It isn’t always necessary to bare root a tree before planting, but in some cases, it’s crucial for the tree’s good health. The tree in the photos below probably came from the southeastern U.S., based on the heavy clay soil that is visible. Here in the northeast, most of our soils are significantly different. In the planting site for this tree, the soil had high organic matter and was extremely well-drained. Without proper preparation, there was a low chance for this tree to thrive in its new home. Since the soil at the planting site was so well-drained, water wouldn’t have a chance to soak through the clay to the roots. We chose to completely bare root the tree and in the process, found a snarl of roots. We cut several roots so the tree wouldn’t girdle itself and untangled a few more. The tree was planted in its new location and it settled in well. It was worth the extra time!
It’s that time of year when we see gypsy moth caterpillars emerge and wreak havoc on our trees. You won’t ever completely eliminate this insect, but you can control some of the damage. Spraying insecticides kills pollinators, other beneficial insects, and often birds and toads. So besides having a professional come spray your affected trees, there are some strategies you can use to help decrease the caterpillar invasion. Check the website GypsyMothAlert.com for a great pictorial of gypsy moth control strategies for the homeowner, as listed below:
1. Use duct tape and tanglefoot on trees.
2. Wrap trees with folded burlap strips.
3. Wrap trees with burlap strips sprayed with insecticide (can kill beneficial insects too).
4. Use gypsy moth traps.
5. Learn to identify gypsy moth egg masses and destroy them: Massachusetts Gypsy Moth Fact Sheet
6. Aid the spread of virus fatal to gypsy moths.
7. Encourage birds to visit your property. Plant a variety of plant species that provide refuge, nesting, and food throughout each season. ensure there is a clean water source nearby.
The idea of supporting more wildlife in your yard can be expressed in many ways. It might be that you want to provide food for birds, attract butterflies, create safe small mammal pathways, or improve pollinator resources. Animals and insects need a variety of plants, both bare and planted areas, plant litter, and deadwood for safety, food, and different stages of growth. When it comes to ecological health and diversity, a spotless yard is not a healthy yard.
Some of the strategies you can use to meet these goals are rather broad and simple:
- Stop using pesticides: insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides, etc.
- Choose a variety of flowering plants and stagger bloom times throughout the year.
- Chose plants of different heights to create layers in the garden.
- Designate areas in your yard that you don’t mow.
- Make your lawn smaller or eliminate it completely.
- Don’t remove all your fallen leaves and yard waste – mulch with them or allow a few piles to remain in out of the way spots, such as under shrubs or corners of the garden. Butterflies and moths often overwinter in curled up fallen leaves. Insects often pupate or overwinter in hollow plant stalks.
- Leave some patches of earth bare of leaves and mulch for ground-nesting bees.
- Ensure that there is clean water nearby (without pesticide and fertilizer runoff).
If you are interested in choosing plants that will support more wildlife in your yard, please look over this list of Plants to Attract Butterflies and Moths by Doug Tallamy, entomologist, professor, and author. When you make habitat for butterflies and moths, you are also creating habitat for other beneficial insects and wildlife.
I like a lot of Trillium species and there are a lot of Trilliums to like, but the big, bright white flowers of Trillium grandfilorum is one of my favorite plants. The leaves and blossoms unfurl in a spiral from sheaths as they emerge. The white blossoms brighten the shady areas where they like to grow and the flowers remain for a long time, slowly turning to pink as they age. Trillium provide pollinators, like bumblebees, an early source of nectar and the bees return the favor by pollinating the plant. The seeds have a sticky substance that attracts ants, and the ants carry the seeds back to their colonies, thereby establishing new nearby colonies of Trillium. Browsing deer can disperse the seeds over greater distances.
Trillium generally grow in moist, shady woodland soils, but many species’ tolerance will allow then to grow well in urban conditions. It is important to establish them in loose soil and amend it with a top dressing of leaf mold/mulch that will insulate the soil from too much heat and retain moisture. In the heat of summer, they will usually go dormant, which helps ensure their survival for future years. Trillium species that I have seen adapt well in the city are Trillium grandiflorum and Trillium cuneatum. There are probably others that will tolerate urban conditions, they just haven’t been tested or reported yet.
Native plants have traditionally been overlooked in formal design. People often equate native plants with being messy or at the very least, wild, yet there are many native plants that are perfectly suitable for formal landscape design. As an example, is this Aronia arbutifolia (red chokeberry) which I’ve espaliered on this client’s fence. The technique of espalier is used to train a tree or shrub flat against a wall or fence. It is generally used for fruit production and the intense pruning required of espaliered fruit trees allows for bountiful production in a very small space. Espalier is also often used to train vines, like ivies, into intricate or geometric shapes, purely for the visual effect.
The photo to the left shows a young Aronia arbutifloia after it was attached to guide wires. This client needed a small plant species that could easily be maintained at 6-8 feet tall and could tolerate extreme shade and dry conditions under mature oak trees. Both Aronia arbutifolia and A. melanocarpa have supple stems that make the process of espalier even easier, since there will be less pruning required to maintain the desired vase shape in this installation. These native varieties also offer great three-season interest with early white blossoms, glossy green leaves, red berries, and rich red-orange autumn colors.
Suggestions for other native trees and shrubs that could be espaliered include: Aesculus parviflora (bottlebrush buckeye), Amelanchier (serviceberry) species, Cephalnathus occidentalis (buttonbush), Cercis canadensis (redbud), Chionanthus virginicus (fringe tree), Clethra alnifolia (sweet pepperbush), Hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel), Ilex glabra (inkberry), Ilex verticillata (winterberry), Myrica pensylvanica (bayberry), Prunus maritime (beach plum), and Viburnum lentago (nannyberry). Native vines such as Clematis virginiana (woodbine), Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper), and Wisteria frutescens (American wisteria) are also possible candidates for espalier training.
Below are examples of traditional espalier:
Sometimes, a work space turns into someone else’s play space. This wall is the foundation for a sugar shack, but on this particular summer afternoon, it was the princesses’ castle wall. Planning for family activities is an important part of landscape design. Sometimes people focus solely on creating specific play areas for the kids, but often, just having an interesting space is what kids need.
Paths can twist and turn, as an invitation to see what is around the corner or the future site of a surprise attack. Elevation changes offer children a chance to experience viewing the world from a different perspective. Water features are possibly a place to splash, feel the coolness, see reflections, and watch insect, amphibians, and fish throughout their life cycles. Stones of different sizes, colors, and textures can inspire thoughtful inquiry or construction.
Diverse plant choices provide a variety of heights, textures, colors, smells, and tastes. Different plant heights allow kids to feel both big and small. Big plants provide hiding places where kids can see, but not be seen. Rhododendrons and lilacs become forts on the inside, fallen tree trunks become bridges or lookouts, vines create tents. Groundcovers are a carpet from which to watch the leaves flutter or clouds race across the sky. Small plants could become troll and fairy houses, or just the place where chipmunks disappear and reappear.
A variety of colors can help encourage exploration and discovery. Have you even taken the time to notice what color of plants attract what type of pollinators? Blooms, fruits, and leaf colors herald the change of seasons. Different textures of plants allow kids to experience plants by sight and touch. Small, large, broad and strappy leaves can be as inspiring as the soft, velvety feel of Canadian ginger and lamb’s ear. The leathery leaves of mayapples and their flowers that can only be viewed by peeking under the umbrella-like leaves (and finding out the fruits are food for Eastern box turtles). There’s the prickly and sharp, dried purple coneflower seedhead or the smooth, silky-soft feeling of northern sea oats or the leaves of threadleaf bluestar. The rough leaves of peppermint and sage, the smooth, brittle crush of skunk cabbage, and sweet woodland phlox provide exploration through scent.
Edible plants like blueberries, wild strawberries, thimbleberries, and beach plums, elicit sweet memories of summer; the tartnesss of cranberries, the sweet vanilla-banana flavor of paw paw and savory flavors of herbs can surprise. Children can learn how fruits, seeds, and herbs are grown and how they can be added to meals for nutrition and increased flavor. There are also teachable moments about how all plant fruits are not edible, and children can learn to appreciate the knowledge that these fruits provide food for other creatures, even if not for humans.
There are so many different ways that landscapes and plant choices provide playful, sensory, and educational opportunities for children. Unstructered play and exploration of nature through observation, touch, smell and taste, including the nature in our landscaped yards, balconies, and porches, is a great way for children to experience the world.