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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Small Changes Can Mean Big Differences

We’d talked for quite a while about putting a shelf on the wall above the new book section. It was David’s idea originally, and yesterday he and Bruce got to work, got the shelf up, and all I had to do to add the finishing touch was to arrange books, face out. It looks great and really catches the eye,. Besides letting some of the beautiful front covers and dust jacket illustrations show.

In the afternoon I made great headway in the Tallamy book (BRINGING NATURE HOME), and reading it inspired me to renew the battle against autumn olive after dinner. Here’s what I did and why: I went after the pesky invasives in our meadow with pruning shears and loppers, depending on size of trunks. (I’ll have to take a saw to a couple of them. Autumn olive--my nemesis!) Since I’m not following up with poison at the base, the shrubs will return next year, but at least these guys won’t be setting fruit and producing seeds, so I feel I’m holding them in check and not letting them take over the meadow and crowd out everything else the way they have that corner north of the Happy Hour or the roadside above Peterson Park. It’s a temporary measure, at best, but if I’d had to mix herbicide the job might not have gotten done (it took two evenings, as it was), and I didn’t want rambunctious Sarah chewing on any poisoned trunks. The other option with the larger shrubs, pulling them out with a truck and heavy chain, is good in theory but seems wildly unlikely. We may get the big one by the driveway that way, but I wasn’t about to wait on the others.

Besides a native grass mixture and perennial wildflowers I established in the meadow a few years back, there are now seedling trees and shrubs making their way out into the open. Popples and cottonwoods I’d like to keep at bay to the north, but I haven’t made up my mind about the others. We’ve talked about having a neighbor turn the meadow back into a hayfield, and I like that idea for a while, and then I walk out through the returning coneflowers and the new, young red-twig dogwood and have second thoughts. One of Tallamy’s admonitions, besides planting and encouraging the native flora that will support native fauna, is that a complex plant environment will support more species and be more immune to depredation than a simple environment, such as a lawn or monoculture. The complexity of the meadow has been increasing every year since it was taken out of field production.

Caveat: For anyone who still thinks autumn olive makes a good landscape planting because it “feeds the birds,” read Doug Tallamy or ask Kay Charter, whose message is that, since nothing feeds on the leaves of this imported alien, and since birds do eat the fruit and spread the seeds, autumn olive is poised to take over the North as kudzu has taken over the South, smothering every native species in its path. Moreover, when a field is taken over by autumn olive, no open land remains for ground-nesting birds. Instead of providing for bird habitat, therefore, you actually reduce the number of native bird species the land will support by encouraging this invasive alien.


Deborah said...

I wasn't sure what autumn olive was. Here's a link to the Chicago Botanic Garden which supports getting rid of invasive plants.

Kim Laird said...

I checked too, and the Maine website says that just cutting the bigger trees will encourage thicker growth. I'll be looking out for this species & pulling it up by the roots when I find it.

P. J. Grath said...

You'll need very heavy gloves, a tire chain and a pickup truck to get the big ones. Ever pulled out old, gnarly guniper? The challenge is similar.

One invasive species that can be pulled by hand is garlic mustard. That one's invading Michigan woodlands, but my friend Laurie keeps it in check in the woods behind her house by hand-pulling the plants and leaving them where the roots will dry out and die.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if some of the organic gardening herbicides like horticultural vinegar and soap solutions might work? (I have no idea what I'm talking about - I just attract stray bits of information like cat hair on a black suit.)

Anonymous said...

Wait, wait - gnarly guniper??

P. J. Grath said...

Okay, I meant gnarly juniper! And 'gnarly' is a descriptive adjective, not part of its name. If you've ever done a juniper tear-out, you'll appreciate the adjective, whatever you make of my typos. Keep me on my toes!!!