Monday, August 15, 2022

Pull! Pull! Pull!


 Yes Pull!  Now is the time to pull out Japanese stiltgrass, Microstegium vimineum.  This invasive species is rampant in the eastern U.S. from Georgia to Massachusetts and west to the Mississippi River.  It affects home landscapes and natural area alike.  Here in the Mid-Atlantic region the grass is putting on a growth spurt prior to going into bloom.  So the plant is expending a lot energy now to grow taller and produce flowers.  It also means that it is a lot easier to pull out without getting on you knees.  Since this grass in an annual, keeping it from going to seed can go along way to controlling its spread and reducing its numbers.  

Early in the growing season Japanese stiltgrass stays relatively low, rooting at several nodes along the stem.  In late July it starts growing upward to gets its flowers higher off the ground.  If it were only that simple.  Stiltgrass not only produces flowers at the top of the stem it also has flowers at most of the vertical leaf nodes buried within the stems.  These are referred to as cleistogamous flowers.  

  This image shows flowers at the top and at the
lowest nodes. Cleistogamous flowers can occur all
along the stem as well.  Roots can also form roots at each
node where they contact the ground. If the grass is not
cut early in the season most of the flowers are
concentrated toward the top of the stem.

These cleistogamous flowers are one of the reasons stiltgrass is so hard to eliminate.  If you cut or mow stiltgrass early in the season without removing it completely, these stem flowers will form even lower on the plant requiring even more careful pulling later on.  I've seen a recommendation to leave the stiltgrass grow until late summer so that most of the flowers are higher in the plant.  Then when you pull you are able to get most all of the flowers with the least effort.  (Sounds good to me.)

Here are some highlights of my nearly 10-year battle with stiltgrass here in Maryland:

Pre-emergent herbicides are very effective in existing lawns and smooth surfaces.  These chemicals interfere with the development of germinating seeds but do not have a strong effect on established plants.  These must be applied in early spring prior to the germination of the stiltgrass seeds.   I have been using a preemergent containing Dimension (dithiopyr) for several years.  I took two years of successive treatments to get nearly complete removal of stiltgrass from the lawn in treated areas.  Moss has not been effected. 

Late summer pulling of previously uncut stiltgrass, especially in shady areas, has reduced the amount of stiltgrass in subsequent years.  This does require a multiyear effort.  Since nasty things like poison ivy, multiflora rose and wineberry can hide in the tall stiltgrass, it is important to wear gloves and arm protection when pulling.



Here's the before photo.  I wonder why there is so much
stiltgrass just in this area, and why so close to the path. 
It could be from the lawn mower blowing seed from
 the other side of the path where there is a lot more stiltgrass







After about 30 minutes of labor you can see the
existing plants reappear. (Some of the freshly
pulled stiltgrass is piled in the foreground-left.)

Weed-whacking and raking of the cut grass before it begins to bloom is very effective, BUT you need to get really close to the ground to remove all the stiltgrass. Raking up the cut grass helps existing plants bounce back. 

Identify and plant native species that can compete with stiltgrass. Two exceptional plants that seem to outcompete stiltgrass are golden ragwort (Packera aurea), and mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum).  Other plants that are strong competitors include clearweed ( Pilea pumila) and grasses that grow well in shade: river oats (Chasmantheum latifolium), mannagrass (Glycera sp.), Virginia wildrye (Elymus virginicus), and  nimblewill (Muhlenbergia schreberi).  Also there are a number of sedges that will persist under cover of stiltgrass and can form a dense cover if given the chance.  Rosy sedge (Carex rosea) is one example that does quite well on my property.  I recently noticed that there was much less stiltgrass growing in an area where celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) and mannagrass have been spreading.  The exclusion of stiltgrass is not as great as with Packera, but it is noticeable.


This opening under the trees is free of both garlic mustard and stiltgrass now. 
In early spring it is fully covered with mayapples and a few woodland phlox.

The area just beyond the bench has benefited from annual late
summer pulling and by a dense crop of mannagrass that totally
shaded the area from late April to early June.  The stiltgrass that is
growing there now is only a few inches tall.  Compare that
to the 2 foot tall stiltgrass in the foreground-left.

It's not just pulling in late summer and fall.  There are things you can do earlier in the year to control stiltgrass.  Here is a table summarizing some removal strategies:

Japanese Stiltgrass Control

Season

Actions

Pros

Cons

Comments

Late Winter Early Spring

Pre-emergent treatment

Effective in lawns and smoother (even) surfaces with access to soil surface.  Allows lawns and perennials to get a head start.

Will affect all germinating seeds for several months.  Uneven coverage on rough surfaces.  Application needs to be at the right time (same time as for crabgrass).

Takes at least 2 years to knock down seed bank to see significant progress.  More time to complete elimination, if ever. Many pre-emergents for crabgrass control are also approved for Japanese stiltgrass (aka Mary's grass, on the label)

Late spring-Summer

Herbicide

Grass selective herbicide leaves broad leaf plants and some sedges intact. Try products containing Fluazifop-p-butyl 

Difficult to control collateral damage, especially with non-selective herbicides

Targeted application and use of selective materials may limit side effects.

Late spring-Summer

Pulling

Non-toxic and selective.  Opens space for other species.

Labor intensive; left over stilt grass will expand to fill gaps.

If removal is not complete this will need to be repeated at the end of summer

Late summer/Early fall

Cutting/ pulling/ burning

All methods to reduce the amount of seed

Need to complete actions before seed begins to ripen.

Copious amounts of seed being produced, need to be thorough and avoid spreading any ripened seed.



You can read more information about my on-going battle with Japanese stiltgrass in previous blog-posts by entering 'Microstegium' in the 'Search this Blog' box at the top of this page.

Good luck and I would like to hear about your experiences battling this invasive species.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Smooth Hydrangea

 Smooth hydrangea, Hydrangea arboescens, is a North American native shrub with a native range is from New York and Massachusetts, south to Florida and west to Oklahoma and Kansas.  In the wild it is found in dry to moist woods and hillsides.  I thought that the name Hydrangea referred to it growing in, or preferring wet areas.  In fact, the name refers to the shape of its seed capsule which resembles that of a water vessel, a hydriai, in Greek.


Here's an example of wild type of smooth hydrangea growing along the
Potomac River near Sharpsburg, MD.  This photo was taken in mid-spring. 
I was surprised to see that flower buds had already formed.   

I really like this plant for landscaping purposes, particularly in the colder regions.  Unlike many of the blue and pink bigleaf hydrangeas (H. macrophylla), which bloom on year-old stems, smooth hydrangea blooms on new wood.  So whether you prune it or not you will reliably get blooms.  Also there is no need to protect the plants from winter cold.

This shrub grows really well in shade, in average to moist soils, and will tolerate sun if provided consistent moisture.  It is also tolerant of juglone produced by black walnut trees.  This makes it an excellent choice for growing under the canopy of walnuts and hickories.  Depending on how and when you prune them smooth hydrangea grows as a mounding shrub 3-5’ tall and wide.  Flower types are either mophead, large balls of mostly sterile flowers, or lacecap, flattish inflorescences of small fertile flowers surrounded by a rim of larger sterile blooms.  One drawback to smooth hydrangea is that, at least in my area, deer really like to eat the leaves.  I’ve found that surrounding young plants with chicken wire cages and using deer repellant on larger plants are sufficient to allow the plant to survive deer browsing.  Another problem, particularly with the large-flowered cultivars, is flopping.  I help support them by running a matrix of strings about 30" off the ground around and between 5 or 6 posts.


Here's a mass of the 'Annabelle' cultivar a couple of days after
a heavy June rainstorm.  Once the large blooms dry out,
they usually bounce back up.  


At the end of May flower bud formation is well underway. 
This is the stage when I will selectively cut back the taller, bud-bearing stems
by about a foot, just above the leaf  node.  This will lead to a
second flush of flowers in late summer.

My usual maintenance routine starts in early spring when I cut all the stems back to 1 or 2 pairs of viable leaf buds.  This will give me a rounded mass about 3-4 feet tall.  (Unpruned, they would grow to 5’ or more.)  When flower buds begin to form in mid spring I cut  about half of the tallest stems by about 1/3.  This will give me a second flush of flowers in mid to late summer, as the first set of blooms are fading.  I usually leave most or all of the stems in place through the winter since the dried up flower heads still have some interest.  Also some bees are able to use the cut stems as nesting sites.


A typical mophead inflorescence of  an 'Annabelle' hydrangea. 
This one is about 9" across. The large sterile flowers start out
greenish white, then become white as they fully open. 
A very few fertile flowers are buried in the center. 

 ‘Annabelle’ is the most widely known cultivar.  I was discovered in the wild in 1910 by Harriet Kirkpartick in the woods near Anna, Il.  It has a large white mophead inflorescence of mostly sterile florets.  They maintain their appearance for 6-8 weeks.  They age to a straw color that is also attractive.  These flowers can be dried and used in arrangements for several months (sometimes years).  As I have become more aware of how our landscapes affect nature I’ve decided to try to broaden the selection of smooth hydrangea and include some more ecologically useful species and cultivars.  In particular I wanted ones that would support pollinators.

Recently the Mt. Cuba Center published an exhaustive trial of smooth hydrangea cultivars and related species.  In addition to the horticultural aspects this trial looked at the number and types of pollinators that visited the flowers.  Not surprisingly, the lacecap types, both wild type and cultivars, had at least 3 times as many insect visitors as the ‘Annabelle’ cultivar.  Two years ago I planted some quart sized lacecap ‘Haas Halo’ cultivars.  This year they are producing large blooms.  


Here's a photo of the lacecap type of flower, this one is from the 'Haas Halo' cultivar. 
Note that the middle of the inflorescence consists of fertile flowers,
 evidenced by their erect stamen.  The large white flowers along the rim are sterile.   
On closer examination you can see that there are also a variety of insects
on the fertile flowers, collecting nectar and pollen.

This year I’ve also added a wild-type plant.  I don’t know exactly what this will look like when it blooms, but in general these carry much less visually impressive flowers (to humans) but provide a good source of pollen and nectar for the insects and a big increase in genetic diversity for any seeds that may be produced. 

So if you are looking for a medium sized native shrub that blooms in shade take a look at smooth hydrangea, especially the lacecap types that offer a little more back to your wildlife.

 


Sunday, May 22, 2022

Living Mulch

Mulching garden beds has been a consistent ‘must-do’ for many gardeners.  Mulching reduces moisture evaporation, suppresses weeds, adds nutrients to the soil, reduces erosion and in many cases improves moisture absorption. Wood and bark chips are the most common materials employed.  Recently I have seen and read more about the negative effects of wood chip mulches. In particular when these mulches are over applied and allowed to compact, they can actually retard rain water absorption.  Thickly applied mulch can retard the growth and expansion perennials.   In his book The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden, Roy Diblik discusses how unnatural wood chip mulch is.  In areas that get adequate rainfall to support a tight matrix of plants, a living, or green, mulch is the ideal.

For many sustainable and naturalistic gardens the goal is to create this ‘green mulch’ or ‘living mulch’ by filling the space between garden features or larger plants with more plants.  ‘Green mulch’ is living plant material that performs all the functions of wood mulch such as weed suppression and soil moisture and temperature moderation.  In addition properly selected green mulches offer additional benefits like supporting wildlife and insects with food and cover, lower maintenance (since they do not to be replenished or broken up on a regular basis).  This green mulch may be a single species or a variety of plants that form an interlocking matrix. This matrix is most like what you would encounter in a meadow or woodland setting.

An example of a classically mulched bed. 
Each plant is distinctly identifiable and  there are no
random plants to confuse the composition.
One problem with green mulches is that they can look weedy due to lack of readability, no clear design or cluttered appearance.  Many folks are more comfortable with a landscape or garden where the features are clear and recognizable.  Having beds with clean edges is a quick way to make a garden more legible.  This human desire for legibility is also seen in the preference of many for plants neatly separated by oceans of mulch. 

One means of creating a green mulch is to install plants closer together so that they quickly grow together to create a continuous green carpet of foliage. This is one of the themes of the book New Naturalism, by Kelly Norris, published in 2021.  The trick here is to create plant communities that a good match to your site conditions and that the plants play well together. 


An example of a green mulch.  Creeping phlox, Phlox subulata,
and wild strawberry, Fragaria virginiana, have grown together
 to form a 4-6" deep ground cover.  Shrubs and perennials,
like the wild geranium, Geranium maculatum, here,
 are able to grow through.

Another route to a green mulch is to plant lower grow species as a matrix between your feature plants.  The trick here is to keep your garden readable so that the matrix does not obscure your design intent.  By way of example consider what bindweed does to a garden.  While it grows quickly to fill all the voids in the garden it also grows up and over taller plants resulting in tangle of plant material that has no discernible form, no starting or ending points and little textural contrast. (Kudzu does this on a much larger scale, draping a woodland edge with green vines, effectively removing all contrast between the trees.)  Consider instead a perennial bed where the spaces between plants are filled with low growing violets.  The glossy round leaves of the violets don’t interfere with the forms and textures of taller perennials or shrubs.  A list of some of the lowest growing  Mid-Atlantic natives includes:  Pussytoes (Antennaria sp.), wild ginger (Asarum canadense), Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum), wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), barren strawberry (Geum fragarioides), Meehan’s mint (Meehania cordata), partridgeberry (Mitchella repens), golden ragwort (Packera aurea), various species of phlox (Phlox divaracata, stolonifera or subulata),  foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), common violet (Viola soriana),  and  short sedges like rosy and ivory sedge (Carex rosea  and  C. eburnea ).

Golden ragwort is excellent native ground cover.  It spreads rapidly
 in moist, partly sunny locations.  It also seems to suppress invasive
 weeds like Japanese stilt grass and garlic mustard.

 

Using spring ephemerals for this purpose is a very natural means of creating a matrix.  These perennials naturally flourish early in the year when tree and shrub canopies are open, then slowly go dormant as the canopy closes up.  They return again the following spring.  In the Mid-Atlantic you may find Dutchman’s breeches and squirrel corn (Dicentra sp.), mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)  and Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginiana)  as common examples of these.  A limitation with using ephemerals is that they do totally disappear after setting seed.  They are ideal in an established perennial or shrub bed where you just need something in early spring while the larger plants are leafing out.  


Ephemerals, like cutleaf toothwort, Cardamine concatenata (in bloom),
 and Dutchman's breeches, Dicentra cucullaria, fill out in early spring.
but disappear as the tree canopy fills in. 


Using short-lived species that survive primarily by reseeding is another means to establishing a sustainable living mulch.  By nature these are opportunistic gap fillers.  As the longer lived perennial and shrub layers get established these reseeders tend to be squeezed out as their preferred, open habitat disappears.  Yellow fumewort (Corydalis flavula), American pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegiodes), common yellow woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta), and self-heal ( Prunella vulgaris) are some of the shorter species that can be used in this way.  Taller, showier species that can be used as temporary gap fillers include wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), Partridge pea  (Chamaecrista fasciculata), fleabanes (Erigeron annuus and E. philadelphicus), and black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta).

Wild columbine, growing about 2' high, is relatively
 short lived in gardens due to competition and rich soils.
It produces a lot of seed so that it can reappear in other suitable
 locations where seeds can make soil contact and
have access to sunlight. (unmulched areas).


Yellow wood sorrel is considered a weed in many cases.  However,
 this native plant satisfies the requirements of a living mulch quite well. 
It grows quickly and produces lots of seed to fill gaps, is relatively short lived,
and is easily displaced by larger plants. As a native it also supports wildlife,
 particularly bees and birds.  Its lax, floppy habit detracts from it appearance,
making it appropriate around much larger plants and shrubs
or where this flop is not a distraction.

Oxalis stricta is very similar to its European relative, O. europea
Each has the same common name, common yellow woodsorrel. 
The North American species can be distinguished by the horizontal
disposition of the seed stalks (indicated by arrow). 
O. europea has seed pods on ascending stalks.

So if you are willing to give up the repetitive chore of mulching your garden beds, consider having your plants do that job for you and establish a living mulch.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Managing Invasives 2022


This is pretty typical of an 'invaded' tree with
Japanese honeysuckle and oriental bittersweet
 twining among its branches.

We’ve been on our central Maryland property for about 9 years now.  From day one we have been battling a slew of invasive species that were covering the ground and trees through the woodland landscape.  While we still have a ways to go I feel that we have made some good progress.  As I am getting ready to start another season managing the landscape I thought I would organize my plan around actions and timing, rather than looking at one species at a time. 

First 

My first activity for the year will be to treat any visible garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, with a 2% glyphosate spray.  I'll do this sometime in the middle of March, when the temperatures  will be above 40°F with no rain for a couple of days. I started doing this 2 years ago and it seems to have helped me get the upper hand.  Prior to that I had  been only been pulling up plants in mid-spring as they grew tall prior to blooming. This link to my post on garlic mustard control options describes winter spraying in more detail and shows some of the desirable native species that may be visible at that time.  It also summarizes control options throughout the year.  The timing is critical as it is before the spring ephemerals, like spring beauties and Dutchman's breeches begin to sprout.  This lowers the chances of harming native species.   

Here you can see what a small garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata,
looks like in winter.  Indian mock strawberry, Potentilla indica,
is also green through the winter.  Unfortunately, that weed is not
 as sensitive to glyphosate as the garlic mustard. 
See this link for methods to manage it.

Second

Cutting woody invasives and vines and stump treating with 20% glyphosate can be done anytime of the year that the temperatures will be over 40°F for a few days in a row.  Winter is a good time to do this as it is easier to get to the base of many or these plants and there is less chance of getting the herbicide on desirable plants.  Particularly troublesome on my property are multiflora rose, Rosa multiflora, oriental bittersweet, Celastrus orbiculatus, Japanese honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica, and to a lesser extent Autumn olive, Eleagnus umbellata.  An excellent reference for managing invasives in the Mid-Atlantic region is Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas

In doing dormant season treatments it is critical to be able to distinguish friend and foe.  Below are some images of multiflora rose and other native species that it might be confused with.  

Here is multiflora rose in the winter.  Some distinguishing features are
its round olive green branches and its curved thorns.  The most
distinctive feature are the fringed stipules at the base of the petiole,
shown in the inset above.  It is the only species with this type of stipule.

 

Most native roses do not have green branches in
winter. Thorn shapes vary.  Here, swamp rose has
straight needle-like thorns.


Cat briar has bright green branches in winter
and it has straight almost pyramidal thorns.


Wild blackberry has smooth red stems in winter
armed with stiff red spines. Older branches
are square with indentions on each face.   


Black raspberry has red canes with somewhat smaller thorns. 
It is distinguished by the white bloom on the older branches 

You can read more about  dormant season treatment of multiflora rose at the link.  This technique is also effective on English ivy, Hedera helix.  Even if you don't use herbicides to treat the cut stumps, cutting vines climbing trees and over shrubs is helpful in controlling the spread of these invasives.  This is because many of these species are only able to bloom on vines that are elevated and/or exposed to plentiful sunlight.

Oriental bittersweet can twine against itself to get
stiffer and climb higher.  I cut these a while back
but left them long so I could easily find them. 
I'll cut them shorter and treat with glyphosate later.


This is typical of the damage that Japanese
 honeysuckle can do to a tree.  This vine can be
 recognized in winter in that it still has leaves and
 the older branches have shaggy bark.  

Third

Around the end of March I will use a brush cutter and mower to cut down last years growth of vines and undesired woody plants in the meadow and woodland edges.  The biggest problem in my meadow is wineberry, Rubus phoenicolasius. In addition to the wineberry there are the aforementioned multiflora rose, autumn olive, and oriental bittersweet.  

Spring mowing and pulling has been pretty effective at reducing wineberry in shady areas. This is a short-lived species and not deeply rooted so it is usually easy to pull up.  Cutting to the ground in spring seems to keep it from blooming, but it is still able to reproduce by it ability to put down roots wherever a branch touches the soil.   It is recommended that mowing/cutting should be done several times each season to be truly effective.  This is particularly true in sunnier areas where the cut plants can rebound quickly.  Oriental bittersweet can also resprout easily after being cut.

Wineberry is easily recognized by its dense
coating of stiff hairs mixed with red spines. 
While formidable in appearance these are
easily crushed with a gloved hand.

I will return about a month later and do a foliar spray on the wineberry sprouts. While burning is not considered an effective option of wineberry control I will test out targeted ‘cooking’ of individual crowns with my garden torch to see if that kills them in place.  (Standard burns do not selectively kill the wineberry, rather it clears out the competition and allows it to grow unhindered.

Fourth

At about the time that the forsythia is beginning to bloom is the time for me to get started on Japanese stiltgrass, Microstegium vinineum, control.  Stiltgrass has definitely been reduced in the lawn by use of a pre-emergent herbicide originally used for crabgrass control.  It should be applied when forsythia are beginning to bloom.  If you want to be more precise you can use a growing degree day tracker geared toward turf management. like GDD Tracker 4.0The product I use contains only dithiopyr (Dimension™) and no added fertilizer.  Most of my lawn is fescue based and not that hungry for added nutrition.  This link lists some other preemergent products that have shown effectiveness against stiltgrass.  I wrote about my year long plan for controlling stiltgrass in this post.  In the woods pulling and weed whacking, particularly in late summer has reduced, but not eliminated the amount of stiltgrass.  As a result of thinning out the stiltgrass, I am seeing more native species filling in such as white avens and Virginia jumpseed.  I am also seeing an increase in perennial grasses (perhaps a Glyceria species) in areas where stiltgrass had dominated. 

In the sunny meadow stiltgrass has been harder to eliminate.  The preemergent has not been as effective on the rougher soil and I am hesitant to use it every year as it may negatively affect the growth of desirable plants from seed.  Summertime pulling and the addition of tough native grasses and forbs is helping to displace the stiltgrass.  Weed whacking close to the soil level in late summer as the stiltgrass is beginning to bloom is effective.  However this will also damage other desirable species.  The best method or methods to use depend on the situation in a given location. 

Rest of Year

Mid-spring is the time when I will be watch for the rapid growth of garlic mustard as it prepares to flower.  Pulling it out and leaving it in the sun to dry is my method of choice at that time.  

Late-July and August are the time for pulling out stiltgrass as it prepares to bloom.

So there appears to be an awful lot to do, but it is encouraging that I have seen some progress.  I realize that I am talking about using a lot of herbicide, but these treatments are targeted on the actual plants and done at a time that has little negative impact on native species.  In this battle I feel it is necessary to properly use all the tools that are available.  Another aspect of invasive species control, is limited resources, especially time.  It is better to do one area really well, then move on to the next, rather than doing a little bit everywhere.

I wish you all good luck as another growing season is upon us!


Thursday, February 10, 2022

Plans for 2022


For 2022 I have a smaller list of plants that I will be adding to my landscape than in years past.  There are a number of reasons: I’m running out of space to tuck in new plants, I’m moving more seedlings of successful native species around, rather than purchasing new plants, and I am getting more selective about using regionally native species.  However, I am not beyond adding a few species for decoration.  New plants that I am adding are prairie willow (Salix humilis), creeping lespedeza (Lespedeza repens), a wild type smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) and I’m trying winecups (Callirhoe involucrata) again in a less competitive environment.

I have been looking for native willows to replace the mounds of forsythia on my property.  Willows bloom early in the spring, like forsythia.  But unlike them, willows do provide a benefit to the native insects: early flowers for bees and as a host species for a number of insects.  Early on I put in some native pussy willows (Salix discolor).  These are doing well but mine tend to have a taller upright form (nearing 20’) rather than a more rounded shape that I was looking for.  Prairie willow has the form I’ve been after, 4-7’ tall with a loose vase-shaped habit.  It is also tolerant of drier conditions than most willows.  I’ve got some on order, so we will see later this spring if my search is finally over. 

Pussy willow blooms at about the same time as
forsythia (shown here in the background).  


Another species that I have been trying to expand in my landscape is smooth hydrangea.  Most of mine are the huge mophead type, most likely ‘Annabelle’.  These grow really well with lots of flowers, but since most of these flowers are sterile, they offer little benefit to wildlife.  Two years ago I planted planted some tiny pots of the ‘Haas Halo’ cultivar.  These were highly rated in a recent study done at the Mt. Cuba Center.  These have large lace cap flowers which consist of mostly small fertile flowers in the center surrounded by a ring of large sterile flowers.  The plants grew to over 2’ tall last season, so I’m hoping I might see some flowers this year.  To build on this diversity I ordered a wild-type smooth hydrangea to add to the mix.  Wild-type plants usually have smaller flowers than the cultivars, but I’m hoping to see a benefit in the production of some seeds that could help the birds.

These wild hydrangeas are growing along the Potomac River
in Maryland. This photo was taken in late April. 
It seems kind of early for buds to be forming, considering
that 'Annabelle' hydrangeas normally bloom in June
.


An ongoing project that I have is to find replacements for vinca, particularly in dry shade.  I am expanding the scope to include a replacement for the yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon) that is spreading in my pine woods.  Last year I got some round leafed tick trefoil (Desmodium rotundifolium) for which I had been searching for 10 years (we’ll see how that has overwintered). It trails along the ground sporting three round leaflets on each stem. While examining catalogues I came across another trailing plant for dry shade, creeping lespedeza (Lespedeza repens).  While not super attractive on its own, it may work nicely in a matrix planting. 

I didn't have a photo of the Lespedeza, so I'm sharing an image
from my botanical sketchbook.  Included are some notes on
how to tell Desmodium and Lespedeza species, both
members of the pea family, apart.


The wine cups are an exception to my focus on regional natives.  These are native more to the mid-west and southern plains, than to the east, but I became enamored with them ever since I saw them in a field in the Ft. Worth area.  I was able to grow them in the Boston area and had them for awhile here in Maryland.  The problem was that they were not able to compete with dense growth of asters, goldenrods, and Virginia creeper that surrounded them.  This time I will plant them where they have a little more of their own space to get established.

The magenta flowers of wine cups are hard to miss.  It has a
sprawling habit and can form a ground cover 
where competing vegetation is sparse.


As I mentioned above (and last year at this time) I will also be moving many native seedlings out of my vegetable garden, particularly Rudbeckia sp., Monarda fistulosa, Asclepias tuberosa, and Echinacea purpurea, and into the beds where I am fighting Japanese stiltgrass.  I started that process last year.  It’s too soon to see a difference, though some of the transplants appear to have overwintered.  Their real value will be if they are able to reseed themselves and become self-sustaining.


Monday, January 10, 2022

Squirrel baffle


Our squirrels have figured out how to get into the bird feeder that was hanging from a branch of a tree. This was despite a series of impediments that I put in their way. It was a somewhat tolerable situation for awhile; however, when they figured out how to knock the entire feeder off of its hanger and onto the ground, it was time for a change. So we moved it to a shepherd’s hook. I thought the narrow metal pole would be hard for them to climb. NOT SO! After a day they were climbing the 1/2” pole and clearing out the bird seed. Searching for another solution, I saw baffles advertised online and that seemed to be a good solution, but I didn't want to shell out upwards to $50 on something that I was not certain would work. So to test whether this would out with our squirrels I looked into making one from materials I had on hand.

Most baffles that I saw for sale were essentially sheet metal cones at least 18" in diameter that are attached to the central pole. The conic shape keeps debris from getting trapped on top and makes it a little harder for the squirrels to get a hold of. I was able to make this one from 10” aluminum flashing left over from a roof repair.

1) Here are the two semicircles with the notch
cut in the center. Note the triangular tab
on the left hand piece made by bending
down the edge.
To form the baffles I cut semicircles 20" long x 10" wide from my stock of aluminum flashing using tin snips. I cut a a notch about 1//2" wide x 3/4" deep on the edge of each piece of the stock 10" from the end. This will fit closely to the pole. To increase rigidity of the final cone I bent a triangular tab from the center cutout to the edge, about 3/4", on each piece. (Image 1)

To join the pieces together I overlapped one seam by about a half inch and drilled holes for two small #6 machine screws and bolted them together. To get the fit just right I put a 1/2" rod into the center hole and pulled the two free edges together to form the cone. Now I could drill the final two holes along the edges of the stock to ensure a good fit. (Image 2)

2) The two pieces were joined along one edge with
 machine screws and nuts.  To ensure a proper fit,
 the holes for the second pair of screws were
 predrilled after fitting the baffle onto a 1/2" post.
3) Here's a closeup showing the two taps formed by
 folding down the edges.

Mounting the cone on the shepherds hook was easily accomplished by attaching a slightly oversized hose clamp at the desired height on the pole. The cone was mounted by removing two of the machine screws, opening the cone, then fitting it on the pole above the clamp. The screws were reattached, in place, to secure the cone. Having the cone 'float' on top of the clamp makes it more difficult for the squirrels to get hold of. (Images 3 & 4)


4) I had this hose clamp on hand that was large
enough to keep the baffle from sliding down.


Success!  Here's the final product with
birds happily at the feeder and a pair of squirrels
on the ground waiting for seeds to fall.

With the homemade baffle in place the squirrels were no longer able to get directly into the feeder.  Instead they just hung around the edge waiting to see what hit the ground.  Serendipitously I was given a nicer looking store-bought baffle at the end of last year.  I will be using that one in 2022.


This store-bought baffle has all the features of my
homemade one, except maybe the rugged good looks.