Tag Archives: garden

Dandelions © Mass Audubon

Don’t Ditch the Dandelions!

Before you mow them down or, worse, reach for the herbicide, you might want to consider giving the dandelions in your yard a second chance.

Dandelions © Mass Audubon

How They Got Here

The ubiquitous dandelions that pop up in our yards this time of year are actually native to Europe and Asia. They were brought here by European colonists who used them for medicine, food, and wine. The English name comes from the French “dent de lion” meaning “teeth of a lion” which refers to the jagged leaves.

A Useful Weed

Many people think of them as a noxious weed but they are actually quite a useful plant. They flower earlier than most of our native plants so they offer early pollen and nectar for honeybees and native pollinators.

They are host plants for the caterpillars of several moth species including the spectacular Giant Leopard Moth. Their long tap root helps to break up the soil and move nutrients and water throughout the soil. And dandelion greens are delicious.

Dandelions © Mass Audubon

Go Natural

This year, help out our native pollinators and be kind to Mother Earth by forgoing any herbicides and letting dandelions do their thing. Dandelions are an important food source for honeybees and others throughout the spring and most herbicides are poisonous to these insect pollinators.

Goldfinch at Birdbath © Paula Stephens

Take 5: Bath Time!

“Splish, splash I was takin’ a bath…”

Today’s Take 5 is all about birdbaths! Many folks are taking advantage of the warm weather this time of year to spruce up their yards; landscaping to attract birds and wildlife is a fun way to make your home more welcoming for both animals and people.

Birdbaths are a great addition to your yard for a variety of reasons: they attract birds to your yard that don’t typically eat seeds (meaning you might not see them visiting your feeders), they provide a supply of fresh water for drinking, bathing, and cooling off in hot weather, and—as you’ll see from some of the photos below—they can also attract a variety of other fascinating wildlife.

A few things to bear in mind: Most birds prefer water shallower than 2”, so if your birdbath is deeper you can make it more welcoming by adding stones or gravel to the bottom or providing a larger rock or branch to perch on. Window collisions are always a concern near buildings, so either place your birdbath well away from windows or close enough so they can’t pick up enough speed to injure themselves should they collide with the glass after taking flight.” Learn more about choosing a good birdbath (or making your own!) on our website. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has some great information on safe placement of birdbaths and feeders.

The five photos below were all submitted to past years of our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest, which is now open for 2018! Send us your best shots of wildlife, plants, landscapes, and people in nature for consideration.

Eastern Bluebird at Birdbath © Pam Anderson

Eastern Bluebird at Birdbath © Pam Anderson

Raccoon at Birdbath © Lisa Gurney

Raccoon at Birdbath © Lisa Gurney

Northern Cardinal at Birdbath © Jack Bakker

Northern Cardinal at Birdbath © Jack Bakker

Albino Squirrel © Paula Sheehan Gaudet

Albino Squirrel © Paula Sheehan Gaudet

Goldfinch at Birdbath © Paula Stephens

Goldfinch at Birdbath © Paula Stephens

Attack of the Garlic Mustard

The name of this plant may conjure thoughts of a tasty meal. But for gardeners and native plant lovers, garlic mustard has a bitter flavor: it’s an invasive species brought over by the settlers in the 1800s, and it’s taking over yards and forest floors.

How did garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) move from spicing up a few colonial gardens to dominating the northeast? Here are just a few of this plant’s clever adaptations:

  • Its roots leach chemicals that destroy the important fungal partners of nearby plants.
  • It makes a type of chemical antifreeze that helps it stay green in cold weather, allowing it to shoot up as soon as the snow is gone.
  • Each plant can release a thousand or more seeds.
  • Even after you remove the plant from your yard, its seeds can hang out in the soil for five years (or more).
  • It is toxic to some insects. Some types of butterfly eggs laid on its leaves will fail to hatch.

How to ID Garlic Mustard

Garlic mustard’s most iconic features are its green heart-shaped leaves with deep veins and tiny four-petaled white flowers. Note that the flowers don’t appear during the plant’s first year. You can also employ the smell test: true to its name, when crushed it gives off a garlicky smell.

Removing Garlic Mustard

May into early June is the best time to remove this plant from your yard. Many of the plants are flowering, making them easy to identify, but they haven’t yet had time to make seeds.

To remove a garlic mustard plant, grab it at the very base, and twist while pulling upwards. If the soil is loose, you may be able to pull up the roots, eliminating any chance that the plant could regrow. But even if you’re only able to pull up the above-ground portion, you will have at least stopped the seed-making process for this year.

Once you’ve picked the plants, put them in a plastic bag for disposal. Don’t dump them in your compost heap, or they may re-root or release seeds. Whatever you do, be sure to keep at it—because of those long-lasting seeds, you may be battling garlic mustard for years to come.

Autumn Is The Time To Plant

Most think spring is the perfect time for planting. The nurseries are stocked with colorful plants and everything is in bloom…but that’s the problem. Spring turns into summer and before you know it the temperatures are in the mid 80s and it hasn’t rained for weeks.

In our recent New England springs, the weather has gone from a late winter freeze into summer heat wave within a few days. This puts stress on a plant that is pushing out new leaves to make food (going through the process of photosynthesis), trying to reproduce (make flowers), and grow new roots.

What most people don’t realize is that autumn is the perfect time to plant. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • Now that leaf, seed, and flower production are complete, plants have nothing but cooler days to contend with and roots are the only thing they have to grow.
  • Along with the cooler temperatures comes end-of-season sales. That Oxydendron (Sourwood) tree you wanted all season? It now costs less and it’s showing its beautiful burgundy autumn foliage.
  • Watering is also easier now because, unlike summer months, town water bans have usually been lifted.
  • Need to patch your lawn? Do it in the autumn! Spring and fall are seasons when grass is the greenest. Grass will sprout in the warm days of the autumn and continue to grow until the ground freezes.
  • Plant bulbs for spring color in the autumn. Bulbs need to be planted in the autumn to develop roots before the ground freezes. Early blooming crocus give pollinators such as honey bees nectar early in the season when very few other flowers are in bloom. Daffodils are deer and rodent resistant and live for many years. Tulips add late April and May color.

A little bit of work in the cool of the autumn will give you a beautiful yard in the spring. So what are you waiting for? Get planting!

Photo via FreeDigitalPhotos.net