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Pollinators of Native Plants
Attract, Observe & Identify
Pollinators & Beneficial Insects
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Oct 16

Trees need their leaf litter - and they're not the only ones

Like many living organisms, a tree spends the summer preparing for winter, and indeed for the year ahead. Nutrients gathered from sun and rain and soil have been packaged and are now falling to the ground around the tree, contributing to a layer of leaf litter that performs a variety of essential functions.

As the litter builds up, it is occupied by an army of organisms that will assist in decomposition. Bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa and nematodes are among the abundant and invisible life-forms that break it down. This process releases essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and sulphur in forms that are available for use by the tree and other plants. Other minerals leach down with precipitation to return to the soil.

But the litter is much more than a nutritional storehouse precisely tailored in content and in timing of release to the needs of the tree that produced it. It is a protective blanket, insulating the roots from the extremes of weather - frost in winter and drought in summer. The blanket absorbs rainfall, allowing the moisture to filter through slowly and guarding against soil erosion by wind or water. It suppresses the growth of grass and other plants that would compete with the tree for nutrients and moisture. And it increases the rate of soil respiration, an important measure of soil health.
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Sep 26

Doug Tallamy keynote speaker at OIPC/Carolinian Canada event

Return of the Native is proud to be one of the sponsors of Restoring Resilience: Big Impacts across Small Spaces, the 2016 Ontario Invasive Plant Council AGM & Carolinian Canada Ecosystem Recovery Forum, with keynote speaker Doug Tallamy. As anyone who has followed my blog or attended one of my presentations knows, Tallamy is an enduring source of inspiration at Return of the Native.

The event runs Tuesday October 25 and Wednesday October 26, 2016, at the Toronto Botanical Gardens – 777 Lawrence Ave E, North York, ON. There are off-site field trips to the Rouge Valley on the Tuesday and a series of interesting speakers on Wednesday - apart from Tallamy (details below), speakers will address topics like the building of a pollinator corridor across Hamilton, control of Dog-strangling Vine and Phragmites, the potential for non-native tree species to become invasive, and novel ecosystems.

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Sep 8

Glorious goldenrod

Yesterday, as we returned from an evening walk, a ray from the setting sun picked out a plume of goldenrod against the shade of a line of conifers. The fading light seemed concentrated in the brilliant mass of tiny star-shaped florets.

Look deep into the heart of a goldenrod and you may find a creature – this is a plant that offers abundant pollen and nectar, as well as playing host to the caterpillars of a multitude of insects. Those visiting to collect floral rewards include many species of bees and wasps, the Monarch and other butterflies, syrphid flies and many types of beetles. Also to be found, insect predators like the Ambush Bug or the Crab Spider. The seeds are eaten by birds, including American Goldfinch, American Tree Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, and Pine Siskin, as well as mammals like the Eastern Cottontail Rabbit.

Goldenrod (Solidago) came out at the top of a list created by Doug Tallamy, Professor of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware and author of Bringing Nature Home, who studied plants for their contribution to biodiversity on the basis of the number of species of butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) they support. He found goldenrod plays host to 115 species, followed closely by asters (112), sunflowers (73), with members of the Eupatorium family (Joe Pye Weed, Boneset) coming in at 42.
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May 19

Wet peat trick, bird-killing burdock, hummingbird recipe, what not to plant, etc

There’s an old English saying, ‘Ne’er cast a clout till May be out.’ This is said to mean, don’t discard your winter clothing until the end of this month. Another interpretation is that ‘May’ refers to the hawthorn, also known as the Mayflower, and you should keep your long johns handy until the Mayflower is in bloom (probably in another week, for us).

Whatever the case, the message is that winter’s grasp has not been released until the end of this month and that’s why I never write off a plant as dead until June although this year I have serious doubts about my Buttonbush. I cannot find the slightest glint of a growth point on it. Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is a wetland shrub with gorgeous globe-shaped flowers that start to bloom in July. While many wetland plants (for instance, Meadowsweet, Joe Pye Weed, Spiderwort, Smartweed) do fine in dry conditions, the Buttonbush may not be so accommodating.

I recently planted some Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), a low-growing dogwood that makes an excellent groundcover, with showy white bracts in spring and bright red berries in the fall. Various authorities state uncompromisingly that it requires moisture or it will die, so I used a method I learned from nursery industry veteran Keith Squires. I half-filled a bucket with peat, added water, came back, added more water, and repeated over the next couple of days. Keith says peat will absorb six times its volume in water so it has to be soaked repeatedly before it’s used. I dug the plant holes, laid a couple of handfuls of wet peat in each hole, added two inches of soil and then the plant. Once well covered, the peat will stay wet with the occasional recharging from rain, Keith says. It’s very important it stay wet, because when peat dries out it starts sucking in moisture, desertifying nearby soil. Regular readers will know I don’t like to use peat, but when it comes to accommodating wetland plants, a small amount will go a long way and I expect my bag of peat to last a few years.
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May 13

It’s raining - no better time to plant! Return of the Native opens today

The Return of the Native plant nursery opens today (10 am to 7 pm) and tomorrow (10 am to 5 pm). Same hours next week, Friday May 20 and Saturday May 21. Then, for the rest of the summer until August, I’ll be open every Friday, from 10 am to 7 pm, and you can come by any other time, just phone ahead to be sure I’m there, I usually am.

Recently, a customer wrote to me about a plant I’d sold her, I’m thinking, in 2008. It’s a nice reminder that some things are worth waiting for!

“Years ago you sold me a tiny Ironwood seedling. I have meant to tell you how it has done. It is now about 12 or 14 feet high and the bark is maturing and this spring it is covered in bloom!

“I'm so grateful to you because the nurseries all had only European Hornbeam, very expensive and much too huge to transplant well. Evidently that had suddenly come into style, a neighbour has several but they are not nearly as attractive as the native in my opinion.

“I'm also grateful to the neighbours who when shown the seedling almost too tiny for its 4-inch pot promised that they and their helpers would not shovel salt-laden driveway snow onto it.

“Anyhow, it is now the attractive small tree we wanted and starting to shade the window uncovered when the big city maple blew down a few years ago."

It’s nice to think of the Hop-hornbeam or Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana), a common understory tree in our forests, doing well as a specimen tree. It has pleasing fall colours and I have it in stock. The small tree seedling is only 30 cm tall but, if you control the weeds, trees planted young grow faster. And as the customer indicates, watching it grow from tiny sprig into maturity is a reward in itself.