Creating a healthy local ecosystem in our own backyards
There have been myriad reports over the past few months from backyard birders about the decrease in visitors to their feeders. If you’ve noticed this too, you’ll be pleased to know there are things we can each do to radically reverse the decline of small wildlife in our yards.
It’s all well and good to provide seed and suet for birds, but the solution to population decline requires us to look a little closer. Instead of thinking short-term, say season by season, let’s look at it from a yearly perspective, or even longer.
What we choose to plant directly affects the quantity and activity of small and large living organisms in our yards. If our only priority is a yard that looks pretty, we may be missing opportunities to positively impact the local ecosystem.
We should also consider biodiversity – choosing a variety of species that co-exist nicely. If we also opt for plants and trees that require minimal resources for survival, then we can move toward a landscape that not only looks good, but is low-maintenance and welcomes beneficial interdependent activity above and below ground.
Wildlife Ecologist Doug Tallamy, author of “Nature’s Best Hope: A new approach to conservation that starts in your yard” offers strong arguments and simple tips for being a backyard conservationist. Here are a handful of his suggestions:
- Reduce the amount of lawn in your yard to that which you require for walking and playing. Fill this area instead with more productive “host” plants.
- Over thousands of years, native fauna has developed defences and tolerances (and thus, preferences) for consuming native flora (plants with which it has co-evolved), so naturally if we replace these native food sources with non-native alternatives, local wildlife will either have to go elsewhere for food or perish.
- If not kept in check, unproductive, foreign cultivars can become invasive species, choking out native plant life beyond our back yards.
- We currently have 3 billion fewer birds than we did 50 years ago. Globalization and hybridization have replaced native garden options with more “exotic” options that might be fashionable, but don’t contribute to the local ecosystem.
- A great deal of the animals in any ecosystem don’t eat plants, but eat something that eats something that eats plants, so ensuring the right plants are available as a food source for caterpillars and insects is a very big deal to our entire ecosystem.
The good news is this isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. You don’t have to swap out all of the plant life in your garden and risk disrupting your current modern or tropical motif, for example. Plants that are native to Ontario come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and colours, so you’re sure to find a few cultivars that appeal to you.
And adding just a few native plants and trees will produce favourable results. Visit our June 2019 post on Choosing Native Ontario Plants for Your Garden or head over to our Native Ontario Plants Pinterest Board for some inspiration.
As always, if you need assistance choosing the right native plants and trees for your yard, or you just want to get started on a landscaping project, contact us.
Most of us would be hard pressed to find a person who doesn’t love the colours of fall. Yes, winter will inevitably follow fall, and probably earlier than we’d like. But, in the meantime, we’ve still got warm daytime temperatures, cool evenings, and so much colour to enjoy.
While the trees, plants, and shrubs throughout Southwestern Ontario offer up a lot of colour, many homeowners want colour in their own yards, as well. There are some quick fixes for this – displaying pumpkins, potted mums, and faux leaves and floral décor, for example. However, adding perennial colour to your fall garden takes a bit more forethought.
When planning gardens, home gardeners generally work in chronological order, considering what’s going to bloom or otherwise be at its peak in spring and then what will be at its best in summer. For this reason, autumn may tend to take a backseat where plant selection is concerned. To prolong the enjoyment of your gardens though, you may want to make room for a few fall favourites in your yard.
Plant retailers and nurseries might be among your best resources for determining what’s at its colourful peak right now. They tend to sell what’s in season, when it’s in season. And the warm, sunny days, cool nights, and more regular precipitation of early fall can be the perfect time to plant, offering ideal conditions for new plants, trees, and shrubs to take root before the first frost.
A few selections that fare well in our region in the fall include:
- Burning Bush (Euonymus alatas) – normally green deciduous foliage turns vibrant red
- Wayfaring Tree (Vibunum Lantana)
- Sugar Maple (Acer Saccharum) – foliage turns orange and red
- Mountain Ash (Sorbus) – foliage turns orange, red, and yellow
- Witch Hazel (Hamamelis) – foliage turns bright yellow
- Butterfly Bush (Buddleia) – flowers in fall, showing purple, blue, pink, and white
- Chrysanthemum (C. x morifolium) – fall flowers in yellow, orange, purple, red, burgundy, white, and bronze
- Purple Coneflower (Echinacea Purpurea) – large purple flowers and prominent seed heads
- Coralbells (Heuchera) – flowers throughout the season, leaves can show purple/bronze
- Rosemallow (Hibiscus Moscheutos) – large, saucer-like blooms are pink, blue, or purple
- Sedum Autumn Joy (Sedum spectabile) – flower clusters are generally pink or light purple
- Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) – bright yellow, flower clusters
Keep in mind though, that your plants and trees need a bit of TLC in order to get established before the first frost. Otherwise your investment of time and money may be for naught. If you’re not getting ample rainfall, you should water new plants thoroughly and consistently to help roots get established before the ground freezes. And ensure you get everything into the ground before the snow flies, as plants will have a much better chance of surviving the winter there than in the thin, plastic pots in which they’re generally sold.
Once plants are in the ground, most of the initial growth is going to take place below the soil, which is good. So, don’t be disappointed if you see much going on above ground. Your patience will be rewarded with healthy, showy plants next year. To help things along and protect vulnerable young root systems, add a thick layer (4 inches) of mulch around plants. Mulch will add much needed insulation to keep heat in and cold out.
Although fall is a great time for planting, there are some exceptions. Evergreens need more time to adjust and build up stores of moisture. If not, they may dry out over the winter when the ground is hard and water supply is cut off. Also, some plants and shrubs sustain a bit of damage throughout the winter. A newly planted specimen may not be sufficiently established to handle the first winter, and may not make it through.
And finally, if you’re wanting to press your luck by planting something that is not ideally suited to your hardiness zone (Southwestern Ontario ranges anywhere from Zone 5 to 7), it will have a much better chance of surviving our winters if planted in spring and given a full growing season to acclimate.
Although many homeowners will start putting their gardens to bed for the year, plants are still growing and thriving in the early to mid-fall conditions. Take advantage of this time to change up your gardens, adding splashes of fall colour not just for this year, but for years to come.
Where weeds come from
There are several classifications and definitions of weeds. However, in the very simplest terms, a weed is an unwanted plant in your lawn or garden.
No plant that’s perceived as a weed today has always been a weed. Once upon a time, they lived in a benign location and had no notable negative impact on their surroundings.
The turning point – when a plant becomes a weed – is when it invades a space where it is not desired and/or has an undesirable impact on people, animals, or other vegetation.
So, if they weren’t there to start with, how did those weeds get into your yard? They were carried there – transported by vehicle, animal, or on the wind.
And many seeds don’t need a whole lot of TLC to germinate. As long as they have oxygen and water, and a bit of sunlight, they will grow. So, the big question:
How to control weeds
Let’s face it – weed avoidance is not a thing. However, there are strategies that will help you tame the beast and minimize the negative impact of weeds.
- Cut off their food supply
As mentioned above, weeds need water, oxygen, and sunlight. So water only desired plants and plant closely together. Weeds don’t tend to grow as prolifically under other plants. The less exposed area you have in your gardens, the fewer weeds you will have to pull.
- Don’t disturb the soil.
When adding new plants or removing weeds from your lawn and garden, closely target the soil or weed in question. Weed seeds are generally present throughout your soil, so turning the soil brings new seeds closer to the surface, giving them the opportunity to germinate.
- Mulch is your friend.
Keep exposed soil covered with a thick (about 4 inches) layer of good quality mulch. This deprives weed seeds of sunlight, helping to keep them at bay. Some prefer crushed stone or river rock. These work as well. Just be sure to add a base layer of landscaping fabric over the surface before adding the rock. Keep in mind though that new seeds that are deposited from animals or the wind will germinate, so see the next tip.
- Weed early and often.
The sooner you pluck weeds out, the easier removal will be and the less damage they will do. If you give weeds a chance to take root, they’ll develop stronger, deeper roots systems at one end and seed heads (which will distribute more seeds) at the other. The best time to weed is after a good rain, when the ground is soft and roots will release more easily.
Weeds in your lawn and garden are the bane of any homeowner’s existence. But, armed with the information above, you’ll have a better understanding of where they’re coming from and how to control them.
Ready, set, weed!
Native plants are those that have thrived in their original region for centuries. Just like native animals, they have evolved over the years to adapt to changes in their environment.
In the last half of the twentieth century, the ever-burgeoning global marketplace opened people’s eyes to foreign and exotic varieties. Increasingly, hybrids of non-native species were created to adapt these plants to different climates.
However, in the last 15 – 20 years native species are making a comeback for several reasons.
It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition
Native varieties can generally be planted with non-native plants, assuming their sun, water, and soil requirements are similar. And the wide range of native species available means you can always find one or more that suits your gardens’ style, whether traditional, contemporary, or somewhere in between.
Enjoy your garden without having to tend to it all the time
Native plants tend are generally well adapted to their environment. So as long as you’re planting them in their preferred surroundings in terms of exposure to sun, precipitation, and soil type they should require little if any maintenance, especially once established.
Invite beneficial wildlife into your yard
One of the major reasons that native gardening is regaining popularity is its ability to attract pollinators like birds, bees, and butterflies. Native vegetation offers nutritionally-appropriate food as well as shelter to some of your region’s wildlife.
They don’t call them hardiness zones for nothing
Because your region’s original plants have evolved in your climate, they have developed certain immunities that make them more resilient in the face of pests and disease.
They’re just as beautiful and varied as their imported counterparts
While many perceive some native plants and wildflowers to be weedy and undesirable, there’s an extensive range of plants, trees, and bushes that have showy, colourful flowers and foliage, bright berries, and subtle fragrance.
If you’re interested in adding more native content to your garden, the following are some of the more popular native species, divided into five categories.
While our country is known for the maple leaf, there are actually more than 150 varieties of maple throughout the world and only a handful of them are indigenous to Canada. But we’ve got more than just maples trees in our backyard. The range of native coniferous and deciduous trees in our region is quite diverse, each with its own unique traits.
Among our native deciduous tree species are the Ironwood, Cottonwood, and Oak, while coniferous native trees include White Cedar, Red Pine, and both Black and White Spruce.
Our region offers some beautiful native shrubs that will add colour and texture to any landscape. Foliage ranges from bright green and smokey-blue, to purple and brilliant red, depending on the season. Many shrubs have a flower phase as well, temporarily enhancing its natural beauty and fragrance.
Varieties include the Honeysuckle Bush, whose flowers attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. The Serviceberry is a popular native choice, covered in small white flowers in the spring and changing to brilliantly-coloured foliage in the fall. Witch Hazel shows green foliage throughout the summer and, after leaves begin to drop in the fall, shows off unique, bright yellow flowers.
Ontario’s hardy perennials are not only resilient but showy as well. Some are low-lying ground cover while others grow tall, which means it’s easy to create a stunning perennial garden consisting solely of native plants.
Choose from brightly coloured Echinacea and Black-Eyed Susan, or pretty purple-pink Border Phlox. The fragrant Bee Balm’s flowers attract pollinators in the summer while its seed heads are a food source for birds in the winter. The Blanket Flower (in the Aster family) has sunshiney red and yellow flower heads, and Columbine can add a modern look to your garden with its long-stemmed nodding flowers.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Ontario’s floral emblem, the Trillium. The beauty of this groundcover is in the simplicity of the flower. And contrary to popular belief, it is not illegal to pick a Trillium, but it’s not advisable as plants are easily damaged and difficult to successfully transplant.
There are so many options when it comes to choosing edible fruit-bearing plants and trees native to Ontario. Various hard fruit trees like apple and crabapple varieties thrive here because they’re native to the region. Elderberry and raspberry (black, flowering purple, wild red) bushes are also native to our region and yield delicious fruit than can be eaten out of hand or baked into a multitude of desserts. The fruit of the Sumac is interesting as the berries are used as a seasoning.
Ferns & Grasses
Suffice it to say that if you’re looking for native ferns and/or grasses in our region, your options are wide open. The Ostrich Fern is one of the most popular native ferns but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Regardless of which fern you choose, just ensure it’s planted in part to full shade with consistently moist soil. If you prefer grasses, there are myriad native varieties, both long and short. Many flower in the late summer/early fall and provide great visual interest in the winter as well.
Gardening with native plants is not difficult. Not only are the plants, shrubs and trees easy to find at nurseries throughout the region, they’re even easier to incorporate into any landscape. If you’re interested in achieving a more beautiful native garden that attracts pollinators but you don’t want to do it yourself, contact A Touch of Dutch Landscaping & Garden Services.