What’s new in natural yards? May 2018

A recently-published study (authored in part by That Blogger’s former thesis advisor) examines how Wisconsinites think about their urban trees.

A 16-page survey sent to homeowners in and around Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, and Wausau asked people a variety of questions about trees. One set of questions regarded benefits and problems related to trees. Under the header of benefits, survey respondents most strongly valued trees for their ability to make a place look nice, provide shade and cooling, improve air quality, and generally enhance the livability of a neighborhood.

But about half of the homeowners said they were “strongly concerned” about the risk of trees or branches falling and damaging things. People within city limits (as opposed to those living in the suburbs) and people with smaller lots tended to be more worried about this risk, possibly because a falling tree or branch on their property was more likely to hit something. People who saw trees as dangerous, the study found, valued trees less overall.

The survey also asked who homeowners trusted for help and advice related to trees. The results showed that respondents trusted tree professionals more than any other source of information. Averaged across the four cities, 62% of people said they would trust a landscaping company or tree service, while only 14% said they would trust the staff of a non-profit organization. This is surprising and worrying, as such professionals have a financial incentive to suggest whatever service is most profitable for them, rather than the service that is best for the tree and its neighbors (human and otherwise).

The survey’s demographic questions turned up some interesting findings. Women rated trees more highly than men did, and millennials valued trees more than baby boomers, though these younger folks tended to have fewer trees on their own properties, likely because their lots were smaller than those of their more senior neighbors. Older homeowners, in contrast, expressed more concern about trees “growing too big, making a mess, or blocking scenic views”.

Finally, most people who answered the survey thought that their neighbors valued trees and took good care of trees. But, as with many domains of life, people rated themselves even more highly on questions about recognizing the importance of trees and properly caring for trees.

The relatively-brief, highly-readable report can be found here.

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What’s new in natural yards? May 2018

What’s new in natural yards? April 2018

New Jersey has long been known as the Garden State. Now, it’s taking further steps to live up to its nickname.

Recognizing the opportunity created by its miles upon miles of highways, New Jersey has passed a law that landscaping projects alongside highways must use only plants native to the region. The law, which was passed last spring, went into effect in the fall. It applies to new roadway projects; it doesn’t require immediate re-planting along existing highways.

The law was drafted by Republicans in the state senate and assembly. It proved wildly popular among lawmakers from both parties: of 106 senators and assemblypersons who voted on it, only two were opposed.

There are lots of reasons in favor of planting natives, but the bill’s proponents focused on just a few of them. First, following the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy in the fall of 2012, many New Jerseyans realized that plants native to the mid-Atlantic coast were better at withstanding these kinds of storms than exotic plants from around the world. As they ride out bad weather, these hardy plants go right on preventing flooding and erosion – services that non-natives stop providing when hurricanes wipe them out.

Native plants are also better at sustaining native animals. The new roadside plantings will serve as vital corridors for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife moving through the state.

Finally, the lawmakers noticed that natives are cheaper. Why? Because natives, once established, happily take care of themselves, while non-natives need constant expensive maintenance and often die anyway, leaving nothing to show for the investment.

The New Jersey lawmakers hope that more people will take up gardening with native plants. In the next post, That Blog will look at different ways native plants can be used.

What’s new in natural yards? April 2018

What’s new in natural yards? March 2018

One of the earliest posts on That Blog highlighted the plantings at the Wisconsin governor’s mansion, as an example of respectable people having natural yards. Now, the governor and first lady of North Carolina claim that they have the first true natural garden at a governor’s residence.

First Lady Kristin Cooper took the lead on the project, which began last summer. The primary goal was to create a garden that would provide habitat for North Carolina’s native birds. In the course of doing so, the garden will also educate North Carolinians about the importance of habitat, and encourage them to plant similar gardens in their own yards.

The first lady and her husband, Governor Roy Cooper, are taking their job as natural gardening role models seriously – they’re already actively working on establishing a native plant garden at their own private residence.

The garden at the executive mansion was officially dedicated last October, during a Native Plants Week declared by Governor Cooper. The garden is 400 square feet and includes about 1,000 plants representing 25 native species. As the plants grow, they will attract butterflies, bees, and birds. In time, the garden itself may grow to cover a larger area.

In the next post, That Blog will visit New Jersey to see what that state is doing to promote native plants.

What’s new in natural yards? March 2018

What’s new in natural yards? February 2018

Early on, That Blog questioned whether natural yards increase crime. Now, the US government is betting that they don’t.

Since the Clinton administration, all government buildings in the United States have been required to at least consider incorporating locally native plants into their landscaping, for environmental reasons. Now, the State Department is incorporating natural gardening elements into the landscaping of one of the most secure buildings in the world: the US embassy in London, which opened last month.

The grounds of this high-tech building might be expected to contain similarly complex security systems, but instead the architects are counting on simpler solutions to prevent potential attacks. A pond prevents truck bombs from reaching the building, and a hedge disguises additional protective methods.

To improve the sustainability of the building, and to evoke a sense of America, indoor gardens on each floor of the embassy reflect plant communities found in different regions of the United States. For similar reasons, the hill outside the building will be planted with tall grasses and wildflowers.

Several years ago, a woman threatened with jail time for having a vegetable garden in her yard pointed out that Michelle Obama had planted a vegetable garden at the White House. Now that the US government has deemed natural landscaping to be the best choice for one of its most expensive and important buildings, it is hard to see why any American would be questioned for choosing to use natural landscaping in their own yard.

What’s new in natural yards? February 2018

What’s new in natural yards? January 2018

A candidate in this year’s Wisconsin gubernatorial race has named lawns as an issue he would address if elected. In a post on his campaign website, Jeff Rumbaugh says that if he becomes the governor, he will not ban lawns, but will work with municipalities to make alternative forms of gardening more accessible to property owners.

As a reason for this position, Rumbaugh focuses on the wasteful water consumption associated with lawns. He also mentions the connection between lawns and climate change, and the amount of work involved in maintaining a lawn. He proposes wildflower plantings, vegetable gardens, and gravel as more environmentally-responsible kinds of yards.

Rumbaugh’s campaign promise follows California’s statewide restrictions on lawns – effective as of December 2015 – and Madison’s easing of its regulations on natural yards. Meanwhile, a governmental task force in Delaware has recommended phasing out the use of non-native plants, which currently make up more than 70% of the plants sold at garden centers around the state.

Evidence is gathering that the era of the lawn as a dominant element in American landscaping is at an end. Natural yards are likely to become much more common over the next several years. There is still time for savvy homeowners to be part of this mainstream movement, rather than being the last on their block to adopt new gardening practices.

 

That Blog does not endorse political candidates. This post is simply a commentary on the continuing emergence of lawns as a political issue.

What’s new in natural yards? January 2018

What’s new in natural yards? December 2017

That Blog doesn’t normally highlight the actions of specific individuals, but this is a story worth sharing.

As awareness of natural yards continues to grow, even kids are getting the message. Nine-year-old Kedar Narayan not only planted a native garden in his Pennsylvania yard, he created an app to help others do the same – and gave a presentation at a local community event to explain to people why they should. In his speech, he highlighted how native plants are important for pollinators, which in turn are crucial to crop production, and he explained how lawns don’t provide anything that pollinators need.

For his advocacy of natural yards and his work towards solving a real-world problem, Kedar recently won a $2,500 prize.

Though natural yards still are not accepted by everyone, it may be that we are reaching a watershed moment in which, by and large, people are praised and rewarded for managing their land responsibly, instead of being attacked and punished.

What’s new in natural yards? December 2017

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