Beautiful Native Plants

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The never-ending story of a native landscape

Plants are alive. They grow, they multiply, and they die. So those perfect-looking landscape plans or meticulously groomed gardens in magazines and online are mere snapshots in time. The reality is that *things* are always changing and that’s a good thing. To see how much my front landscape has changed over the years, read  From lawn to woods: a retrospective. So this is the next phase in the never-ending story…

Time to remove some lawn: those yuccas have grown and
had leaned over the lawn edge.
The fall leaves will make a great mulch.

The trip along the lawn edge

The edging trip around the edge of the lawn is a good opportunity to remove more lawn and to edit the plants that have become too rambunctious, i.e. weeds.

When I started this go-round in late October, it had been very dry for us–1/2″ instead of our average 3.86″– October is the last of our 5 wet months. The dryness made it easy to remove the grass and other plants.

I keep the curves of the lawn edges gradual so my husband can easily mow the edges on his riding mower without backing up or using string trimmers to trim the edges.

The edging project progressed past the growing beautyberry and toward the end of the tongue of lawn that extends into the area that has now been rewilded.

Farther along the edge, I removed some extra lawn from the area around the beautyberry, which has grown very well. This meant that to keep the curve shallow enough for easy mowing, I’d need to remove more than a foot of lawn along the end  of the tongue of lawn. As I came to this area where I’d taken out 12 feet of lawn as described in  Adventures in creating a native garden,

I walked through the area that I arranged back then. There have been changes, of course. The Elliot’s love grasses died after 2 years. I had the occasion to talk to the grower and asked  him what I could do to be more successful with these grasses. His simple answer was sooo logical. He said, “Don’t plant them there again.” While we try to match the right plant to the right place, sometimes there are conditions that we don’t see. Let the plants do the talking…

A beautyberry seedling that grew up too fast.

Saving a beautyberry

Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is a member of the mint family and its berries provide good winter food for the birds, especially the cardinals, mockingbirds, and catbirds. The leaves can be used as a mosquito repellent and humans can eat the berries, too. (See my recipe for Beautyberry bread.)

I found a small beautyberry in the undergrowth near the holly. It was so crowded by taller plants that I’d not noticed it earlier in the year. It’s unusual that such a small plant would have flowered and produced fruit, but  plants under stress will spend their limited energy to reproduce.

I pulled out the surrounding plants, mostly the goldenrods, and I laid down a ring of compost around it. Next year I’ll clear out the goldenrods again and lay down some more compost. I hope that with this TLC that it will now have enough energy to grow into a full-sized shrub.

Before & after: That little beautyberry was next to that shovel in front of the holly. After I pulled out a bunch of goldenrods and some other weeds in the area, it will have more of a chance.

The stokes asters, which used to be at the edge of the
native bed, needed to be moved forward.

Reworking the edge

Now that the love grasses are gone at the edge of the wildflower garden, I wanted a better-defined edge. The Stokes asters (Stokesia laevis) had been planted between and somewhat behind the grasses had multiplied. I decided to make them the new edge plant, since they stay low and look good year round with its low foliage and lovely lavender flowers.

I planted them in front of the desirable volunteers. The rayless sunflowers (Helianthus radula) have reseeded to some extent and I’ll leave them in place. Learn more about these understated sunflowers in my post, Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The stokes asters had multiplied and now it was time to divide them. The stokes asters have a long blooming period and attract lots of pollinators, especially native bees.

A new edge under construction.

Clearing the path

Part of the edging project is to clear the plants out of the path and remulch it. Some of the path volunteers are weeds, but I transplanted others, like the bluestem grasses (Andropogon sp.), to more appropriate places. The shovel in this photo is in place to remove one of those grass bunches.

I try to plant or transplant a bunch of stuff all at the same time so the extra watering that these plants need for establishment can be done all at once. When I plant, no matter is, I build soil indentations that hold the water during their establishment phase. The larger the plant, the larger the watering swale.

For the next few days, I watered these plants daily with 2 watering cans full of rain barrel water (about 6 gallons). After this initial time, I’ll water them weekly unless there is a soaking rain of more than 1/2″. Yes these are native plants and they grow naturally in my area, but after the trauma of planting, they need care. See my post, When native plants die …, for more on how to establish your newly planted natives.

The end result (for the time being) with the Stokes asters as the edge of the wild area. Note the nice easy curve for easy mowing.  New changes will happen the next time I re-edge some time in the next 2 years.

Okay, now onto the next project... 

Out back on the north side of a wooded area where it interfaces with a lawn: some netted chain ferns (Woodwardia areolata) and some moss have grown into the grass. Removing turf here will be a little slower going because I want to save the ferns and preserve the moss as much as possible.

The never-ending story of a native landscape includes happy and sad parts, but it’s always interesting, if you stop long enough to smell the asters.

© Ginny Stibolt