Using ecology to inform landscape design and Install
By: Hall Roberts
For New Urban Forestry Landscape and Gardens
School is back in session and that means that the Fall planting season is right around the corner. We love to plant perennials in the Fall to allow winter moisture to help them become well established so that they really show out in the spring. The Fall, Winter, and early Spring are also great times to plant shrubs and trees. Since our soil rarely freezes, we have a great extended period for tree planting through the winter. At the start of the 2019 Fall planting season, I want to discuss why NUF Landscape and Gardens is so committed to planting native plants, infiltrating rainwater, building soils, and working with nature in our design and installations of the landscape.
Environmental friendly design and installation is not difficult, it takes one thing: paying attention. We must pay attention to the connections that our landscape has with nature. To begin to understand how our landscapes and gardens can enhance and protect the natural world, we must realize that we are part of a natural system and not disconnected from nature. It is important to understand that our decisions in the landscape have ramifications to the natural world. This means paying attention to both small and large connections. For example, the caterpillars eating your milkweeds are the future generations of beautiful pollinators and not pests! The drainage ditch behind your house is more than a way to get rainwater out of your yard, it is a home and a travel corridor for deer, birds, and amphibians to move through the suburbs. Recognizing these connections is the first step to establishing an environmentally friendly landscape.
It’s time to talk about bugs, or rather the lack of insects in our landscape. Insects and other arthropods have evolved with Georgia’s native plants for thousands of years. According to Doug Tallamy in Bringing Nature Home, these bugs have become very good at ingesting plant tissue and providing themselves in the form of delicious bug protein to other species. Paying attention to this simple food chain, “plants to bugs to birds,” will help gardeners inform how to connect our landscape to the larger food web. This web not only provides a beautiful landscape, but also provides food and shelter for birds and other wildlife. Bugs have not evolved with the exotic, ornamental plants that so many gardeners plant in the residential landscape. Exotic plants don’t provide food for the bugs that are such a valuable protein for our birds and other species. For example, our native oaks host over 500 lepidoptera (family of butterflies and moths) species, while the native willow hosts over 400 (Tallamy). It would stand to reason, from an environmental perspective to choose the native plant over the exotic. For example, here in Athens, Georgia we have a native black willow, Salix nigra, that can provide far superior food and shelter for our native animals than the exotic weeping willow, Salix babylonica. The black willow provides food for the caterpillar stages of over 400 lepidoptera species including mourning cloak, viceroy, red-spotted purple, and tiger swallowtail. It also provides pollen for native pollinators including a large number of native bees and the butterfly stages of these lepidoptera.
When we are designing and installing pollinator gardens, selecting and installing native blooming plants are a standard choice, but one element of the pollinator garden that can be overlooked is the host plants. A host plant is a plant that caterpillars eat, a blooming plant feeds pollinators’ nectar. Many caterpillars are specific to host plants, for instance, monarch caterpillars only eat milkweeds; there are butterfly and moth species like swallowtails that host on a wide range of plants.
NUF Landscape and Gardens is committed to planting native trees and shrubs that will offer beneficial food for numerous species. We connect the garden to nature by providing shelter and food for different species of wildlife.
Check back for more soon for insights on the importance of stormwater solutions in your urban landscape.