Time to look at our yards through a new lens. Our personal recreational area should be seen as originally intended, a habitat for all living species. Keep only the lawn you must maintain for a beloved outdoor game or pet. Plant the rest with native perennials, trees and shrubs. At the risk of being repetitive, it’s necessary to all our survival. Sound like a lot of work? Once you have replaced lawn with native plants, it may be less work and more enjoyable than cutting, feeding and weeding that lawn. Personal experience has shown this to be true.
Spring in Monroe County brings us all out of our hibernation. We are likely among the first to shed our winter layers and venture into the warn sunshine. “Hibernating” native insects, butterflies and bees might be waiting a bit longer to make their presence known. So enjoy the walk and catching up with neighbors, but hold off cleaning up the garden just yet. Daytime temperatures of 50 degrees F for at least seven days running should be your guide for heading to the garden to start cleaning up.
Consider early flowering plants the “chicken soup” of your garden. These will rejuvenate and invigorate those species that found shelter there. Ground-nesting bees emerging from their rest will thank you. See your trees with woodpecker markings as home to mason bees. Thoughtful spring clean up will give those hardy pollinators that have wintered in our gardens at chance at survival. Embrace the connectivity to your garden friends through your new lens.
A few natives to consider for early season bloom:
Aquilegia canadensis (Columbine), Arisaema triphyllum (Jack-in-the-pulpit), Phlox subulata (moss phlox), Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple), Viola spp. (Violets), Polygonatum biflorum (Solomon’s seal).
Spreading mulch and cutting grass should be chores that need less attention in our new healthy habitat. We’ve cut back on lawn that needed tending. We’ve left the leaves under the trees and in native plant beds so the time and cost of mulch has been reduced. Time to turn our attention to invasive species. Pull, dig and remove these thugs before they start to set seed. If left unattended, they will compete for space and potentially choke the native plants crucial in our new habitat. Go to our Invasive Species page to get acquainted with these intruders.
Continue the bloom with these summer food and host native plants:
Achillea millefolium (common yarrow), Actaea racemosa (Bugbane/Black cohosh), Aralia racemosa (Spikenard), Asclepias purpurascens (purple Milkweed), Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed), Coreopsis rosea (pink Tickseed), Eutrochium purpureum (purple Joe-Pye weed), Liatris spicata (Blazing star), Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal flower), Lobelia siphilitica (Great Blue Lobelia)
Time to get out those hot beverages and cozy sweaters that we set aside. As we think of cooler weather activities, our garden friends are also sensing the change. Some will start their migration. Many more will stay and overwinter right in your garden. Leaving your leaves will provide the nooks, crevices, and blankets that these species need to survive the coming months. Leaves left in garden beds and under trees contain nutrients that amend the soil and insulation to the plant roots as well. Rake excess leaves into a pile to decompose or add them to an existing compost bin.
Mums are hard to resist. However, our fall native bloomers are just as colorful and are essential to our healthy habitat visitors:
Heliopsis helianthoides (Ox-eye sunflower), Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed susan), Solidago rugosa (Wrinkle-leaf goldenrod), Doellingeria umbellata (Flat-top white aster), Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (New England aster)
Remember the birds that overwinter in your habitat. The seed heads left in the garden might be insufficient for the long winters we experience. Supplemental food and a water source are critical to their surviving the winter months. In late winter invasive plants might be emerging. This is a good time to start removing invasives before they become hidden by our prized native plants, grasses and shrubs.
As the cold has us wrapped and awaiting the coming spring, anticipation sends us to planning and researching ways to improve upon our habitats. A great place to start is with the Cornell Cooperative Extension – Monroe County Master Gardeners. Visit their pollinator friendly garden page to learn of the essentials needed in your habitat. See their enhanced listing of native perennials, trees and shrubs as we have listed only a few for your consideration.
A to Z of regional native plant nurseries:
Amanda’s Garden – Dansville, NY
White Oak Nursery – Canandaigua, NY
These nurseries are listed due to their knowledge and supply of native plants. They also sell at several public and farmer markets in our area. We are fortunate to have multiple nurseries in and around Monroe County. If they do not currently sell native perennials, encourage them to start offering them. Demand for natives will be growing! Also, please be diligent buying from mail order nurseries to assure you are purchasing plants that are natives to our area. See our Native Plants page for additional plant selection information.