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Yard to Habitat Workshop

Earlier this month, NPI took a road trip to Arnaudville for Acadiana Native Plant Project’s (ANPP) Yard-to-Habitat workshop.  ANPP’s website states that the workshop is “designed to help homeowners and landscapers transform property, from small yards in town to big pastures in the country, to native habitat for pollinators, birds and other wildlife and improve ecological resilience.”  

(from left to right) NPI board member Tanya, ANPP's Phyllis, NPI board member Cheryl in Phyllis' yard

NPI president, Tammany Baumgarten, helped facilitate, working with a break out group on their designs and board members, Tanya Mennear and Cheryl Geiger, attended to learn how to offer this type of workshop in New Orleans.  When the plans and plant lists were created, all attendees were invited to visit ANPP’s demonstration garden and greenhouse to purchase plants to be used in their habitat landscapes. 

After a stroll through the demo garden and greenhouse, the board members joined some of the ANPP board and organization members at Bayou Teche Brewery for pizza and fellowship, further fostering the relationship between NPI and ANPP.  The following day included visits to the incredible home gardens of ANPP leaders Phyllis Griffard and Lawrence Rozas. 

ANPP is doing great things over in Acadiana.  Check them out!

The Euonymus americana locally know as "Strawberry bush", "Burning Bush", "Hearts-a-Busting" is in full display right now.   In late summer/early fall the red fruits burst open to reveal bright orange berries.  The pictures below are from a NPI member's garden in New Orleans.

It is an adaptable landscape shrub or small tree tolerating different sun exposures and soil types.  It does best in shadier areas with filtered light and protection from afternoon sun.  The colorful fruits and seeds not only provide fall interest for humans, but are also a food source for birds and mammals.

In the wild it can be found in riparian areas, forming loose thickets.

Learn more about the "Strawberry bush" Euonymus americanus HERE

Once again, a summer hurricane has displayed the inherent and wonderful
qualities of native plants in the landscape.
The live oaks swayed in the 150 mph winds and, if they’ve been maintained
properly, few branches broke. In my back yard, the swamp maple, blooming and
upright cardinal flower, cherry tree, flowering clematis crispa, often visited by
pollinators coral honeysuckle, bee hugging sweet joe pye, black eyed susans and
salvias, and the hummingbird favorite turk’s cap took it all in stride. Louisiana
Irises bent quite a bit, but those can be cut back and/or replanted this time of
year. I’ve noticed the blue jays, hummingbirds, and Carolina wrens returning first,
plus a few strong giant swallowtails and sulphurs. Gulf Coast Fritillaries were
super busy before the storm, and I expect to see more of those shortly.
Watch for power lines! They can be camouflaged in downed tree limbs. Never
touch them. Look for places where water is collecting and empty dishes, gutter
plates, and pots to keep mosquitoes from breeding heavily in all the water left
behind the storms.
Take stock of what weathered the storm well, and be sure to collect those seeds,
where possible. Side dress plants where possible and fertilize if the storm dumped
a lot of rain. Your container plant soils will probably be depleted if they were
rained on heavily for days.
Leave the stalks of your plants that are spent, especially upright stalks of Sweet
Joe Pye and Swamp Sunflowers. Native bees use them as nests over winter, along
with fallen leaves, so blow and rake as little as possible. I’ve heard some people
cut the stalks and lay them horizontally if they’re eyesores, and I’ve not been able
to find any results as to the bees still using horizontal stalks. Experts say to leave
6-18” of upright stalk behind for the bees. Surely we can do that!
Leave the tree cutting to the professionals; but if they are mulching the wood
they cut, ask them for some of the wood chips. Leave them in black plastic bags in
a corner of your yard or house until they compost a bit, then use them in your
garden. Use like chips for like trees, oak chips under oak trees, cypress chips
under cypress trees. I’ve found that a hard root ball and hard pan soil can become
spongy again after a couple of seasons of wood chip mulch applications. Oak trees shed their leaves in storms, so that their branches don’t become overburdened,
and that’s the best free mulch there is. Bag it up and store it, dump some leaves
into your compost bins. Some people like to shred the leaves before using as
mulch, which helps it break down faster. The LA Iris rhizomes and many tender
plants will thank you.
Use this opportunity when the soil is soaked, to remove unwanted invasive plants
like nandina, tallo and elephant ears. These plants are difficult to take out, but
with soggy roots, it’s often easier to dig them out. Hurricanes spread invasive
species, via wind and water, so be on the lookout.
Even if you live in an urban environment, it’s easy to incorporate more and more
natives into your landscape, even if you have a strict HOA. From showy
coneflowers and bright yellow sunflowers (which come in all sizes), to low
growing shady plants like violets and powder puff mimosa groundcovers, to green
shrubs of many native hollies, anise, american beauty berry, wax myrtle or
fetterbush and native trees (which also come in all sizes) like Native Fringe,
parsley haw and Sweetbay Magnolias.
We can do our part to help restore biodiversity, even in our tiniest of gardens:
container gardens, patio gardens, courtyards, driveways, easements. Plant the
native species of plants you love. Replace some of the lawns in your landscape
with islands of native plants, or replace all of your lawn with meandering
pathways of native gardens. Join Doug Tallamy’s Home Grown National Park,
www.homegrownnationalpark.org , or just go plant a few natives.

Louisiana Native Plant Society (LNPS) recently put out a statement on habitat gardening and best practices for ecological resilience.  The Native Plant Initiative of GNO is aligned with this statement and supports property owners adherence to best practices of land and water conservation as crucial wildlife habitat.  You can read the entire position statement HERE.

LNPS also created a communication toolkit for Louisiana native plant gardeners to explain to their neighbors the benefits of habitat gardening and for finding common ground with neighbors who may not understand why a property owner would choose to garden this way. Click HERE to view the toolkit.

 

 

There comes a time about now in New Orleans when Spring feels almost gone and the beautiful displays of the very first native flowers are going to seed.  Some of them will continue to bloom for some time, but the first flowers have faded, dried and turned brown….ripe for collecting!  On almost every plant out there, it is best to wait until seeds have completely dried on the plant before collecting them (just like nature would do it).  It also makes the job much easier.  If the seedheads are not completely dry, it might help to lay them out on a sheet pan and store them in paper bags to be sure they won't mold once put away.

Of course, you don't have to collect seeds from your plants.  One of the best reasons to grow natives is that the seeds provide valuable nutrition to birds and other animals.  You can absolutely leave the seeds on the plant to disburse themselves naturally, especially if you would like some to volunteer in that same spot next year.  We like to do a bit of both.  With native plants often in short supply, it’s nice to save some seeds to scatter out in another space or plant in containers, or better yet, to share with others.  We have heard it said that you should plant seeds when nature would have planted them.  That may still mean that they don't sprout until nature would have them sprout, and you still may not have new plants until next Spring.  Seed germination varies widely and by circumstance….no better time to start learning!

Just a few native plants that we are collecting dried seed from right now in late May are Winecups, Callirhoe species, Heals All, Prunella vulgaris,  Columbine, and Coreopsis lanceolata because it is one of the earliest Coreopsis and therefore almost finished its cycle.

Callirhoe
Callirhoe seedhead
Callirhoe seeds

Winecups are one of the showiest natives because of their brilliant pink color.  They are also very deep-rooted, long-lived and resilient plants that can tolerate full, blasting roadside-type sun and poor soil.  They bloom over an extended period but as new flowers are still blooming, some seeds are already ready to collect.

 

Prunella, Heals-All or Self-Heal, has a long history and has become one of our favorite low spreading, perennial natives.  The flowers are nearly finished now and the flower bracts are drying in place almost ready to harvest for future sowings.

Prunella
Prunella flower bract after drying

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These dried bracts are very tenacious and hang on for a long time, unlike some other plants, so there’s no rush to collect….they will be there in a few weeks just the same and the drier ALL of the seedheads are,  the better for collecting and storing.

Columbine is a delightful and showy early Spring native for us.  Hinckley’s Columbine has large yellow blooms while Columbine canadensis has red and yellow smaller blooms.

Hinckley's columbine
Columbine canadensis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Either species has just about finished and many of their seedheads will be dry and ready to tip over and dump out shiny black seeds.

Columbine seedpod
Columbine seeds are shiny and black and pour right out of the dry pod

Lastly, if you were lucky enough to have been to one of our Native Plant Giveaways this Spring, you may have walked away with one of our earliest native Coreopsis species, C. lanceolata.

Lance-leafed Coreopsis has large, toothed, bright yellow flowers and makes a great show.  It’s dry seedheads pour out dozens of dark brown seeds when you turn them upside down. This is how they readily re-seed more plants into your garden and they will easily grow wherever you scatter them.

 

Coreopsis lanceolata
Coreopsis seedhead

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeds from Coreopsis spill out of the dried seedhead

There are so many more blooming plants to come in the next few months and surely many that might be ready now that we did not cover…..what are you collecting seeds from right now in your native garden?

 

We had out first in person membership meeting since the pandemic!  It was held on the shady patio at Rosa Keller Library (site of a current NPI project) on a perfect weather Sunday morning.  Board members Ann and Kathy signed in current members and signed up new members.  Our president, Tammany, welcomed everyone and caught us up on the goings on of NPI over the past year.  Vice president Nell discussed the BTNEP grant awarded to NPI to fund more plant giveaways, the mini prairie planting at Rosa Keller Library, Broadmoor Rain Garden, and other current projects NPI is working on.  Author, biologist, artist, and NPI member, Susan Norris-Davis, introduced her new book The Big Easy Native Plant Guide a native plant book written for New Orleans.  Board member, Tanya, discussed NPI's involvement in the Gentilly Resiliency District and French Market Association's mural and native plantings.  NPI member, Jennifer Prout, explained the design concept of matrix planting and its application in the Big Lake Native Plant Trail at City Park.   We closed the meeting with a plant give away and refreshments.  Exciting projects are on the horizon!! We hope you will become a member and join NPI's mission to increase the use of native plants in our area by expanding public awareness of their ecological benefits, boosting availability, and by preserving and creating native plant communities.

“How We Turned a Barren Construction Site Into A Gold Level Habitat In Less Than One Year"

Tracey Banowetz

Background

Our interest in using native plants in our landscaping began over twenty five years ago as two of our hobbies - gardening and birdwatching - intertwined.  For Dave, reading Noah’s Garden by Sara Stein back in 1994 was like what reading Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home or Nature’s Best Hope is for many today.  It showed how we could enjoy both hobbies in a way that also supported our more fundamental interests in nature and conservation.

Our first attempt at gardening with native plants was in conjunction with the construction of a new home in a Baton Rouge subdivision in 1995.  We outgrew that space within five years and acquired 26 acres in the Tunica Hills north of St. Francisville.  We enjoyed almost 20 years of fun in the woods before facing the fact that it was time to downsize.  Which brings us to the start of the present-day story….

Initially, the concept of downsizing was depressing as we struggled with the thought of trying to shrink what we had in terms of both home and garden.   What to keep?  What to get rid of?  And how?  We needed a vision!   We found it at an exhibit at the West Baton Rouge museum on the interior design concepts of Frank Lloyd Wright.  Dave and I walked out of the exhibit, looked at each other, and said “That’s it!  We keep nothing and go in a completely different direction.”   

This meant swapping a 160 year old historic home and most of its contents for a small but intensely functional space based on the principles of Wright’s Usonian designs.  But the characteristics of organic architecture - “creating harmony between human habitation and the natural world” - also provided an exciting step forward in our continuing interest in gardening with native plants.   

So now we had to find a homesite.  We looked for property on the New Orleans north shore in order to be closer to both of our mothers who still live in the area.  We chose a 3/4 acre lot in the Money Hill subdivision in Abita Springs.  We were attracted to Money Hill because of the conservation ethics expressed by the Goodyear family as well as their association with The Nature Conservancy.   We chose our lot based on its gradual elevation change and the fact that it backed up to a small lake and a large common area with lots of space and lovely views.  We knew our architect could help us do something really cool with the site.

Design Goals for the Home and Garden

In keeping with the principles of organic architecture, we wanted the construction of the home to be “dirt neutral.”  In other words, we wanted as little fill and as little excavation as possible, despite the fact that the lot had a strong declining slope from front to back.  The result was a split-level open u-shape home that melded into the existing topography.  Pale green brick would further help the house blend in to its surroundings.

The changing elevation across the property created both challenges and opportunities.  Managing the drainage in a sensitive way would be a challenge and for this we collaborated with Philip Moser Associates and installed a series of french drains and dry stream beds.  A low retaining wall at the rear of the main garden in the front yard was added to retain both soil and soil moisture in this bed.  Terraced steps in the rear compliment the geometry of the house, creating garden and lawn spaces that absorb water runoff from the roof.  This also allowed us to preserve and protect a large longleaf pine in the backyard by avoiding any significant fill in its root zone.

Different elevations and exposures on the site offered us the opportunity to create three main habitat areas.  The higher and sunnier front yard became the upland pine savannah; the lower, wetter northeastern corner became the lowland pine savannah or “flatwoods garden;” and the shadier west side became the woodland garden.

We were required to present a landscape plan to the Money Hill HOA prior to constructing our home.  At the time we did this, the committee was primarily concerned with tree preservation and had some detailed requirements regarding the minimum number of trees you were required to have for each zone of your property.  This was not a difficult target for us to meet and our initial plan was readily accepted.  While the plan included a large planting area in the front yard for the upland pine savannah, there was also a generous amount of turf, which probably helped facilitate the approval.  That said, current guidelines call for a minimum of 20% turf area in the front yard, so we have the opportunity to expand this garden as we learn more about what plants are most successful in this area.  Thus far, the only “push back” we have received from the HOA was that it took longer than the required three months from move-in to install the garden.    

Plant Selection

When it came to selecting specific plants for the gardens, we wanted to focus primarily on the use of indigenous native plant material common to the longleaf pine ecosystem that was original to the Money Hill area.  Lucky for us, our best friends are Rick and Susan Webb who own the fabulous Louisiana Growers Nursery in nearby Amite.  Having held my landscape horticulture license since 2002, we had easy access to some wonderful plant material, including lots of special selections that Rick has made from St. Tammany, Washington, and Tangipahoa parishes. 

We also put into practice some of the principles we had recently learned from Claudia West and Piet Oudolf.  We sought to use native grasses and perennials in relatively dense masses.  Perennials were selected with an eye towards attracting birds, butterflies, and other pollinators.  Many of our perennials came from Louisiana Growers, but we also discovered the great selection of perennials available as “landscape plugs” from Northcreek Nursery in Pennsylvania.  Again, having my professional license allowed us access to this source of plant material.  Using large quantities of smaller plants allowed us to achieve masses of plants quickly and economically. 

Specific Plant Materials

While we focused on masses of perennials, we also opted for diversity in terms of both the woody and perennial selections.  Having the three different habitats guided our selection process and accentuated this diversity.  What follows is a list of some of the plant material in each of the three habitat gardens.

Upland Pine Savannah:  This garden is in the front yard, receiving full sun with a southern exposure.  The property slopes gently from the street down towards the house.

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), Yellow False Indigo (Baptisia sphaerocarpa), Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium), Coral Bean (Erythrina herbacea), Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum), Blue Arrow Rush (Juncus inflexus), Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya), Dense Blazing Star (Liatris spicata),Scarlet Beebalm (Monarda didyma), Peter’s Purple Bee Balm (Monarda fisulosa x barlettii), Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata), Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Shortleaf Pine (Pinus echinata), Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris), Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), Orange Coneflower (Rudbeckia hirta), Giant Coneflower (Rudbeckia maxima), Pineywoods Dropseed (Sporobolus junceus), Stokes Aster (Stokesia laevis), Tree Huckleberry (Vaccinium arboreum).

Lowland Pine Savannah:  This garden is in the rear northeastern corner of the property.  It has significant elevation change across its area, staying drier at the top and much more damp at the rear.

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata), American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), Button Bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum), Spiderlily (Hymenocallis liriosme), Dahoon Holly (Ilex cassine, “Tchefuncta”), Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica), Virginia Saltmarsh Mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica), Fetterbush (Lyonia lucida), Southern Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera), Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris), Swamp Azalea (Rhododendron serrulatum),  Florida Azalea (Rhododendron austrinum), Giant Coneflower (Rudbeckia maxima), Little Bluestem Grass (Schizachyrium scoparium), Wrinkleleaf Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa), Elliott’s Blueberry (Vaccinium elliotti).

Woodland:  The woodland habitat stretches along the western side of the home, extending into the back yard area.  It is bordered by the wooded lot next door which we bought half-way into the construction process in order to preserve the trees.

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), Crinum Lily (Crinum americanum), Dixie Wood Fern (Dryopteris australis), Southern Wood Fern (Dryopteris ludoviciana), Bigtop Lovegrass (Eragrostis hirsuta), Beeblossom (Gaura lindheimeri), Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia), Sweetbay Magnolia (M. virginiana var. australis), Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum), Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Obediant Plant 'Miss Manners’ (Physostegia virginiana), Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris), Live Oak (Quercus virginiana), Florida Azalea (Rhododendron austrinum), Piedmont Azalea (Rhododendron canescens), Orange Coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida var fulgida), Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal minor), Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea), Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii), Salvia ‘Black & Blue’ (Salvia guaranitica), Blue eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium), Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica) Stokes Aster (Stokesia laevis).

Elsewhere on the property:  There are several other smaller beds on the site, including foundation beds across the front of the home, and additional trees dotted about.

Beeblossom (Gaura lindheimeri), Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica), White Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia cappillaris), Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica var. sylvatica), Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) Correll's False Dragonhead (Physostegia correllii), Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris), Mexican Plum (Prunus mexicana), Water Oak (Quercus nigra), Nuttall Oak (Quercus nuttallii), Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix), White Flame Salvia (Salvia farinacea x longispicata),  Blue eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angusstifolium), Wrinkleleaf Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa), Pond Cypress (Taxodium distichum var. nutans).

Bog Planter:  I have long had a passion for collecting carnivorous plants and we designed a planter at the front entrance of the home to hold these.

Thread-leaf Sundew (Drosera filiformis var. tracyi), Spoon-leaf Sundew (Drosera spatulata), Starrush Whitetop (Rhynchospora colorata), 

Pale Pitcher Plant (Saracenia alata), Yellow Pitcher Plant (Saracenia flava), White Pitcher Plant (Saracenia leucophylla),  Parrot Pitcher Plant(Saracenia psittacina),  Purple Pitcher Plant (Saracenia purpurea),

Catesby’s Pitcher Plant (Saracenia x. catesbaei).

Other Perennials:  There are some non-native perennials that we just can’t live without and find particularly attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies.  These have been included in other planters and beds around the home:  Cigar Flower (Cuphea ignea), Shrimp Plant (Justicia brandegeeana), Lantana sp. ‘New Gold.’

Lot Next Door:  As mentioned earlier, about half-way through construction, we had the opportunity to purchase the lot to the west of ours.  We have begun to introduce more native trees, shrubs, and perennials into the understory.  The list below includes both pre-existing and recently planted species.

Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia),  Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridis)

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum), Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria),  Sweetbay Magnolia (M. virginiana var. australis), Southern Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera), Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica var. sylvatica), Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris), Loblolly pine Pinus taeda), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Common Hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata), Live Oak (Quercus virginiana), Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum), Giant Coneflower (Rudbeckia maxima), Lyre Leaf Sage (Salvia lyrta), Tree Huckleberry (Vaccinium arboreum).

Outcome and Reception

As of this writing, it has been a little over twelve months since we installed most of the woody plant material.  Perennials have just gone through their first winter and, for the most part, appear to have survived the recent cold snap.  We are curious to see what Spring will bring.  Our biggest challenge has been having to deal with the poor quality garden soil that was brought in to build some of the landscape beds.  We’ve had to apply a lot more fertilizer than we’d like in order to lower the soil pH and improve fertility.  

Overall though, the first year has been very rewarding.  The abundance of milkweed brought lots of monarchs and countless caterpillars and chrysalis.  Numerous other swallowtails, skippers, dragonflies, bees, and other pollinators have been spotted as well.  Turtles come up from the nearby lake to lay their eggs in the garden which is fine with us.  Various species of woodpeckers, flycatchers, warblers, and other songbirds have been spotted.  We’ve had at least three different hummingbird species overwinter in the garden too.  

The pandemic has prevented us from socializing much, so I can’t report on how the garden has been received beyond our immediate neighbors.  Our next-door neighbor is an equally avid gardener with a completely different style, but she loves it and is always curious about what we are doing.  Her granddaughter has even brought a chrysalis and a pitcher plant from our garden to show-and-tell!  The young family across the street has expressed positive curiosity as well and recently inquired about our Certified Habitat sign.

I have to admit that I laughed when, in the middle of the admittedly drawn out process of initial installation, a member of the HOA committee asked when we would be finished.  “Never!”  We recognize that our garden will never be finished.  It will always be evolving.  As we learn from our successes and failures, we will probably reduce the turf and expand the garden in the front yard.  We plan to “gently manage” the side lot by continuing to add appropriate trees, shrubs, and perennials to the understory.  We look forward to enjoying our garden and its critters for many years to come!

Tracey Banowetz is past president of the Louisiana Native Plant Society and owner of WildWing Gardens, specializing in gardens for birds, butterflies, and wildlife.  She lives and gardens with her husband David in Abita Springs, Louisiana.

Preliminary landscape design showing 3 habitat areas

Front elevation before landscaping

Front elevation after landscaping

Rear elevation before landscaping

Rear elevation after landscaping