Tag Archives: Wildlife

The importance of trees in suburban landscapes.



Wild spaces are increasingly in peril due to population expansion.  More open space is being used to provide the infrastructure for the needs of all the new residents and more and more land is converted into blacktop, buildings and roads.  The importance of trees can’t be measured but we know that their loss will have heavy implications for our environment locally as well as globally.

Some of the major benefits of trees in urban spaces directly affect our well being  by improving our air, producing oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis, as well as absorbing harmful gasses such as carbon monoxide therefore helping us prevent climate change. Their foliage filters dust and pollen.  They reduce flooding by absorbing run off. Help us save energy by providing shade and shelter our homes from harmful winds.

Trees also increase biodiversity, they are crucial for many species of birds and small animals providing habitat, food and shelter.  When a tree is in bloom it attracts many insects and pollinators to their nectar which in turn help birds feed their chicks during nesting season. We can help our environment and improve the ecology of our surrounding landscapes by incorporating trees around our homes.

“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people. ”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt





Weeding Blues

Weeding - 2

I left my  garden during the height of the summer for a month. The weather was hot and rainy while I was gone evident by the profusion of weeds I found when I came back.  Photo is not great, but yes, there is basil under all those weeds!  At first I could not even see the plants from the weeds.  This particularly pesky weed is Prostrate Knotweed, Polygonum aviculare. An annual weed, it spreads widely and very difficult to eradicate. Just finding the root is a real challenge!It covered all my vegetable beds even in places where I had laid black weed prevention cloth.I also found abundant Crabgrass some plants as wide as a child’s swimming pool! Not exaggerating… In my perennial beds, Prostate Spurge, Euphorbia maculata, Ground Ivy, Healall, Deadnettle, Dandelion and my archenemy, Canada Thistle! Clearly, I had a lot of work ahead!

Weeding - 1

Here, one small area after weeding.

This brings me to the purpose of this essay. WEEDING. It requires tenacity, discipline and above all, the right frame of mind. To all those who have asked, no, there are no shortcuts. I always advise against using synthetic herbicides . Besides affecting our health and that of our beloved pets, they disrupt the delicate web connecting the millions of organisms that populate our soil.  I do recommend the use of organic controls such as corn gluten which is a pre-emergent that prevents seed from germinating. A very economical -and eco friendly-  homemade herbicide mix I use: 1 Gallon vinegar, 1/4 cup of Dawn and 2 cups of epson salts. Mix in sprayer and apply.  Works quite well on hard surfaces like  brick patios and driveways, or applied directly on deep rooted weeds like dandelion. Best sprayed on a sunny day. A cover of mulch on bare areas is a good option too. Here are some more tips to make weeding more manageable:

Be consistent.  Pull them when you see them and do not let them go to seed or you will have them forever.

Get those roots. If you are doing the work, might as well get the whole plant.  Most can regenerate within weeks if some of the root is left behind.

Do one area at the time.  This has the benefit of giving you that sense of accomplishment by seeing your results without being overwhelming. You will be surprised by what you can accomplish in just one hour a day.

Plant densely. Weeds are opportunistic.  If there is available exposed soil they will be the first to populate.  So use perennial ground covers in the front of your borders to keep them out.

Make the best of it. Look at all the positive aspects:  Spending time outdoors, can be a great workout once you incorporate some stretching and moving around, music or podcasts really help, my IPod happens to be an indispensable tool when weeding. Or just tune in to the sounds of nature. I am always surprised of how much is going even in a very small garden! So, get “in the zone”and weed on…

“Many gardeners will agree that hand-weeding is not the terrible drudgery that it is often made out to be.  Some people find in it a kind of soothing monotony.  It leaves their minds free to develop the plot for their next novel or to perfect the brilliant repartee with which they should have encountered a relative’s latest example of unreasonableness.”  ~Christopher Lloyd, The Well-Tempered Garden, 1973



Beautifully Done Documentary


Brilliant documentary produced by Disneynature, directed by Louie Schwartzberg and narrated by Meryl Streep.  Totally worth an hour and twenty minutes of my time.  It focuses on our hardworking pollinators: Bees, Hummingbirds, bats and butterflies. Showing us impossibly close shots of the beauty of the flowers and the specialty pollinators they depend on, and yes that includes us as well! The photography is breathtaking, The message worth promoting. Enjoy!

The Mighty Oak

My neighbor has eight oak trees (genus Quercus) growing in her yard, so it is no wonder that most of the leaves I rake and pick up are from these trees.  As I slave away each autumn, I can’t help but mutter to myself, resentfully, why does anyone would plant so many oaks in one so small property? and why do all the leaves blow over on my property and, would it not be great if some of the trees could be thinned out?  and then, I remind myself of the amazing value to wildlife that this magnificent trees are.

According to data from wildlife ecologists and entomologists, one oak tree supports 534 lepidopteran (moths and butterflies)  species alone! add hundreds of other insect herbivores -all of which are an indispensable food source for our backyard birds- and hundreds  of vertebrate wildlife who forage for acorns and are supported by them thru harsh winters and you can see what an invaluable tree the oak is.  All this data has been painstakingly collected in the Northeast region only, as documented in Douglas W. Tallamy, marvelous book  “Bringing Nature Home”.  Other important native trees to consider are willows, (genus Salix) Cherry, (genus Prunus) each supporting 456 species, and birch, (genus Betula) 413 species to name a few among the most important in our landscape. Let us celebrate our national tree the mighty oak!

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth.
— Herman Hesse

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I just finished reading “Bringing Nature Home” by Douglas W. Tallamy.  It is a sobering description of our wild spaces and the plant and animal species that populate them.  Biodiversity is an intricate part of our well being. We need the plants for our own survival just as our animal friends do.  But Tallamy confronted me with grim statistics.  He estimates that we have converted between 32 and 40 million acres to suburban lawns in this country (Milesi et al. 2005) — as much as 62,500 square miles!  That is an area more than eight times the size of New Jersey dedicated to alien grasses. Take four million miles of public roads, add parking lots and driveways, and you have 43,480 square miles of blacktop all over the lower 48 states (Elvidge et al. 2004).  So the consequences for biodiversity are staggering.  You see it in the many small mammals that succumb everyday on our suburban roads.  In addition, we have removed food and nesting sites needed for most species to survive.

We, as humans have an innate love of nature.  It sustains us. As gardeners, we can shape our own spaces — our own little biospheres–  to provide ideal conditions for  species to survive.  I felt the need to spring into action by increasing the size of my planting beds and creating “rivers” of vegetation.  I concentrated on native trees, shrubs and perennials.  I offered water sources and areas for composting. Most important of all, I followed organic practices in the garden that bar pesticides or chemical fertilizers.  All these measures facilitate a healthy biodiversity that promotes a wildlife habitat within each of our gardens.

“Gardening is civil and social, but it wants the vigor and freedom of the forest and the outlaw” Henry David Thoreau.