Managing a Woodland for Wildlife

20200229_130442

I’ve talked before about how a small portion of my property is wooded. It’s between 1/8-1/4 of an acre so very small–but in the heavily developed suburbs, that is the size of a building lot–and indeed, it is part of a second lot that we own.

Because it is wooded, we try to leave it in as natural state as possible. That means if a tree dies, and it’s not near enough to endanger our neighbor’s home, it stays.

What does this accomplish? Several nice things. Many birds nest in dead trees, which can be difficult to find, particularly in the suburbs. I have an abundance of woodpeckers on my property because I manage it in this way and woodpeckers are one of the birds that nest in dead trees.

20200229_130412

It also brings insects that digest such materials–and keeps them where they belong, in the woods and not in our home.

One drawback is that I am constantly scouting for invasives. I had just about gotten rid of garlic mustard out of here–after a decade of hand pulling–and I now see it’s in all my neighbors yards so it will be back here shortly.

Oriental Bittersweet is a constant issue. I try to find the seedlings when they are small. If all else fails, I cut the vines before they fruit–but of course, I will have twice as many vines the following year. At least, without the birds eating the berries, I won’t have multitudes more and I won’t have spread it to my neighbors.

But the fact that I do have a place for birds and wildlife is important to me. It makes the work worth it.

Ugliness is in the Eyes of the Beholder

20200216_152503

This is a juniper. At least the evergreen on the right is–on the left is a weeping Norway spruce. But for the purposes of this post, I am talking about the juniper.

When this garden was put in back in 1993 (before I married the house and gardens, as I say), the juniper was one of those crazy ornamental things with 5 or 6 pom-poms at the end of branches.

Time, heavy wet snows, ice storms and other things have caused it to revert to its natural shape. Several times the Spoiler and I have discussed removing it. And always, just about the time when we decided it needed to go, something would happen like a neighbor who planted their swingset on our property line. It’s amazing how much this big shrub blocks.

The final “it stays, and as it is,” decision came one February as I looked out my second story den window in a snowstorm. I pretty much overlook this garden from my den.

In this juniper, in the snow, I counted 14 American robins–and there could have been more. They were feasting on the berries.

So that was all I needed to see. The shrub stays–and of course the more shrub there is, the more berries there are.

Bring on the robins!

Persistent Fruit?

20200208_124543

Back when I worked in retail gardening, there were certain plants that everyone wanted–until they understood what was required for fruiting. Hollies (the genus ilex) was one of these. Everyone wanted the red berrying hollies.

No one wanted to plant a male plant (in other words, one without berries) so that they could get the red berries. If you knew how many times I answered the question about “but my neighbor has a holly. Can’t I just use theirs for the male?”

So we sold far fewer hollies than we should because they are lovely, deer resistant native plants for New England and they have persistent fruit (meaning their berries stay on the shrub and don’t fall off and make a mess) until they ripen after the winter. That’s why the birds harvest them in the spring and why they’re available if you choose to cut them for winter decorations.

Since my retail gardening days, hollies have come a long way as well. Breeders are making smaller shrubs and more heavily berrying shrubs. You still need plants of both sexes for most kinds of hollies to get berries–but now at least, the sizes of the shrubs are a bit more manageable for home gardens!

Another small tree that was a near impossible sell was the crab apple. Crab apples have come a long way and they too have persistent fruit. But many folks remember the older variety that dropped messy “apples” and so won’t even consider them.

20200208_124322

Crabapples are another fruit that remains on the tree throughout the winter and is available for returning migratory birds in early spring so it’s a valuable resource.

Take a little time to learn about our new and improved plants the next time you are shopping for a small tree or evergreen shrub. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Non-Native Shrubs for Wildlife

This may look like an out of control mess (more about what’s actually gone on here in a moment) but this wild hedge of hibiscus syriacus actually serves a wonderful purpose. As you might actually be able to tell from this photo, the land approaching this garden–which is not mine–in a slope. You can see the hibiscus flowers lying on it.

My neighbor mows it with a riding mower. For years I struggled with this garden and with painfully hand pulling the grass that his riding mower threw into the garden (actually it was the grass seeds, which then germinated–but I digress). Now that I have the Great Wall of Hibiscus, it fairly impenetrable.

Ironically, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. (And in another digression, isn’t this what gardening is all about? Happy accidents–and some not so happy ones?) That huge white hibiscus you see is one that was sent to me as a test shrub. It is called Lil’ Kim and was supposed to be 3-4 feet tall.

So, as I always say, plants can’t read–but in this case, Lil’ Kim apparently reverted to her parentage, whatever that was.

Here’s the true Lil’ Kim. You can probably tell that her foliage is more delicate and her flowers are smaller than anything in that gargantuan hedge.

By comparison, here is her “reverted” sister, parentage unknown. Same color scheme, same type of flower, just much larger.

So why do I let this behemoth stay? Simple–the wildlife love it. Bees and hummingbirds adore it. The fact that it has created a hedge from the grass clippings is an unintentional bonus.

And you might have noticed some purple hibiscus in my photo too. Both these plants, when they self-sow, occasionally throw off purple seedlings. I let them stay on the idea that purple is a desired wild life color.

Here’s a close-up of the the “purple” one. I guess it’s more lavender. Anyway, I like it. Coming up in the kolkwitzia, it makes it look as if it’s blooming a second time–almost.

The Summer of Fireflies

20190705_103405

Forgive the filthy glass door. I can’t bear down hard enough to wash it yet (after my surgery). Besides the fireflies sure don’t seem to mind. This is one of their favorite daytime resting places.

This summer they are so abundant, however, that they seem to have a lot of favorite resting places, so long as there’s shade.

One morning, I actually drove with one on my driver’s door window all the way to work! Luckily, I don’t have a long drive, it’s local roads, and I sure drove as near to the lower end of the speed limit as I could (you realize that many folks take speed limits and stop signs–and even traffic lights–as mere suggestions here. Or they’re for “other” people. )

Anyway, no fireflies were harmed. And I am getting quite a show in my yard this year!

Disorder

Since my Friday post was about the possible insect apocalypse, I thought I might post about this disruption that happened to some of my bumblebees on July 4th.

20190704_164053

I had been out in the yard doing something and I noticed my edging disturbed. Since it was the middle of the day, that alone was peculiar enough. So I took a closer look.

20190704_164105

This doesn’t look like much (the pink is rose petals from a shrub rose nearby). But of course I didn’t want to get too close to a bunch of very disturbed bumblebees that had been–what?

Normally the only animal that will go near a stinging insects nest is a skunk. I have had skunks dig whole underground hornets colonies out for me. Gotta love a creature that will do that!

So that’s what I am presuming did this. But boy, the remaining bees were mad as hornets. So I watched–and photoed–from a distance.

Nothing worse than getting on the wrong side of angry bees!