Thursday, January 26, 2023

Dealing with Invasives in Winter



This is a pretty typical scene when English ivy gets established
in a tree.  This ivy is robbing light from the tree and also weighing
 it down, leading to limb breakage.  Cutting a section of each vine
around the base of this tree will kill all the vine above the cut in a month or so.


Wintercreeper grows up trees with the aid of sticky rootlets. 
Its evergreen foliage shades the host trees as well as
the surrounding area.  In areas with plentiful deer the bottom 4'
 are often stripped of foliage.  The same can be seen with English ivy.     

Winter is a very good time to have an impact on Mid-Atlantic invasive plants.  Many of these still have leaves and are susceptible to herbicide treatments.  It’s also easier to see where plants are (though identification can be trickier). Most native species are dormant during winter so there is less risk of damage from herbicides or from tromping through the landscape.  In can be more comfortable to work in cooler weather.  As long as it is above 45°F, many herbicides are still effective (see below). 

When I look out at unmanaged areas infested with invasive plants I see many opportunities to have a large impact on reducing the spread of many of these species without a lot of effort.  For some species just keeping them from climbing up the tree will have a huge impact on controlling their spread.  OF course complete removal for most of these species will take several years of consistent effort, but just keeping them from climbing trees can limit their spread and be much healthier for your established trees and large shrubs. 

Among the species that need to climb in order to bloom and produce seeds are English ivy, Japanese honeysuckle, winter creeper, and oriental bittersweet.  These vining species produce flowers when they are growing upwards or over the tops of other plants.  You can significantly reduce their seed production by keeping them from growing upwards.  Most simply this can be done by cutting the vines growing into trees and larger shrubs close to ground level.  Applying the appropriate herbicide to the stump will go one step further in eliminating that plant from the landscape.  If you aren’t using herbicide, clear the invasive from a zone around the base of a tree to help slow re-establishment of the invasive vine. 

The bittersweet, wisteria and honeysuckle grow upwards by twining around their hosts.  These vines grow tightly around the trunks and branches of their host plants in effect strangling them.  While English ivy and wintercreeper don’t twine as much (they climb with the help of sticky rootlets growing from the stem) its dense evergreen foliage gets very heavy, especially in winter, and can bring down branches or even whole trees.

Oriental bittersweet can grow vertically by twining around itself. 
Once it finds a suitable host it will continue upward
growing around the host.  I cut this one high last spring so
that I could come back later and treat a fresh cut with herbicide.


This Japanese honeysuckle was cut last season.  You can see
 the damage caused by this tightly twining vine.

The table below summarizes how to treat several of the invasive species in fall and winter.  All this information was taken from the references cited.  For details check out the links to the references for each species.  Before using herbicide read and follow the label directions.  Don’t forget to wear proper protective equipment.  Another important safety practice in dealing with vines is to NOT pull them out of the trees after you cut them.  You risk damaging the tree and yourself.  They will dry up and fall out on their own.

Invasive

Common name

Winter treatments

timing

Reference

Celastrus orbiculatus

Oriental Bittersweet

Cut stump treatment with 20% glyphosate or  trichlopyr.
Digging/pulling partially effective, but plants can regrow from root fragments.

Fall-Winter when temps above 40°F.  

Digging can be done anytime.

Bugwood CO

Lonicera japonica

Japanese honeysuckle

Foliar treatments with glyphosate (0.75-1.5%) effective.  Later in season higher concentrations are more effective.  Use for easily accessible foliage (ground level).

After first frost but before hard frost are very effective.  Mid-winter treatments were less effective.




Bugwood LJ



 

 

Cut stump (25% glyphosate) for climbing honeysuckle vines

Cut stump most effective June-Winter

PRISM

Euonymus fortunei

Wintercreeper euonymus

Cut back climbing vines to prevent flowering and fruiting. 

Small infestations can be dug out, but plants can regenerate from stem fragments.


Anytime, the sooner the better.   Flowers form in summer with ripe fruits in fall on climbing vines. 
Dig plants when soil is soft and easily worked.

Forest Service

 

 

Cut stem treatment with 25% glyphosate for climbing vines.
Foliar spray with glyphosate or triclopyr (2%) for large infestations on ground

When temperatures are above 40°F.  Treat immediately after cutting.
Mid to late fall when other species are dormant.  Best at or above 65°F.

TN Exotic Plant Management Manual

Hedera helix

English ivy

Cut vines growing up trees close to ground and again 1-2’ up.  If possible, treat cut stump with 25% active ingredient glyphosate or triclopyr amine.  

Cut stump method is effective year round.  Herbicide treatment best when temperatures are above 55°F.



Invasive.org

 

 

 

Foliar treatment with these chemicals (2-5%) when temperatures are above 55°F are partially effective. 

Foliar treatments most effective from mid-summer through fall.  Partially effective in winter.  Apply during mild periods (above 55°F) while other plants are dormant.


 

 

 

 

Smaller non-climbing infestations can be manually removed.  Plants can resprout from any remaining roots or vine.

Pulling can be done anytime.  There are fewer competitive plants in winter.

 

Wisteria sp.

Wisteria

Cut vines about 2” from the ground.  Treat with 25% glyphosate or trichlopyr.  Plants will resprout if not treated with herbicide.

Small infestations can be dug out, but resprouting is possible from pieces left behind.

Cut stump treatment can be done anytime that the ground is not frozen. 

Bugwood

NOTE: In most jurisdictions a home owner can apply OTC herbicides to their own properties, but they are restricted from doing so on public lands or on another person’s property.  In most cases a certified pesticide applicator is need to apply herbicides to any property but your own.

Before attacking the invasive species it is important to be able to know which plants are desirable and which are not.  Some species are easy to identify in winter (e.g., English ivy and wintercreeper).  Others like oriental bittersweet, can be difficult to distinguish from their domestic relatives.  Check out this guide from the Delaware Department of Agriculture for help in identifying invasive plant species.  Of course any vine that is threatening the life of a desirable tree or shrub is a candidate for removal.  


This adolescent hickory tree sustained damage from
Japanese honeysuckle a few years back.  The truck is swollen
due to sap being restricted from flowing up the tree.  I'm not sure
if this tree will continue to survive into maturity.

In looking over the nearby woodlands I noticed that most of the native vining species do not spiral tightly around their host.   Deciduous native vines like Virginia creeper and native grapes do not twine so they do not strangle trees, and, since they lose their leaves in the fall they do not add a lot of weight through the winter.  Native vines growing high into trees can reduce the amount of light penetrating the tree canopy.  One of the bigger problems on my property with vines growing up in the canopy is that they join trees together so that when one falls it can damage other trees that are connected through the vines.  An important benefit of these native species is that their berries are an import food source for many birds, poison ivy included.

Catbrier (Smilax sp.), the green stems here, is a native species that twines
loosely on itself as well as on other nearby plants.  While it can
 be a nuisance due to its stiff thorns it plays well with other established plants.

Another group of invasive species that can be attacked in winter are woody shrubs and herbaceous species that are still green and active in the winter months.  These include multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) and garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).  Last year I wrote a more detailed post  on how to deal with these species in the winter. 

As an update to that post, I did test whether burning the crowns of wineberry with a garden torch was sufficient to kill it.  In most cases the answer was no.  Most of the crown resprouted later in the spring. Another action took was to  cut back the long arching branches in late summer and fall.  This shoud reduce its spread since it can form roots wherever a branch tip contacts the ground.  The effectiveness of this effort will be difficult for me to measure but I hope to get a sense if there are fewer of these out there.

For a general overview of Mid-Atlantic invasive species see Plant Invaders of  Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas  For detailed instructions on how to treat you should look to nearby state resources or University cooperative extension services.

What else can you do?

Aside from managing your own property there is not a lot an individual can due by themselves or without permission.   There are a number of ways to volunteer to do plant conservation or get involved with removal of invasive species.  I first got started working with native plants by becoming a plant conservation volunteer with what was then the New England Native Plant Society (now the Native Plant Trust).  A number of our projects involved clearing out invasive species from public and some private lands.  We were trained on how to identify our target and how to remove it.

To work on public lands you need training and or supervision.  Contact the public lands supervisor for the areas where you want to help.  Some other places where you can look for opportunities are plant conservation groups and state or regional native plant societies.  In Maryland there are several counties with ‘Weed Warrior’ groups (for example see  Weed Warriors  for Montgomery County).  In Northern Virginia there are the Tree Rescuers.  Also in Virginia there is  Blue Ridge Prism, a group dedicated to removing invasives from the forests of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The USDA website has some general information including a few specific links to projects around the country.  The Nature Conservancy has a volunteer site that can be searched by location and date.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

What to do with Wild Persimmons?


When we first moved to this relatively spacious property in Maryland just over 10 years ago I knew that I wanted to grow more native plants that could provide food, primarily for wildlife, but also food that I might enjoy.  One of those target species was wild or common persimmon, Diospyros virginiana.  I’ll admit that going into this I did not have any firsthand knowledge of how to grow persimmons or really just what they tested like.

An 10 year old persimmon tree, about 25' tall. 
It has a nice upright form angular branching. 
Fall color is yellow for my trees

A little internet research got me started.  I learned that wildlife really liked to eat persimmons, but not until they were ripe.  An unripe persimmon is loaded with tannic acid giving them an extremely astringent taste.  I've tried some partially ripe persimmons and it is  like having bitter sawdust in your mouth.  Also when growing persimmons for harvest you need to know that they are dioecious, that is there are distinct male and female plants. You need to have at least one of each sex to get fruit.  The native range for Diospyros virginiana is from New Jersey down to Florida and westward to East Texas and eastern Kansas.  So Maryland is well within it native range.  


Most female flowers are well spaced along the stem and are usually solitary. 
These have sterile anthers around the ovary so, superficially, 
male and female flowers look similar.

Male flowers are more tightly packed along the stems in clusters of
1-3 at a node. The number and distribution of flowers is
a good way to tell if you have a male or female tree.

Unripe fruits are dark green and can be difficult to locate.  
As they ripen they turn orangey-yellow.  A perfectly 
ripe fruit is mushy and somewhat wrinkly.

The fruits of common persimmon are 1-1.5” in diameter.  Initially green the fruits turn bright orange as they ripen.  A fully ripe persimmon is deep orange in color and somewhat to very mushy.   Around here I was picking ripe fruits from the end of September through October.  While visually unappealing it tastes great and is very sweet.  To me, it tastes like a mixture of very ripe apricot and banana.  Unfortunately this means that there is a very narrow window of opportunity for harvesting edible persimmons.  A ripe persimmon is too mushy to transport any distance in bulk.  Another less attractive feature is that they have several relatively large seeds that hold tightly to the tasty flesh.

 

The deeply furrowed bark on this mature tree is
a distinctive feature of persimmon trees

Ripe common persimmons.  Nice and mushy. The one in front is perfectly ripe.


In a grocery store, the persimmons you are likely to find are from an Asian species, Diospyros kaki.  The most common types are Fuyu and Hachiya.  The smaller Fuyu persimmon has seeds and is less astringent, while the larger Hachiya is seedless, but is more astringent until fully ripe (mushy).  I did a taste comparison among these two and my homegrown common persimmons.   The Fuyu had a milder taste and was palatable even when not fully ripe.  The seedless Hachiya needs to be completely ripe (mushy) before it can be fully enjoyed.    As it is seedless it has the additional advantage of having much more edible fruit than either the Fuyu or common persimmons.  Asian persimmons will ripen sitting on a counter top or, more quickly, in a bag with an apple or banana. 

Of the three I found the common persimmon to be the sweetest and most flavorful.  However, the flesh to seed ratio is very low and it, like the Hachiya, must be fully ripe to enjoy its full flavor.  Probably the biggest drawback of the common persimmon is that it is really not that common.  It is not commercially available and is at its best when used within a couple of day of picking. 

Store-bought Asian persimmons


Fuyu persimmon on left has a few seeds, the Hachiya (right) is seedless.


So if you really want firsthand experience with common persimmons you need to have access to a tree, a female one specifically.  Growing a persimmon tree is not too difficult.  The trick is to have both a male and female tree close enough together to allow for pollination.  Common persimmon trees are classified as small canopy trees, growing 50-75 feet in height and a spread of 35-50 feet.  It has an ovoid shape.  The foliage is medium textured with most leaves being 3-4” long.  The trees are tolerant of a range of soil conditions, but they need full sun.  They are winter hardy to zone 5a.

When purchasing a common persimmon tree from the nursery there is no indication whether it is a male or female plant.  There is, however, one cultivar referred to as a Meader Persimmon that is self-fertile and produces seedless fruits.  The best strategy is to get at least 5 trees and hope that you will have a mix of sexes.  For the trees that I planted it took about 5 years before they bore flowers so that I could tell which were male and which were female.  At 7 years in the ground I started getting fruits.  Of the 6 trees that I planted 9 years ago, 2 are male, two are female and two have yet to bear flowers.  (One of these is in a shady location and the other started as a 6” bare root plant.)  I took about 7 years before I began to get any fruits.  Now each year the yields have been increasing significantly.

What Now?

Now that I have invested 7 years in growing my persimmon trees I needed to figure out what to do with them.  Because of the short shelf life of wild persimmons the best way to enjoy them over time is to preserve them in some way.  The mushy flesh of ripe persimmons can be separated from the seeds using a food mill.  The resulting pulp can be frozen for later use or processed into jams or jellies.  There are a number of articles and videos on-line that demonstrate how to process wild persimmons.  Here’s a link to a video that I found useful.  And here’s an article from Indiana Public Media that describes an easy way to make persimmon jam.  This year I only had about a dozen ripe fruits at a time so I opted to make wild persimmon simple syrup that could be easily scaled to the amount of fruit I had.

The ingredients for a persimmon simple syrup that just highlights the flavor of the fruit are:

1 pound of persimmons
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 tsp lemon juice

Persimmons, seeds and all are simmered with sugar and water for about a half hour


The whole ripe (mushy) persimmons, water and sugar are combined in a small saucepan and simmered for a half hour.  I peeled the persimmons because it the pulp slipped out of the skins so easily. (This minimized the risk of having some astringency from the peels; however, when fully ripe the skin has no taste.)  Mash up the pulp in the hot liquid several times while simmering.  After about 20 minutes, add the lemon juice.  After 30 minutes of simmering allow the mixture to cool then put it into a cheesecloth and squeeze out the nearly clear liquid.  This recipe yields about a cup of simple syrup.  The remaining pulp had very little flavor left in it.  The syrup can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks.

The syrup is separated from the pulp by squeezing it 
through a couple of layers of cheesecloth.  

I tried this simple syrup in several cocktails that call for simple syrup.  I found that it worked really well in a whiskey or rum sour.  I also tried it in a lemon drop recipe, but the flavors didn’t work well together, to my taste.

Next year, assuming I will get even more persimmons maybe I'll try making a persimmon pudding.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Why Lawn


Lawn maintenance consumes an incredible amount of time and money.  But what is the purpose of a lawn, and could those resources be put to better use?

Let’s first start with the question:  Why have a lawn?  There are some practical reasons.  Recreation - lawns are often used as open and safe places for children, and some adults, to play.  Protection - having open sightlines around your dwelling, with few hiding spaces can make one feel safer.   Buffer space - keeping nature at a ‘safe’ distance.  This could be to control insects or wildlife, or, in fire prone areas, an open, healthy, lawn can protect a dwelling from fire. Status - a perfect lawn is often equated with ones class.  Going back a century or so, if you had the resources to expend on maintaining a perfect lawn then one must be pretty well off.  

A pretty common sight: large lawns on multiacre lots.  

In his 1841 treatise on landscape gardening, A. J. Downing advocated for the need of having a proper lawn to have a tasteful and civilized property.  He translated the Romantic style of late 18th-century English landscape architects into a form more suited to the United States, particularly in the Hudson Valley and Mid-Atlantic.   Downing was extremely influential in setting the course for American landscape design into the 20th century.  Another key event in making the lawn a standard feature was around 1870 when the reel lawnmower, which had been invented in England, came to the US.  This made keeping a mown lawn more practical. 

Achieving the ‘perfect’ weed-free lawn was made much easier with the development and marketing of the herbicide 2,4 D (1944) for residential use.  A lawn treated with this was made free of nearly all non-grass (dicot) plants.  This meant that most flowering plants which could support pollinators (e.g. clover, fleabanes and heal-all) could be eliminated from lawns.  The result was a nearly flawless (one could say featureless) green carpet of only grass-like (monocot) plants.     

Considering the history of landscape design from earliest times, there seems to be a need for humans to exert control over nature, despite the costs.  People, in general, feel much more comfortable in a landscape that is readable or understandable.  These are places where they can see the ins and outs and how to move through the space.  Think of the composition of a photograph or painting.  There are elements that draw the eye through the piece to a focal point.  Crisp or well defined edges are also important in creating readability.  I’ll admit that I do feel a sense of satisfaction when I look back on an evenly mown and edged green carpet. 


Let’s look at some data about lawns in the United States:

Acreage of lawns   Looking on the internet I found figures of between 40 and 50 million acres of residential turf grass in the US.  Compare that to the total amount of land used to grow corn which averaged at about 90 million acres between 2018-2022 (USDA data).  These figures are based on satellite imagery.  Most corn is grown without irrigation.  If you compare the irrigated acreage for corn of about 12 million acres to that for turf, then you come up with 3-4 times as much lawn as irrigated corn. 

Amount of gas used   Based on EPA figures from 2005, 800 million gallons of gasoline were used to power lawn care equipment each year.  Using this weeks’ national average of $3.72/gal you are talking about $3 billion dollars annually.  On top of that, lawn mowers and other small-engine powered lawn equipment, which have no pollution control devices, are significant contributors to air pollution.  Estimates are that combined landscape care equipment contributes about 5% of the total air pollution, CO, hydrocarbons and NOx .

Amount of water used on residential landscapes   EPA estimates of water use for landscape purposes is 9 billion gals/day (WaterSense 2013).  Most of that is treated potable water that could be used for domestic consumption rather than poured onto the ground.  With the increasing severity of droughts, particularly in areas of the Southwest where population is shifting towards, there are very real problems with providing all the water that is needed. 

So considering that lawns and lawn care have increasing costs and negative effects it is time to ask why and how much lawn can we afford and what are the alternatives.

Trends away from lawns:

No mow May.  Started in England as a push to provide early season pollinators with flowers that are common in English lawns.  Blindly adhering to a no-mow-May program in a country with so many diverse climates and types of lawns as the US is often inappropriate.  To be useful, the lawn or property in question needs to have a population of plants with early blooming flowers that the pollinator population likes.   Depending on the climate the appropriate time for suspending mowing could be as early as February or into the later part of May.  If you have a monoculture of Kentucky blue grass there is little benefit to pollinators in skipping a month of mowing, there is just nothing of benefit there for them.  If you have a diverse ‘lawn’ containing native weeds like violets, self-heal (Prunella vulgaris), fleabanes (Erigeron sp.), spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) and the like, then allowing those to come into bloom would have a positive effect.  If you really need to mow, take the effort to mow around the blooming plants until they are done.  Lawns can also be interplanted with spring bulbs.  While not native, very early bulbs like Crocus, Chionodoxa and Scilla can add interest to an early spring lawn.  These bulbs have usually completed their growth and blooming cycle by the time the need for mowing kicks in.

I have been allowing this patch of Philadelphia fleabane
to develop without mowing.  It reaches peak bloom
in mid-May.  I usually mow it down in early June
after it sets some seed. When not in bloom plants survive
as low-growing rosettes.  

While there is the oft repeated advice to never cut more than one third of the length of the grass blade at a time, I rarely let that force me to cut the lawn before I’m ready.  I can’t say that I have ever noticed a problem by occasionally letting the lawn get too long between cuts.  In those cases when I do the biggest problem is the long clippings left on top.  A mulching mower can help deal with that.  All these problems are magnified on the ‘perfect’ lawn, where any imperfection becomes blaringly obvious.  In a diverse, multispecies lawn imperfections blend into the mosaic of plant colors and textures.

Lose the Lawn  This is a phase that is used by many people when voicing their concern about the amount of resources being pouring into and onto lawns.  You can get excellent advise on this subject for university extension services.  Doing an internet search on ‘lose the lawn’ and your state of region can give you information on lawn alternatives suitable for your area.  For example try this link to the UMD extension for the Mid-Atlantic region.

Climate appropriate landscaping   This is another phrase used when talking about more sustainable landscape practices.  Simply put, it is using plants that grow well with the resources that are naturally available.  Native species appropriate to the local climate require much less water and other inputs than turf or other non-adapted species.  When there are no plants suitable, look to using other materials to achieve the design goals.  It also means avoiding the use of plants and materials that require an extraordinary amount of inputs to maintain them.  

As droughts are becoming more frequent and severe, many municipalities are instituting water restrictions and/or offering enticements for installing water efficient landscaping.


What can one do?

>If you have a lawn, mow and water when lawn needs it, rather than on a preset schedule.  This can be difficult with lawn services since making a flexible schedule with multiple clients can be very difficult.  I did see on the web some services that offer options for having a less frequent mowing schedule.  That may be a move in the right direction.  In general lawns maintained at 3-4" have deeper roots making them less dependent on frequent watering.  Also the taller turf shades the soil which reduces weed seed germination and evaporation or soil moisture.

>Replace high maintenance lawn grasses with climate appropriate turf.  The US is divided into 3 zones for turf grass, cool season, warm season and the transitional zone between them.  A nice overview of turf grass types for the various regions of the United States can be found in this blog post from Landscape America.  While most turf grasses are not native to North America a few are.  Buffalo grass (Bouteloua dactyloides) is a native species found in the plains from Southern Canada to Northern Mexico.  It has been developed as a drought tolerant turf grass.  A native of the Gulf States, St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum) has been cultivated and planted along the east and west coastal areas of the US.  Fine fescues are well adapted to the Pacific Northwest and Northeastern states.  A few subspecies of red fescue (Festuca rubra) are native to North America; however, the blends suited for turf usage contain a variety of fine fescues most of which are not native.  There are at least three blends of these fine fescues that have been selected for use in cool season growing zones that are drought tolerant, need little fertilization.  Look for Eco-Lawn, Eco-grass or No Mow fine fescue blends. 

This patch of lawn is mostly fine fescues that is mown about every two weeks. 
It looks like regular 'grass'.  If I did not mow it it would would develop a
 fine silky, mounded texture that fine fescues are noted for.  

>Develop a tolerance for having mowable green, rather than a perfect cloned lawn.  My lawn, in the Mid-Atlantic region, is a mixture of tall and fine fescues, nimblewill (Muhlenbergia schreberi, a local native species), probably some purple top (Tridens flavus, also native), violets, fleabanes, clover and some less desirable (but tolerable) weedy stuff.  A diverse lawn requires fewer inputs to maintain.

>Consider alternative ground covers.  Regionally native species are preferred because, in addition to requiring little to no mowing, they also support local wildlife.  Some lower growing North American natives that can replace, or be incorporated into a lawn include frog fruit (Phyla sp.); pussy toes (Antennaria sp., for sunny dry conditions), and golden ragwort (Packera aurea, partly sunny, moist conditions).  Moss is perfect for a shady spots. Again, doing a search on ‘lose the lawn’ coupled with your region yields results that offer a list of alternative ground covers.  I recommend focusing on web sites managed by university extension services as providing the most unbiased results.

This patch of golden ragwort bursts into bloom in April. 
It is semi-evergreen and grows to about 6" tall.  It is slowly expanding,
but can be kept under control with mowing.

>Reduce or eliminate fertilization.  In many situations it is a vicious cycle.  Fertilizer is needed to replace the nutrients removed when grass clippings are removed while mowing.  Then, the more fertilizer you add, the more the lawn grows, then the more there is to mow.  By leaving grass clippings in the first place and mowing in the leaves in the fall, you are recycling the nutrients in place and feeding the microbes living in the soil.  Using a mulching mower will reduce the amount of clippings visible on the lawn.

>Reduce area committed to lawn and replace with bedding, meadow-type plantings, successional plantings, or cropping (hay fields).  When reshaping the lawn, go for simple shapes that can be mown efficiently, avoid tight turns and acute angles.  I have one triangular area that requires a lot of backtracking to mow.  A rectangle or oval could be done with less backtracking. 
A successional planting builds on the natural process of succession.  Succession is the natural process where the mix of plants on a site changes over time, and it begins when one stops mowing.  East of the Mississippi River, the sequence is usually bare land becomes grasslands, which in turn becomes shrublands which eventually turns into forests.  This process usually takes many years.  The land owner could  speed up the process by planting desirable shrubs and trees to create an idealized version of the natural landscape.  Intervention by the landowner can also pause succession at various stages such as as a meadow or shrubland.


Here is a possibility of allowing some succession of  local native species
(redbuds, dogwoods, asters, etc.).  Clean edges and sightlines to and
from the dwelling confer intention to the landscape.  This more
diverse landscape offers much more to the local ecology. 

>When creating a new space, clean edges, whether straight or curved, convey a sense of intention in the landscape.  A wilder space surrounded by a clean edge is visually more comforting than a totally wild area.

>Where climate is not suitable for growing plants, use hardscape or inorganic mulches. Hardscape does not have to be impermeable concrete.  Dry laid stones and pavers allow for water infiltration which reduces runoff problems.

>Be creative with the space, put in artwork to fill the space and send a message.  On a recent trip to Sebastapol, CA we visited Florence Ave where many of the residents have sculptures in the front yards by local artist Patrick Amiot. 

This owl sculpture is complemented by a variety of
perennials in this lawn-free front yard.


The minimal landscaping around this catfishing dog works quite well. 
The colors of the spiky New Zealand flax play well with the colors in the statue.


Reducing the area committed to lawn does not have be be done all at once.  It can be done one area at a time, or by expanding planted beds or wilder areas a little bit each year.  I would love to hear about your experiences with reducing resources committed to maintain a lawn.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Stilt Grass: Discovery

I write a lot about dealing with Japanese stiltgrass, Microstegium vimineum.  I do really feel like I am making progress, but the  work is very tedious and the rewards are often delayed.  One way that I've been getting more immediate gratification is to watch for new plants discovered under the (hopefully decreasing) cover of stiltgrass.  Sometimes I'm finding new plants, but also finding increasing numbers of desirable species is a huge boost.  

Two new species for me this year are downy agrimony, Agrimonia pubescens, and whitegrass, Leersia virginica.  The agrimony was growing on the shady edge of a woodland that had been treated with a preemergent herbicide for a couple of years followed by some maintenance pulling of the stiltgrass.  The wands of bright yellow flowers made me think of a short goldenrod, but seeing the distinctly divided leaves led me to focus on some species of Agrimony. The form and small size of the seed pods, shape of the stipule and the hairiness of the stem confirmed the identity as downy agrimony, Agrimonia pubescens.  I hope to see more of this in the coming years. (I will skip using the preemergent in this area next spring.)  I found the Minnesota Wildflowers site to be very useful in identifying this species.  What was very useful was that it had photos of the same plant parts for each species.   

Downy agrimony blooming in August
at the edge of the woods.

Agrimony can be spotted by their distinctive divided leaves and
sharply toothed leaflets.  If I had just seen the three terminal leaflets,
I would have thought of some weedy potentillas, like mock strawberry.

The stipules of downy agrimony are a key feature of the
species, sharply lobed and distinctly divided.


The whitegrass almost got pulled, as on first seeing it I thought it was a tall mass of stiltgrass growing in the middle of the woodland.  As I got closer I could see that the leaves lacked the silvery mid-rib of stiltgrass and the leaves were narrower.  Also the flowers were small and white, not the buff color that I typically see with stiltgrass.  While I did not key out this grass I am pretty sure that it is actually whitegrass and a welcome addition to the woods.  If this catches hold though I will need to be more careful not to pull it as I am ripping out handfuls of stiltgrass growing nearby. 


The white flowers of whitegrass are pointed out here. 
Also note the long slender leaves.  This perennial grass
 is more strongly rooted than the annual Japanese stiltgrass. 


Here I'm holding some stiltgrass (Microstegium)
 next to the native whitegrass.  Note the broader
leaves and silvery center vein of the stiltgrass.


Some other plants that I am seeing more of this year include the native annual sweet everlasting, Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium, growing on a sunny edge of a mown pathway, more and larger masses of panicled tick-trefoil, Desmodium paniculatum, and more instances of what I believe are wood ferns, probably Dryopteris intermedia.

Panicled tick-trefoil tends to grow well in the midst
of meadow grasses.  This puts if at risk of being pulled out
when going after stiltgrass.  It is saved by its plentiful
purple flowers. Shown in the inset are its trifoliate leaves


I think this is intermediate woodfern, Dryopteris intermedia
I usually like to see what the sori look like to do an ID,
but this plant didn't have any. In general I'm seeing an increase
in ferns, this may be as much due to cutting back the wineberry
in the spring reducing as it is pulling out the stiltgrass.

Of course not every new thing is good.  I also found my first instance of wavyleaf basketgrass, Oplishmenus undulatifolius.  While I was not happy to see this, it good that I did and could rip it out immediately before this very invasive grass could get a foothold.  According to the SEEK app sightings of this grass are uncommon this far west in Maryland.  To report this I downloaded the MAEDN app, an app for reporting sightings of invasive species in the Mid-Atlantic region.  This app can be used for all types of invasive species including the spotted lantern fly.

At first I though that this looked like a variant of deer
tongue grass, with crinkled leaves, but on a second
look the way that the leaves were attached and the growth habit
were very different.  The 'SEEK' app quickly ID'ed this as
wavyleaf basketgrass, a recent and very serious invasive species
in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Patrolling the woods for stiltgrass also is an opportunity to identify and remove seedlings of other invasives that were hidden under the stiltgrass like burning bush, bush honeysuckle, barberry and autumn olive.