What is this blog?

This blog seeks to answer questions about native landscaping for those who are not familiar with the practice. The author is a master’s student in Environmental Health, a permaculture practitioner, and a published journalist, based in Madison, Wisconsin. Leave your own questions as a comment on any post, and they will be answered soon!

This blog is best read from the beginning.

Or, browse by topic:

articlesbirds | blogbooksecosystem services | foodhealthhistoryinsectslawnaturepeoplepermaculturesite conditionsweedswork

What is this blog?

What’s new in natural yards? May 2017 #2

As the number of monarch butterflies continues to decline, scientists have calculated that more than 1.8 billion new milkweed plants need to be planted in order to provide monarchs with enough places to lay their eggs and recover from the brink of extinction.

“‘To put that in context, that’s more than three milkweed plants for every man, woman and child in the United States,’ said Karen Oberhauser, professor and conservation biologist in the University of Minnesota Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology.”

The good news is that milkweed – the only plant monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on – is easy to grow. The milkweed family contains over 100 species. Wisconsin alone has native milkweed species that will grow in wet spots, dry spots, sunny spots, and shady spots. Milkweed is able to thrive in roadside ditches and along the edges of farm fields, and was once so abundant across America that many cities labeled it a noxious weed and forbade property owners to plant it.

Now, attitudes towards milkweed are changing. But attitudes are not enough. If we want to protect monarchs before it’s too late, we need to actually plant milkweed in our yards – and lots of it.

Any native plant nursery should have local milkweed species available as plants and seeds. Right now is the perfect time of year to add some to your garden.

 

What’s new in natural yards? May 2017 #2

What if you don’t have a yard?

Believe it or not, you can have a natural yard without a yard.

First, if you have a balcony, you can put some native flowers on it. Bees and butterflies will find them!

Second, you may be able to join a community gardening program in your city. Working a plot provides all the benefits of the physical act of gardening (it burns almost as many calories as going to the gym!), plus you get fresh, organic vegetables at virtually no cost.

Third, you may be able to use what is called a landshare. Landsharing is a system in which a person who wants to garden but has no land connects with someone who has land but can’t or doesn’t want to maintain it. Someone in your community may be willing to let you tear up a section of their lawn and plant vegetables or native flowers, in exchange for a share of the produce and a reduced need to do yard work.

Small spaces can make a big difference. Together, we can create a healthier environment for ourselves and other species.

What if you don’t have a yard?

What is a tree spade?

A tree spade is a piece of heavy equipment designed to dig up and move large trees.

Small trees can be dug up and moved by hand, but what is a property owner to do when a mature tree is growing into power lines, standing in the way of a construction project, or casting shade on an area the property owner would prefer to be sunny? Many would respond by pruning the tree, or by destroying it entirely. Often, a better solution is to move it.

Tree spades were invented in the 1800s, and early versions could move trees more than 30 feet tall. Modern-day tree spade operators say they have moved trees well over 100 feet tall, as well as trees with trunks more than 5 feet across.

Tree spade operators don’t really recommend moving trees that large, though, since survival of the transplanted tree depends on whether enough of its root system can be picked up and moved with it. A tree’s root system can be larger than the aboveground part of the tree, but even the biggest tree spades can only dig up a chunk of soil about 7 feet across and 4 feet deep.

Medium-sized trees, though, can be successfully moved, and it is not even very expensive to do so – especially when compared against the cost of destroying the tree, including the loss of the services that a relocated tree could have gone on providing for many years.

By creatively rearranging our yards, we can have room for everything we want, while respecting the needs of many species.

What is a tree spade?

What’s new in natural yards? May 2017

Two weeks ago, the City of Madison made a change to how it will handle emerald ash borer (EAB).

Previously, the City had decided that it would not give any ash trees that were already unhealthy a treatment to protect them from EAB. What the City did not make clear to residents was that any tree located under a power line would be considered unhealthy, regardless of what condition it was actually in.

In thinking about the impact that this decision would have, the City realized that older neighborhoods in Madison, which have overhead power lines, stood to lose a lot of trees, while newer neighborhoods, in which the lines are underground, would be able to keep their trees. Recognizing the immense value of trees to nearby residents – due to trees’ ability to clean the air, reduce flooding, moderate temperatures, increase property values, and so on – the City concluded that it would not be fair for some neighborhoods to lose a lot of trees while others are able to keep their trees.

Based on this conclusion, Madison’s Common Council voted that ash trees under power lines should be treated to protect them from EAB, provided that they meet the City’s other requirements for treatment.

The full text of the resolution can be read here.

What’s new in natural yards? May 2017

What is this week?

Recognizing the importance of trees in our neighborhoods, the city of Madison has declared the coming week to be Arbor Week. The following resolution was adopted last month:

 

WHEREAS, the City of Madison has been a Tree City USA for 28 years; and

WHEREAS, children and youth living in greener neighborhoods are healthier; and

WHEREAS, trees give us oxygen, clean the air, and filter air pollutants; and

WHEREAS, trees in our neighborhoods increase property values; and

WHEREAS, the continued planting and care of trees in our city shall provide the same benefits for the present and future residents of Madison.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Mayor of the City of Madison, Wisconsin, does hereby proclaim the week of April 30 through May 6, 2017 as ARBOR WEEK in the City of Madison, and urges everyone able to observe this week to plant trees and to participate in programs that the sponsors of Arbor Week may provide.

What is this week?

What is today?

Today is Earth Day, a day to celebrate the planet that is our home, and renew our commitment to caring for it.

In the late 1960s, people realized they were not doing a good job caring for the Earth. Fossil fuel companies were causing huge oil spills, leaded gasoline was putting toxins into our environment, and rivers were so polluted they were catching fire.

Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin, proposed establishing a holiday to educate Americans about environmental issues and encourage them to take small steps in their communities to create a cleaner, healthier, safer world.

This holiday, called Earth Day, was first celebrated in 1970, under Republican President Richard Nixon. Millions of Americans attended conferences about natural resource conservation, picked up litter in their neighborhoods, and otherwise did their part to repair damage to the environment.

Today is a great day to ride your bike instead of driving, look around your home for simple ways to reduce waste, or welcome a few native plants to your yard. If we all take these small steps, together we can create a better world for ourselves and our children.

What is today?

What is tomorrow?

Tomorrow, April 16, is International Migratory Bird Day, and Madison is officially celebrating it. The city gave the following reasons for inviting citizens to enjoy watching birds, and to take steps to welcome birds to our communities:

 

WHEREAS, Many citizens, both here in Madison and throughout the country, recognize and welcome migratory songbirds as symbolic harbingers of the change in season. Migratory birds are some of the most beautiful and easily observed wildlife that share our communities. These migrant species also play an important economic role in our community, controlling insect pests and generating millions in recreational dollars statewide; and,

WHEREAS, Migratory birds and their habitats are declining throughout the Americas , facing a growing number of threats on their migration routes to reach both their summer and winter homes. Public awareness and concern are crucial components of migratory bird conservation. Citizens enthusiastic about birds, informed about the threats they face, and empowered to help address those threats can directly contribute to maintaining healthy bird populations and encourage maintenance of diverse habitat patches of trees, shrubs and grasses along their routes throughout the Midwest. Effective bird conservation efforts require cooperative action and shared goals with the public through outreach programs to ensure stable and self-sustaining populations of birds. Madison is fortunate to have several locations in its park system that provide habitat to sustain these migrating birds on their journey; and,

WHEREAS, since 1993, International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) has become a primary vehicle for focusing public attention on the nearly 350 species that travel between nesting habitats in our communities and throughout North America and their wintering grounds in South and Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and the southern U.S. Hundreds of thousands of people will observe IMBD, gathering in town squares, community centers, schools, parks, nature centers, and wildlife refuges to learn about birds, take action to conserve them, and simply to have fun.  IMBD officially is held each year on the second Saturday in May, but observances are not limited to a single day, and planners are encouraged to schedule activities on the dates best suited to the presence of both migrants and celebrants; and,

WHEREAS, on Sunday, April 16, 2017 Madison Parks will collaborate with community partners to host a Bird and Nature Festival at Warner Park.  This free public education event will celebrate all that our community has done for bird migratory birds, and inform participants about opportunities that remain,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that April 16, 2017 be proclaimed as International Migratory Bird Day in the City of Madison, to urge all citizens to celebrate this observance and to support efforts to protect and conserve migratory birds and their habitats in our community and the world at large; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that IMBD is not only a day to foster appreciation for wild birds and to celebrate and support migratory bird conservation, but is also a call to action to protect their habitat.

What is tomorrow?