Btown Dirt Blog
Local Garden Buzz| Events | Classes | Tutorials | Garden Tips
Designing a wildlife-friendly garden may not be your biggest priority. You may have never even considered encouraging wildlife into your landscape or sharing your space with them. This quote by author Doug Tallamy may give you something to chew on:
'Chances are, you have never thought of your garden – indeed, of all the space on your property – as a wildlife preserve that represents the last chance we have for sustaining plants and animals that were once common throughout the U. S. But that is exactly the role our suburban landscapes are playing and will play even more into the near future.” '
Recently a few of our staff attended a presentation by David Drake, University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension wildlife specialist in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology. The talk was entitled Managing Wildlife and of course the expectation was that he would address how to keep rabbits out of the garden, squirrels out of the feeders, and raccoons out of the garbage. Instead, he gave a refreshing lecture on the benefits of drawing in beneficial wildlife such as birds, bats, snakes, frogs, toads, and turtles. Here are a few practical take-aways that we all can implement.
Provide food, water, and shelter clustered in groups throughout the landscape. Feeders, shrubs with fruit, perennial seed heads planted near a birdbath or small pond check the first two boxes. Shelter can be in the form of bird houses, brush piles, and conifers.
Plant for all four seasons and include trees and shrubs that have persistent winter berries.
Install a bat house.
Choose plants that have a purpose - like natives.
Not sure what natives to plant? Check out the Native Plant Finder supported by the National Wildlife Federation to discover which indigenous plant species are the very best at supporting the insects that drive local food webs. A search of our 53105 zip code revealed that oak trees support over 300 species of butterflies, caterpillars, and moths. Goldenrod is the best native perennial supporting 102 different species. Be sure to check it out for the complete list.
For more ideas, read Doug Tallamy's article here.
Learn more about David Drake's work with urban wildlife here.
How are you doing on your resolutions, intentions, commitments for 2020? Maybe you have long given that new year’s practice up, but I’m going to suggest making an intention for the new season of gardening that is approaching. As winter is in no hurry to leave yet, these quiet months are perfect for reflecting on new things you many want to try, new plants to grow, new areas to landscape, ways to improve the lawn, how to use fewer chemical inputs, or perhaps it’s time to downsize to a patio garden.
There are several movements within the world of horticulture that may interest you and give you some direction as to how you intend to spend your time growing this year. The first is one of regenerative gardening. It’s about being more conscientious and intentional about building up the soil we grow in. Composting, using natural and organic products, and no-till practices all aim to rebuild the soil’s organic matter and return nutrients to the soil. Healthy soil means healthy plants which lead to healthy food. Intention: Compost for a more sustainable garden. First step: Build or buy a compost bin.
A second movement you may hear about this spring is small space gardening. Even in a large space, you can carve out a secluded spot in which to unwind. This can be done by seeking out dwarf varieties of plants which are becoming more prevalent. You may need to redesign an area if plants have become overgrown and crowded. Another strategy is to make use of vertical space and install a vertical garden. This is nothing new but there are new products available that make vertical gardening easy. Adding a small water feature can help sooth away the stress of the day. Intention: Create an outdoor space to relax in. First step: Analyze current landscape and consult with a designer.
The color of the year is our next trend and it may surprise you. Classic blue. It’s already strong in interior design and fashion, but this is a great color to bring outside as well. Add blue pots to your outdoor garden, paint a trellis or fence, buy a blue birdbath, and grow plants with blue flowers. The intention isn’t to be trendy but adding color to your space can be reinvigorating. This hue of blue especially brings a sense of calmness. It’s solid and dependable in a time that isn’t so much. Intention: Add color to the garden. First step: Look up blue flowers easy to grow from seed.
Finally, plant for wildlife. This movement is becoming stronger as more people become aware of the benefits of protecting pollinators from the many dangers they face. Grow plants that attract them and avoid using chemicals as much as possible. Natives are a good place to start. Intention: Plant a pollinator garden. First step: Find a list of pollinator plants and seek them out.
Whether you try these intentions or not, hopefully you are thinking about the growing season that lies ahead and the possibilities it holds. As you do, you awaken the gardener within.
Tracy Hankwitz is a horticulturist and general manager at Burlington Garden Center. For a list of pollinator plants and blue flowers to start from seed, go to www.burlingtongardencenter.com.
In August's early days, time seem to pause suspended in deep summer. The harvest stills momentarily, bees buzz on intoxicating nectar, and a relaxed mood dominates when it's too hot to do anything but sit in a hammock under the shade trees.
It's during this time that landscapes are filled with the lacey blossoms of hydrangeas. Some have been blooming since June, but by now there should be a pretty display of white, blush, pink, mauve and even deep red varieties. The selection is vast and can be confusing as to which one to choose. Following is an explanation of hydrangea types. Read on to discover the one that is best for your landscape.
Smooth Hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens) are better known as Anabelles and are native to the south eastern part of the US. They are the earliest blooming group typically showing flowers in June. Annabelle's family is quickly growing as more members are introduced such as 'Lil' Annie', 'Wee White', 'Incrediball', 'Invincibelle Spirit, and 'Ruby', and 'Mini Mauvette'. Newer versions of Annabelle have either sturdier stems, larger flowers, or a more compact habit. Flower colors are either white or pink and do not respond to soil pH levels. Most hydrangeas in this group can take sun or part shade. CARE TIP: flowers on new wood; prune back to 18" in late fall or early spring.
Big Leaf (Hydrangea macrophylla), also known as mopheads, have large colorful balls of florets. Plant in morning sun and afternoon shade, and playing with the soil pH can generally change the colors from blue, purple, and pink. Mature sizes range from 3-4' tall. CARE TIP: Most macrophyllas die back to the ground every year in our area. In spring, prune off dead wood and fertilize. Varieties to look for: any from the 'Cape Cod' series are hardy to zone 4 and are beautiful!
Panicle Hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) are woody shrubs that can take six or more hours of sun, and have large, cone-shaped flowers ranging from white to shades of pink and red. 'Quick Fire' is the earliest blooming variety, but by August they all are spectacular! Need something compact? Look for 'Bobo', 'Little Quickfire', and 'Little Lime'. Other varieties can grow 6-8' tall making a great living screen. 'Zinfin Doll' and 'Pink Diamond' are among the fragrant varieties. Many panicle hydrangeas are now available in tree form making them the perfect focal point in a small space garden. CARE TIP: Prune back by one third in early spring.
Mountain (Hydrangea serrata) is a smaller group of hydrangeas originating from the mountains of eastern Asia and are hardy to zone 5. The lace-cap flowers are purple or pink depending on the soil pH. Mountain hydrangeas like morning sun for best flowering which bloom on old and new wood ensuring new flowers all season long. Leaves from the 3'x3' shrubs are used in tea. A variety to look for is 'Tuff Stuff' from Proven Winners.
The final group of hydrangeas is Oakleaf (Hydrangea quercifoia). The leaves resemble oak leaves, and the panicles of flowers are lovely lace-like florets in whites maturing to mauves. Leaves turn a deep burgundy in fall adding another element of interest. When grown in full sun to part shade, they can mature 4-6 feet in height. A variety to look for is 'Jetstream'.
Hydrangeas not only add grace to the late summer garden, but cut stems of most varieties can be enjoyed indoors fresh or dried.
Burgundy foliage in the garden can be used most effectively when paired with the right hues. First, be mindful of your backdrop. Dark leaves don't show up on dark backgrounds. They just don't, so don't put them there. If you have a dark-red brick house, don't plant a ninebark against it. The burgundy leaves of the ninebark will show off much better against white or gray.
My favorite way to use burgundy foliage is to pair it with blue - blue hostas in shade, blue grasses and blue evergreens in sunny spots. Below left is 'Little Devil' Ninebark (Physocarpus opifolius) and 'Shining Sensation' Weigela (right) with 'Prairie Sky' switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) in the middle' and 'Northwind' switchgrass. (shown in next collage).
Add the blush flower heads of Hydrangea 'Quick Fire' or 'Limelight' (center), and the blue-green needles of a Juniper (left) and you have the perfect recipe for a sunny, low-maintenance shrub border.
- Tracy Hankwitz, BGC Store Manager