Northumberland Master Gardeners Share Plans For Their Gardens This Fall

In September, I will add several more species of native plants to my gardens. These nativeplants will fill an ecological role to continue to support the habitat around my home. Thissummer, I have noticed an increase in the biodiversity of birds and insects in my gardens:

  • the arrival of the tireless songster, the red-eyed vireo, to feast on Pagoda dogwood(Cornus alternifolia) berries
  • several giant swallowtail butterflies feeding on the ironweed (Veronica missurica) andovipositing on the hop trees (Ptelea trifoliata)

Giant swallowtail ovipositing on Ptelea trifoliata

  • An incredible diversity of predatory wasps, native bees and other native pollinators onthe spotted bee balm (Monarda punctata)

Great golden digger wasp on Monarda punctata

Specifically, I plan to re-wild the back border of my vegetable garden with several types ofnative grasses to create a dense ‘beetle bank’ of insect predators. These grasses includepurple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis), June grass (Koeleria cristata) and side oats grama(Bouteloua gracilis). I will also add a ‘trap crop’ of drought-tolerant anise hyssop (Agastachefoeniculum) as a decoy to attract the cabbage white butterfly and hopefully keep more of thesecaterpillars off the brassicas.

One of my other projects will be to remove more turf grass from below the oak trees. Oaks arekeystone trees that support more than 500 species of caterpillars, which in turn are the food ofthe young of 95% of terrestrial birds. There are many chickadees that visit my yard daily, and toraise a brood of these hungry youngsters, more than 20,000 caterpillars are needed! Byremoving turf grass from under the oaks, I will improve the pupation sites for the caterpillars thatburrow into the soil to complete their life cycle. I will kill this grass simply by covering it with cardboard or newspaper and then let nature do the rest.

authored by Lori Groves

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