Monday, June 15, 2009

Pro-garden Forces Thwart Enemy Combatants

After a long and seemingly successful weekend in the garden I felt our escapades warranted a news release.

Pro-garden Forces Thwart Enemy Combatants, Shore Up Resources for Continued Campaign
15 June 2009, Horseheads, NY
For immediate release

This week saw a renewed effort in the campaign to rid Prospect Hill of unwanted weeds. Pro-garden forces moved early in an attempt to catch the invaders off guard. "Our goal was to eliminate as many of them as quickly as possible," said Noflickster, one of the attack's coordinators. "We've seen an astronomical rise in recruitment in recent weeks. Our intelligence told us now was the time to strike."

Exotic turf grasses and Broadleaf Plantain were discovered in gardens previously unknown to harbor weeds, but they weren't the the primary target. "Dandelions," responded Reina, the youngest member of the gardening trio, when asked which plants were the main focus. "And Creeping Charlie. But mostly dandelions."

Dandelion numbers have spiked in recent weeks, due to a wet spring that saw very little in the way of lawn care. "You've got to take them out before they develop the seed-bearing parachutes. That's the real trick," advises The Gardener. "Mechanical problems delayed our usual start of garden maintenance, but we're making up for it now. Unfortunately, it's a lot harder when they're established."

The gardens have survived previous incursions, some even thriving following skirmishes with nonnative species. "After a lengthy weeding bout last year we planted dozens of additional native plants to help suppress the uprisings," reminisces Noflickster. "Bee Balm, Purple Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan - we've had great success by adding these annuals following earlier weeding bouts." After removing the undesirable plants, favorable species are transplanted from other areas of the yard to augment the intended species. "They grow quickly and can cover a pretty large area, keeping the exotic species from recolonizing."

"We're hoping the Labrador Violet, a quick-spreading flowering plant useful as ground-cover, will eventually provide an impenetrable layer to weeds. The main focus of this garden," The Gardener gestures towards a long, narrow stretch of shrubby growth, "are berry producing bushes. Winterberry, Serviceberry, Spicebush, a couple of evergreen Inkberry; they're all in there."

Why the hard-line focus on native species? "Exotic species don't belong here," begins Noflickster. "Our native wildlife doesn't know what to do with them. They generally won't accept them as a food source, so the plants are left unchecked, outcompeting the useful plants and turning a once-diverse habitat into a monoculture. Native insects, birds, amphibians, mammals - they all disappear from these functional deserts. Wait, scratch that analogy, deserts are actually a natural, functioning ecosystem . . . don't print what I said about deserts."

"We're trying to increase the diversity in our corner of the world, and adding native plants is the surest way to promote that goal," continues The Gardener. "We'll be back again to fight another day."

The weary gardeners finished the battle with a trip to a local garden center, stocking up on supplies. "Deer netting, Japanese Beetle traps, a lawn edger, loppers, pruning shears, . . . not only are we after the herbaceous plants, but the woody invasives, too. Autumn Olive, mostly," Noflickster reports he has spent hours over the years removing the fast-growing shrubs from their property, grudgingly noting it may be a futile effort. "Look around our hill and you'll see dozens, if not hundreds, of Autumn Olives, each producing hundreds of berries a season." These berries seem to grow viable offspring under any condition, "especially if that condition is on our property," continued Noflickster. "Seriously, what that's all about?"

Chemicals are not on the shopping list. "We are trying to manually manage our property as much as possible," says The Gardener. "We've relented and used glyphosate on a few of the more persistent invaders, like Japanese Knotweed - that thing is just scary. Did you know any part of an existing plant can propagate a new plant? A leaf dropped on the ground can become a new individual? A bit of stem left on the ground can start a new population? Don't take the mower to that beast!"

With the exception of the knotweed and another seemingly unstoppable invasive plant, Garlic Mustard, casualties of the day are unceremoniously piles in a final resting place, a Potter's Field, known as "the Compost Pile." Ironically, the decomposed bodies of the removed weeds are reintroduced to the garden to fertilize the surviving native species. Noflickster's pride shows, "It's the ultimate, 'comes around, goes around' story, the circle of life completed. And hopefully it benefits our native wildlife - and we can get back to birding again, soon!"

With a little luck, and a lot of persistence, Prospect Hill will be a haven for native wildlife for generations to come.



ramblingwoods said...

I like the term manual gardening. That is what we are trying to do around yard and around the pond but I am not a gardener. High point of the day were a pair of belted kingfishers fishing the pond. I would love to know where they nest.

noflickster said...

@ramblingwoods - ditto on the gardening with us, we're learning more every time we venture out. We read quite a bit on landscaping with native species which helps a lot. Now I'm trying to develop a love for spending hours pulling weeds and stones out of the gardens!

We occasionally have a kingfisher visit our pond and I've often wondered where its nest may be. I often see them at a marsh over a mile away and I wonder if they visit from there. I seem to remember hearing they can nest quite a distance from their foraging sites, up to several kilometers, but I can't source that at the moment.

Either way, very cool to watch them, especially when they're using your own backyard. Hope they become regular visitors to your yard, that would mean you're doing something right!


ramblingwoods said...

I guess I won't go looking for the nest then. LOL. We also have great blue and green herons daily. Also the past two seasons we have had 2 wood duck broods which are my favorite duck.....I moved here 5 years ago and became interested in birds and the rest is..well..history... Michelle

noflickster said...

@ramblingwoods - wow, your pond is amazingly productive! Early on we had regular kingfisher visits with daily herons, both Green and Great Blue. A few ducks would stopover in the spring, like Wood and Ring-necked Ducks and Hood Mergansers.

I'm not sure what changed in the pond, but something isn't desirable to them anymore. Maybe we need to get in there and manage it. Or I'm simply not watching the pond as much as I used to, which is definitely true!

Hope your pond stays productive for a good, long, while!

Laura K. said...

You managed to turn what COULD be a dry subject--weed pulling--into a very enjoyable read. Good (and fun) writing.

noflickster said...

@Laura_K - thanks! I found the only thing drier than pulling weeds was writing about it. But I figure that's a limitation of the writer, not the activity. Writing a news release was a lot more fun, and less frustrating. That's saying something: you know how frustrating writing can be!

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