA

When I step outside at night I can barely find my favorite constellations. Because of development a lot has changed in my neighborhood; the tree canopy has been reduced, monocultural lawns have replaced the bee friendly lawns and the mega houses have exterior up lighting on every remaining tree. Standing in my driveway I can see eave lights, porch lights and landscape lighting that's on all night. All of it helping to obscure the night sky. 

from my driveway 7:21pm

But my missing the constellations is small potatoes compared to the effect that artificial light at night has on birds, amphibians, insects and mammals. Especially those that are nocturnal (sleep during the day, and move about at night). The lit up night harms wildlife and ecosystems.

According to research scientist Christopher Kyba, for nocturnal animals “the introduction of artificial light probably represents the most drastic change human beings have made to their environment.”

“Predators use light to hunt, and prey species use darkness as cover,” Kyba explains. “Near cities, cloudy skies are now hundreds or even thousands of times brighter than they were 200 years ago. We are only beginning to learn what a drastic effect this has had on nocturnal ecology.” (source)

 


The night is full of life and activity. That's when nocturnal creatures like bats, raccoons, most owls, skunks, coyotes, opossums, deer, many amphibians, and insects are out and about. I didn't know until I listened to Bug Banter , a Xercis Society podcast, that about 60% of insects rely upon darkness for orientation, navigation, avoidance of predators, location of food and reproduction. Many nocturnal and crepuscular (out at dawn and dusk) insects use celestial light sources such as stars and the moon as visual cues for movement across landscapes. All plants, animals and humans living on Earth are genetically adapted to regular day/night/seasonal cycles that have, in many places on the planet, been completely interrupted by the glow created by artificial lights.(source)

For all of evolutionary history the night has been totally dark. What we've done in lighting up the night is unprecedented and has had a huge impact on critters.

Artificial lights effect on critters

  • Some critters are attracted to the light and end up where they should not be. Moths for example are attracted to street lights and are easy prey for predators.
  • It repels some organisms and they lose their habitat.
  • Allows some critters to out compete others when the "longer day" means longer hunting time. 
  • Insects are in decline and recent research suggests that AL is one of the causes. Insects are  essential components of all terrestrial food webs, and any losses in insect biomass are likely to have widespread ecological ramifications.
  • It alters the day/night patterns, resulting in not getting enough sleep, not having enough down time for the body to repair itself.
  • It alters reproductive cycles. 
  • It messes with insect movement and migration.
  • Birds that migrate or hunt at night navigate by moonlight and starlight. Migratory birds depend on cues from properly timed seasonal schedules. Artificial lights can cause them to migrate too early or too late and miss ideal climate conditions for nesting, foraging, and other behaviors. It can also cause them to be attracted to illuminated building where they can collide and die. (source)
  • Seeing the night sky is important to one's quality of life and should not be dismissed as unimportant.
  • Research suggests that artificial light at night can negatively affect human health, increasing risks for obesity, depression, sleep disorders, diabetes, breast cancer and more.

 

Luna Moth

 We Can Help Save The Night

1. Turn off lights when not in use.

2. Turn of lights at 11pm until 6 am. Especially during spring and fall bird migration, but really every   night to help all the critters in our gardens.

3. Keep blinds and drapes closed at night.

4. If at all possible try to not drive at night.

5. Shield out door lights so they point downwards.

6. Access your light use: Do you really do you need to up-light your trees?

7. Concerned about safety around home? Use motion detectors.

8. Choose warm light bulbs that are only as light as necessary. Light bulbs should be 3000k or warmer to meet International Dark-Sky Association friendly criteria.

9. Educate others about the importance of reducing light pollution and how to do it. Share your thoughts on social media and on neighborhood listserves.  Encourage your neighbors, local businesses, and government agencies to implement measures to reduce light pollution.

10. Let your city officials know about your concerns. Get involved in local initiatives to reduce light pollution from artificial lights.

11. Become a citizen scientist and help measure light pollution in your community.

12. Join Dark Sky International and Bird Safe Nashville.

 


 

 

We can and must make a difference in our world.

xoxogail


Resources

Dark Sky Society

ALAN_DB/Zotero:

 Xercis Society

World Migratory Bird Day 

Bird Cast showing bird migration maps in real time


First Wednesday Monthly Challenge



Want to Take the Taking Care of Wildlife In Our Gardens Challenge?

The first part of this challenge is to do something, even lots of things, each month that support the critters living in our gardens. Gardening with native wildflowers, shrubs and trees that make sense for our ecoregion is a good place to start or continue (as the case may be). Plants and their pollinators are a classic example of mutualism: they have coevolved through evolutionary time in a reciprocal beneficial relationship. This is also true for other critters that visit and live in our gardens. 

Activities that increase our knowledge of the natural world are equally as valuable. Helping others learn about nature is included. Golly gee whiz, there are so many things you can do. 

The second part of the challenge is to post about it somewhere: Your blog, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or even your neighborhood listserve. Wouldn't an article in the local paper be a coup for nature! Why post it? Because positive publicity is needed to educate our friends, neighbors and communities about how important even the smallest changes we make as gardeners can be for pollinators, birds, insects and mammals, including humans, that live all around us. 

Why now? My neighborhood is changing. Yours might be, too. Every day an older home along with many (if not all) of the mature oak, hickory, maple, Eastern cedar and hackberry trees are cut down. Insects, birds, even mammals lose their home site and food supplies when we lose trees. During construction soil is compacted by bulldozers, trucks and piles of debris cause runoff; surface runoff that can carry pollution to streams and rivers. It's important that our neighbors and our community have information about how important trees are to our ecosystem. Trees contribute to their environment by providing oxygen, improving air quality, climate amelioration, conserving water, preserving soil, and supporting wildlife.

In place of the "bee lawns" composed of Claytonia, Salvia lyrata, Ruellia humilis, fleabane, Western Daisy, Violets, self-heal, clovers, native grasses (in my neighborhood it's poverty oat grass) and sedges, they're being sodded with non-native grasses. These monoculture turf lawns contribute nothing environmentally. Here's what we lose when our diverse lawns are replaced with pristine turf grass:

  • Gone are the lightening bugs.
  • Gone are the ground dwelling/nesting native bees.
  • Gone is the habitat for insects, spiders and other critters. 
  • Gone is plant diversity. 
  • Gone are trees that provided for hundreds of moths, butterflies and other insects.
  • Gone are the nesting sites for woodpeckers, hummingbirds, Chickadees and other birds. 
  • Gone is a healthy foodweb.

 It breaks my heart. 

We can't stop the progmess, but, maybe we can make a lot of educational noise and help our new neighbors see the value in providing for critters and ultimately helping the environment.

A gardener can hope! 

xoxoGail



Here's an incomplete list of things you might consider doing or changing in your garden, and things you can do for and/or in your community. But don't limit yourself to my list, make your own list or check out the internet for ideas.

 

Looking for ways to get involved go here for a list of environmental advocacy groups.

Buy the best wildflower, butterfly and bird id books for your state.

Read nature books to your children and grandchildren. Buy them nature books.

Get in the garden with your children and grandchildren.

Give nature books as baby shower gifts (Nature books for infants and toddlers)

Shrink your lawn and make your planting beds larger.

Plant your favorite native perennials and shrubs. Leave them standing after they've gone to seed to continue to provide for wildlife. What you plant in your yard makes a difference to wildlife. I garden for wildlife so every tree, shrub and plant is chosen with wildlife in mind.


 

Plant more natives and then consider planting even more. "A typical suburban landscape contains only 20-30% native plant species. Try reversing that trend in your own landscape by using 70-80% native species." (source

Plant for bloom from late spring to early winter. Bees are most active from February to November (longer in mild climates) late winter blooming Hamamelis vernalis and the earliest spring ephemerals (like the toothworts, hepaticas, spring beauties, and False rue-anemeone) are perfect plants for a variety of pollinators.

Commit to never, ever, ever, ever using pesticides in the garden.

Stay away from native plant hybrids and cultivars that are double flowered. They are sterile and have no pollen or nectar for insects and no seeds for the birds. If possible plant “true open-pollinated native wildflowers”

If you want to garden for wildlife and pollinators, don't let lack of space stop you! Plant your favorite wildflowers in large containers. You just might have the prairie or woodland garden you've always wanted...in a pot!
 
Create a water feature. Provide water year round that is accessible to birds, bees and other critters.

Make a rain garden in low spots to collect and mitigate runoff.

Show some soil! Our native ground nesting bees nest in bare soil, so don't mulch every square inch of your garden. 

Get rid of the plastic weed barriers in your garden, it's not good for anything.

Invite bugs into your garden. Plant annuals that attract beneficial bugs.

 


Learn to tolerate damaged plants. Imperfection is the new perfect.

Don't be in a rush to clean up the fall garden. Leave plant stalks and seed heads standing all winter. Leave those fallen leaves or as many as you can tolerate! Insects over winter in the fallen and decaying leaves. Leave a layer of leaves as a soft landing material under trees for moths and butterflies to over winter. Many caterpillars drop to the ground from the trees in the fall and need a soft landing site and a place to live over the winter.

Allow a fallen tree to remain in the garden. Limbs on the ground are a perfect shelter for small animals such as rabbits, chipmunks and squirrels and a habitat for beetles, termites and other insects.


Make a brush pile. Stack fallen brush, cut tree limbs, broken pots for ground beetles. Ground beetles are excellent at eating "bad bugs". Bugs are also good bird, toad and small critter food. 

Rethink what you consider a pest. Lots of good bugs eat aphids. Spiders are important predators and they're great bird food!

Add nesting boxes for birds. 

Turn off your yard up-lighting, eave lights and porch lights after 11pm. This is important for nocturnal critters including mammals, snakes, insects, bats, birds (especially during migration). (Birdcast suggestions)

Plant shrubs and small trees that provide berries and nuts.

Keep a nature journal: You can observe visitors to your water feature, make note of when they visit. Notice which flowers attract the most pollinators and which ones are just pretty faces. 

Join your state native plant society (Tennessee Native Plant Society)

Join WildOnes even if there's no local group you can join the national organization.  (Middle Tennessee WildOnes)

Support your local native plant sellers. (GroWild in middle Tennessee, Overhill Gardens in east Tennessee,  Resource Guide TN Native Plant Society)

Encourage your local garden clubs to offer native plant talks.

If your garden club has a plant sale encourage them to sell more native plants.

Get trained as a naturalist (Tennessee Naturalist Program. Almost every state has their own Master Naturalist training program

Take an online course on tree, fungi and wildflower id. 

Take an online course on designing with native plants.

Take a walk in your neighborhood and observe nature. To quote Joanna Brichetto in Sidewalk Nature "Look Around. Nature is here, is us, our driveways, our baseboards, parks, and parking lots."

Read! There are hundreds of books on gardening for wildlife, the environment, and rewilding our world. There are delightful blogs with wonderful and informative articles.

If you are already gardening with wildlife in mind then add a few signs that help educate your neighbors. (Xerces Society, Pollinator Partnership)

Join the Xerces Society.

Set up an information station where neighbors can pick up brochures about your garden and other info. 

Get certified (National Wildlife Federation, check to see what your state offers)

Support trees by joining the effort to make sure developers don't remove more trees than are necessary for their project. Work to make sure there are tree removal permits and that they are actually enforced in your community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Wildflower Wednesday: Enemion biternatum

Welcome to  Clay and Limestone and the Wildflower Wednesday celebration of a sweet little spring ephemeral wildflower.

Enemion biternatum is lovely with delicate columbine like leaves and small white flowers. Small bees collect the pollen  and flies feed on it, but, they would search fruitlessly for nectar. It hasn't any nectaries.

It's been growing under an oak tree in my garden since before I moved here (that would be almost 40 years ago). The foliage appears in late winter, carpeting the ground, then the flowers open and the first of the  pollinators visit to  pollinate. It dies back in mid-summer making it a true spring ephemeral.
It's also growing in my little pocket wildflower garden under the Ostrya virginiana, which is a lovely understory and underappreciated native tree. Dutchman's Breeches was already growing there and I transplanted Trillium from the way back woodland. I also added toothwort and Spring Beauties that I transplanted from the now disappeared front lawn. Phacelia bipinnatifida, a delightful lilac flowering biennial was added after a friend gave me seedlings. Their dormant roots are sheltered by a large Carya ovata/shag bark hickory during the hot summer months, but, they magically reappear each spring.

Eastern False Rue-anemone, False Rue Anemone or Enemion biternatum is a sweet little Spring ephemeral in the Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). It's native to shady rich or calcereous woods & thickets; floodplain woods and limestone ledges (slightly alkaline soil) and is native to Middle Tennessee. The delicate looking foliage of False Rue Anemone emerges in late winter and makes a beautiful leafy mat that grows about 6 inches high. The flowers, scattered here and there,  emerge as the days warm and the bloom period is at least a month long. It would make a lovely ground cover, but, like all Spring ephemerals, grows, blooms, gets pollinated, sets seed in a short period of time before it fades and retreats back underground.

The white flowers occur individually or in groups of 2-3. The flower is small only about ¾" across, and has 5 petal-like sepals that are white, no petals, several slender stamens with yellow anthers, and a few green pistils in the center. The blooming period occurs during mid-spring and lasts about 3 weeks and if weather isn't too warm there may be flowers for a month.

Source

The pistils are replaced by beaked follicles (seedpods that split open along one side) that individually contain several seeds. You'll have to get down on all fours to see them, but, that's often the best view in a wildflower garden.

The lovely five 'petaled' (sepals) flowers with the showy yellow center stamens would look wonderful planted with Mertensia virginica, Thalictrum thalictroides, Trillium grandiflorum, Trillium cuneatum, Polemonium reptans, Phloxes, Geranium maculatum,  Phacelia bipinnatifida, Euonymus americanus, Philadelphus inodorus and Aesculus pavia. Plant them in rich loamy soil with full to partial sun and before long you'll have a small colony.

xoxogail



The particulars 

Common Name: false rue anemone  

Family: Ranunculaceae

AKA: Isopyrum biternatum

Type: Herbaceous perennial, Ephemeral



Native Range:

 Zone: 3 to 8 

Height: 0.50 to 0.75 feet 

Spread: 0.25 to 0.50 feet 

Bloom Time: March to April 

Bloom: White 

Sun: Part shade 

Water: Medium, rich soil helps

Maintenance: Low 

 


Flower: Showy. Anemone-like flowers (to 1/2" diameter) with 5 petal-like sepals and showy yellow center stamens

Foliage: Columbine like leaves

Habitat: open wooded slopes, river flood plains, rich woods and thickets. Colonizes

Wildlife value: Bees collect pollen, while fly visitors feed on pollen. Various beetles also feed on the pollen. Some of these insects probably search in vain for nectar, as the flowers lack nectaries. 

Comments: My favorite is from Missouri Department of Conservation: "This flower is often confused with (true) rue anemone, Thalictrum thalictroides. That species, however, has only bracts on the flowering stems (not complete leaves); it often has more than 5 sepals, which are sometimes pinkish; it is usually only found singly; and it prefers wooded slopes to moist bottomlands. False rue anemone and "true" rue anemone present a bit of difficulty for the budding naturalist, but meeting the challenge of learning how to identify the two similar plants helps us understand botany, and our world, better. Most members of this family are toxic, so be careful and don't eat it.

 


Wildflower Wednesday is about sharing wildflowers from your part of the world. Don't worry if you have nothing in bloom, you can still showcase one of your favorites. It doesn't matter if we sometimes show the same plants; how they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. I hope you join the celebration...It's always the fourth Wednesd

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

First Wednesday Challenge: Keystone Plants

When you plant your garden make sure you include keystone plants. They're the most important plants we should have or be adding to our gardens.

When I began a garden here at Clay and Limestone, I knew nothing about native plants. I tried all manner of plants that failed. But I eventually figured out that my garden had wonderful gifts for me. They were just waiting for me to appreciate them and when I did, I fell totally in love with wildflowers and the bees I discovered buzzing around them. How fortunate for this gardener or it would have taken many more years to discover the wonder of native plants and gardening for wildlife.

Hypericum frondosum supports 22 Lepidoptera species

I was lucky to make friends with Paul Moore who was probably my first role model for planting natives. Paul owned a garden center and it was the only IGC that offered native plants. What I didn't know at the time was that Paul's garden conditions were vastly different from mine. Many of the plants that he could grow thrived on acid soil, but, they did not thrive in mine. With more failures comes more learning.

Elm trees supports 201 Lepidoptera species

Around that time I chanced upon Dr Thomas Hemmerley's book, Wildflowers of the Central South. As it turned out, his book introduced me to concepts that I needed to learn if I was going to have any success at gardening in my difficult gardening conditions. I learned about Middle Tennessee micro-climates and about the unique wildflowers that grew only in the cedar glades. I was able to figure out that my garden was a xeric oak-hickory forest plant community with areas of extremely shallow soil and limestone bedrock just under the soil. The shallow, nearly neutral clay soil is hard as concrete during our dry summers and often wet and sticky during our rainy winters. No wonder everything I planted had died! I was planting all the wrong plants.

Joe-pye weed supports 32 species of Lepidoptera larvae

 I mulled over what I learned and concluded this: "My garden isn't a failure, but, trying to make it something that it isn't is the true failure. Take a look at what's already growing here. Appreciate and celebrate what you have."

So I did. I observed my yard throughout the growing season. I say yard because it really wasn't much of a garden back then.

Andrena nothoscordi, is a specialist pollinator of False Garlic (Nothoscordum bivalve).

Early the next spring I noticed wildflowers everywhere. There were Columbines, Trillium, Toothwort, False Garlic, rue anemone, false rue anemone, golden ragwort and Phlox divaricata.

In May, I found dozens of Penstemon calycosus growing in the wayback backyard in both the dry shade and in the the wet weather spring. I fell instantly in love and transplanted it everywhere! In the lawn I found sedges, Poverty oatgrass and  Lyre-leaf sage.
Lyre leafed sage/Salvia lyrata~for early visiting pollinators

Also growing in the lawn were Blue-eyed grasses, Downy Woodmint, the cutest little Panicums and a tiny daisy with lavender hints that wasn't even in my wildflower guide.

 

Symphyotrichum a powerhouse plant

 When fall arrived so did the woodland asters and the bumbles. They were all over them from sunrise to sunset.

Astranthium integrifolium/Entireleaf western daisy

It took me a few more years before I realized that wildflowers, as wonderful as they are, weren't the most important plants in my garden. I started adding shrubs and small trees, but it was still years before I truly appreciated that my garden was already blessed with Oaks, Hickories, Eastern Red cedars, Elms, Ashes, Hackberries, Redbuds, Dogwood species, Viburnums, and American hophornbeam trees. I didn't realize at the time that many were keystone plants that supported insects, birds, pollinators, and small mammals.

Ostrya virginiana supports 35 Lepidoptera species
 

A keystone plant is a plant that supports the life cycle of many species. They're trees and perennials that are crucial to the food web and necessary for many wildlife species to complete their life cycle. Without keystone plants in the landscape, butterflies, native bees, and birds will not thrive.

 

Oaks support 521 Lepidoptera species

Insects, especially caterpillars, are the prime source of food for most birds feeding their young. Keystone plants like Oaks, cherry, Beeches, Elms, Poplar, Pine and Hickory trees support 90% of caterpillar species. Keystone plants like Asters, perennial sunflowers, and goldenrods support 60% of native bees. Caterpillars and native bees are both integral parts of nature’s food web.(source)  

Solidago is a powerhouse plant that supports 138 Lepidoptera species

In my neighborhood developers have been bulldozing entire yards ofmature trees. Recently these beautiful Eastern Cedars were bulldozed along with a shagbark hickory and several oaks to make room for a larger house footprint and a green lawn.

 

Juniperus virginiana 40 Lepidoptera supported

They aren't the only trees being cut down. Almost all of the trees bulldozed for new builds in Hillwood were mature native trees that had been producing lots of insect food for birds for decades. In place of the "bee lawns" composed of Claytonia, Salvia lyrata, Ruellia humilis, fleabane, Western Daisy, Violets, self-heal, clovers, native grasses (in my neighborhood it's poverty oat grass) and sedges, they're sodded with non-native grasses. Rarely are trees replaced and when they are replaced they are not keystone tree species. The monoculture turf lawns contribute nothing environmentally and neither do the non native trees.  Landscapes without powerhouse plants that support caterpillars and other insects doom the food web.

Carya/Hickory trees are powerhouse plants supporting 248 Lepidoptera species

That's why it's so important for us to keep planting more natives and make sure more of them are keystone plants. Doug Tallamy says plant the best of the best and then plant more of them. We must also share whenever and where ever we can about the effects that this clear cutting is having on the environment. If we don't make some educational noise the canopy will continue to be devastated and with it the food web.

Rudbeckia fulgida supports 17 Lepidoptera species

We may feel alone in our struggle but we aren't. There are gardeners all over my neighborhood and across the US. who are planting smart. Know that our gardens might be a neighborhood haven for all kinds of critters in the midst of a sea of lawns helps. Our gardens might be one of the few gardens that offers pollinating critters nectar and pollen from late winter until late fall. It might be a place for all kinds of critters, including insects, birds, turtles, frogs, toads, and mammals to raise their offspring. It might be a stopping off place for water and food (seeds and berries) to migrating birds. We need to plant smart knowing that the more we plant for critters...crawling, flying and even digging ones, the healthier and more diverse our gardens will be.

Symphyotrichum are powerhouse plants supporting Lepidoptera

PARTICULARS ABOUT KEYSTONE PLANTS

If you're not sure what to plant, check out this resource that discusses Keystone Plants by Ecological regions of North America.

You can't go wrong adding an oak tree or one of the top keystone trees from the lists.  Also, know that on almost every ecological region list you'll probably find these 4 perennials that support pollinators: Solidago, Symphyotrichum, Rudbeckia and Helianthus. (source)

 

Switchgrass/Panicum virgatum – 25 Lepidoptera supported

 Assess your garden:

  • Take some time to figure out what makes sense for your garden conditions. Get to know your light and soil conditions. I know that Clay and Limestone is just that, a lot of shallow clay soil sitting on top of limestone bedrock. It's dry in the summer and often wet in the winter. My go to plants are almost always from the central basin, in Middle Tennessee. There are resources to help you figure out what to plant.
  • Do a tree and shrub survey of your property. They're far more important to insects than many other plants. Plant a keystone tree or two if needed.
  • Once plants are blooming, notice which plants attract the most pollinators and which ones are just a pretty face.
  • Once plants flower and go to seed watch to see which seed heads the birds eat first and which ones they never touch.  
  • Look closely at all the plants to see if any of the flowering plants are hosting caterpillars. Look for eggs, larva or instars. A host plant provides shelter, habitat, breeding sites or serve as a food source as part of the life cycle of another organism. 
  • Do critters have access to fresh water?
  • It's okay to have a few pretty faces in the garden, just make sure they aren't the majority of plants.
  • Invest in a good wildflower book, a field guide to birds and if you're really ready to get to know the critters your garden could host, purchase a good field guide to butterfly and caterpillars. Tennesseans, get a copy of Rita Venable's book Butterflies of Tennessee.


Verbesina species support 7 Lepidoptera species

There's just one other thing I need to say before I go. Your garden will support all the critters that live and visit if you never, ever, ever, ever, ever use pesticides. I mean never! xoxogail


Here's a recap of what the First Wednesday Monthly Challenge is all about.



Want to Take the Taking Care of Wildlife In Our Gardens Challenge?

The first part of this challenge is to do something, even lots of things each month that support the critters living in our gardens. Gardening with native wildflowers, shrubs and trees that make sense for our ecoregion is a good place to start or continue (as the case may be). Plants and their pollinators are a classic example of mutualism: they have coevolved through evolutionary time in a reciprocal beneficial relationship. This is also true for other critters that visit and live in our gardens. 

Activities that increase our knowledge of the natural world are equally as valuable. Helping others learn about nature is included. Golly gee whiz, there are so many things you can do. 

The second part of the challenge is to post about it somewhere: Your blog, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or even your neighborhood listserve. Wouldn't an article in the local paper be a coup for nature! Why post it? Because positive publicity is needed to educate our friends, neighbors and communities about how important even the smallest changes we make as gardeners can be for pollinators, birds, insects and mammals, including humans, that live all around us. 

Why now? My neighborhood is changing. Yours might be, too. Every day an older home along with many (if not all) of the mature oak, hickory, maple, Eastern cedar and hackberry trees are cut down. Insects, birds, even mammals lose their home site and food supplies when we lose trees. During construction soil is compacted by bulldozers, trucks and piles of debris cause runoff; surface runoff that can carry pollution to streams and rivers. It's important that our neighbors and our community have information about how important trees are to our ecosystem. Trees contribute to their environment by providing oxygen, improving air quality, climate amelioration, conserving water, preserving soil, and supporting wildlife.

In place of the "bee lawns" composed of Claytonia, Salvia lyrata, Ruellia humilis, fleabane, Western Daisy, Violets, self-heal, clovers, native grasses (in my neighborhood it's poverty oat grass) and sedges, they're being sodded with non-native grasses. These monoculture turf lawns contribute nothing environmentally. Here's what we lose when our diverse lawns are replaced with pristine turf grass:

  • Gone are the lightening bugs.
  • Gone are the ground dwelling/nesting native bees.
  • Gone is the habitat for insects, spiders and other critters. 
  • Gone is plant diversity. 
  • Gone are trees that provided for hundreds of moths, butterflies and other insects.
  • Gone are the nesting sites for woodpeckers, hummingbirds, Chickadees and other birds. 
  • Gone is a healthy foodweb.

 It breaks my heart. 

We can't stop the progmess, but, maybe we can make a lot of educational noise and help our new neighbors see the value in providing for critters and ultimately helping the environment.

A gardener can hope! 

xoxoGail



Here's an incomplete list of things you might consider doing or changing in your garden, and things you can do for and/or in your community. But don't limit yourself to my list, make your own list or check out the internet for ideas.

 

Looking for ways to get involved go here for a list of environmental advocacy groups.

Buy the best wildflower, butterfly and bird id books for your state.

Read nature books to your children and grandchildren. Buy them nature books.

Get in the garden with your children and grandchildren.

Give nature books as baby shower gifts (Nature books for infants and toddlers)

Shrink your lawn and make your planting beds larger.

Plant your favorite native perennials and shrubs. Leave them standing after they've gone to seed to continue to provide for wildlife. What you plant in your yard makes a difference to wildlife. I garden for wildlife so every tree, shrub and plant is chosen with wildlife in mind.


 

Plant more natives and then consider planting even more. "A typical suburban landscape contains only 20-30% native plant species. Try reversing that trend in your own landscape by using 70-80% native species." (source

Plant for bloom from late spring to early winter. Bees are most active from February to November (longer in mild climates) late winter blooming Hamamelis vernalis and the earliest spring ephemerals (like the toothworts, hepaticas, spring beauties, and False rue-anemeone) are perfect plants for a variety of pollinators.

Commit to never, ever, ever, ever using pesticides in the garden.

Stay away from native plant hybrids and cultivars that are double flowered. They are sterile and have no pollen or nectar for insects and no seeds for the birds. If possible plant “true open-pollinated native wildflowers”

If you want to garden for wildlife and pollinators, don't let lack of space stop you! Plant your favorite wildflowers in large containers. You just might have the prairie or woodland garden you've always wanted...in a pot!
 
Create a water feature. Provide water year round that is accessible to birds, bees and other critters.

Make a rain garden in low spots to collect and mitigate runoff.

Show some soil! Our native ground nesting bees nest in bare soil, so don't mulch every square inch of your garden. 

Get rid of the plastic weed barriers in your garden, it's not good for anything.

Invite bugs into your garden. Plant annuals that attract beneficial bugs.

 


Learn to tolerate damaged plants. Imperfection is the new perfect.

Don't be in a rush to clean up the fall garden. Leave plant stalks and seed heads standing all winter. Leave those fallen leaves or as many as you can tolerate! Insects over winter in the fallen and decaying leaves. Leave a layer of leaves as a soft landing material under trees for moths and butterflies to over winter. Many caterpillars drop to the ground from the trees in the fall and need a soft landing site and a place to live over the winter.

Allow a fallen tree to remain in the garden. Limbs on the ground are a perfect shelter for small animals such as rabbits, chipmunks and squirrels and a habitat for beetles, termites and other insects.


Make a brush pile. Stack fallen brush, cut tree limbs, broken pots for ground beetles. Ground beetles are excellent at eating "bad bugs". Bugs are also good bird, toad and small critter food. 

Rethink what you consider a pest. Lots of good bugs eat aphids. Spiders are important predators and they're great bird food!

Add nesting boxes for birds. 

Turn off your yard up-lighting, eave lights and porch lights after 11pm. This is important for nocturnal critters including mammals, snakes, insects, bats, birds (especially during migration). (Birdcast suggestions)

Plant shrubs and small trees that provide berries and nuts.

Keep a nature journal: You can observe visitors to your water feature, make note of when they visit. Notice which flowers attract the most pollinators and which ones are just pretty faces. 

Join your state native plant society (Tennessee Native Plant Society)

Join WildOnes even if there's no local group you can join the national organization.  (Middle Tennessee WildOnes)

Support your local native plant sellers. (GroWild in middle Tennessee, Overhill Gardens in east Tennessee,  Resource Guide TN Native Plant Society)

Encourage your local garden clubs to offer native plant talks.

If your garden club has a plant sale encourage them to sell more native plants.

Get trained as a naturalist (Tennessee Naturalist Program. Almost every state has their own Master Naturalist training program

Take an online course on tree, fungi and wildflower id. 

Take an online course on designing with native plants.

Take a walk in your neighborhood and observe nature. To quote Joanna Brichetto in Sidewalk Nature "Look Around. Nature is here, is us, our driveways, our baseboards, parks, and parking lots."

Read! There are hundreds of books on gardening for wildlife, the environment, and rewilding our world. There are delightful blogs with wonderful and informative articles.

If you are already gardening with wildlife in mind then add a few signs that help educate your neighbors. (Xerces Society, Pollinator Partnership)

Join the Xerces Society.

Set up an information station where neighbors can pick up brochures about your garden and other info. 

Get certified (National Wildlife Federation, check to see what your state offers)

Support trees by joining the effort to make sure developers don't remove more trees than are necessary for their project. Work to make sure there are tree removal permits and that they are actually enforced in your community.

 

 

 

 

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.