Aliens in the Landscape

Aliens in the Landscape…

So we aren’t talking about ET, the extra terrestrial or martians wanting to take you back to their planet. Worse! We are talking butterfly bush, honeysuckle, ivy, and some ornamental grasses amoung other plants stealing our landscape.  While these plants might bring beauty and fragrance to your property, they are also actively succeeding in defeating our native plant species.  So, with a bit of education you can conquer the aliens and improve your landscape.


So why native plants? Native plants are the right choice because they are resistant to drought, insects and disease and require less care.  Native plants also improve soil fertility, provide food and shelter for wildlife as well as reduce run off.  There are so many wonderful native plants to choose from. Native plants  are readily available from most reputable garden centers or landscape contractors. Often, the best choices are right under your nose.  Here are a few of my favorites.


To attract hummingbirds or songbirds to your landscape consider Clethra ( Clethra alnifolia) especially the variety ‘Ruby Spice’ with its pink bottlebrush blooms and yellow fall foliage it’s a wonderful addition to any shrub border or garden. Also, Red Twig Dogwood ( Cornus Sericea), Winterberry Holly ( Ilex verticilatta), and Serviceberry ( Amelanchier sp.) is another great choice for a small-medium choice with its rich fall color and desirable winter berries.


If you are a butterfly fan, they will make an appearance with Turtlehead( Chelone glabra) , Blazing Star

( Liatris spicata), and Sourwood ( Oxydendrum arboreaum). These native plants provide nectar for butterflies. The monarch population is in severe decline. The reason why is somewhat controversial but the leading theory is climate change.  With drought leading to fires in the monarch’s migration pattern, some of the plants monarchs feed on are lost with  the fires, thus no food source and decline of the monarch.  Resist the urge to plant butterfly bush believing it will attract butterflies. Butterfly bush is an aggressive weed that will grow in pavement, streambeds, and everywhere you don’t want it to show up. It is not a great source of nectar for the butterfly either. Its nectar is not known to be rich in nutrients.  Instead plant butterfly weed, joe-pye weed or one of the most important plants for specifically the for monarchs, milkweed. It is the only plant where monarchs will lay their eggs as well, they feed on it as caterpillars as well as enjoying its nectar.


In conclusion, Go Native! Supplement with ornamentals. Native plants will bring you less maintenance, lots of joy and attract wildlife. There are many sources available to find the best native plants for your garden. Consider of course exposure, soil type, and mature growth.  Check with the local Cooperative Extension office for a current list of plants considered invasive exotics. The list changes as we learn more about these “imports”.  A great website for more information is .

“Dog Days of Summer” Come to an end

  • We have been to blessed this summer to have mild temperatures and plenty of rainfall.  We only had to endure one week of HOT temperatures. I can usually count the summer weeks down by the amount of water, Gatorade and ice I purchase for our hard working landscape crews. This year, only one week of supplies to get through the hot days. Only one week of early start times. And only one week of short days.  We have had a summer like those I remember vacationing on Cape Cod, not a lot of humidty and sunny warm weather but not oppressive.


The hot days will fade away and it will be time to turn your attention to your garden. Don’t be fooled by the early cool weather and rush to purchase pansies and mums or cut back your perennials. Those pop-up warm days can re-appear. I would suggest waiting until at least 2-3 weeks of weather in the 50’s-60’s become our norm. Then, feel free to plant your cold-crops, clean your beds, and apply a winter cover of mulch.  There is a lot to be done in the garden in the fall. Following are some tips for what we suggest and the proper time to complete these tasks.

* Pruning of perennials- It is best to wait for a couple hard frosts before cutting back perennials. This will insure that they are truly going dormant. If you prune too soon, you may encourage new growth if the temperatures do head up. Usually, mid-late October is a safe time to prune back dead leaves, old blooms and groom mushy growth to the crown of the plant( depending on the plant). Fertilization can also be done at this time. We suggest a slow-release organic fertilizer such as “Plant-tone” at half-strength.

* Ornamental grasses- Contrary to what you may see in shopping centers or community common areas, do not prune your ornamental grasses until spring. The foliage will protect the crown of the plants over the winter from heavy wet snows laying in the center of the plants and causing them to rot. Also, many seed heads of ornamental grasses provide food for birds. Goldfinches often feast on the seed head of Pennisetum.

* Pruning of ornamental shrubs- Resist the urge to prune too soon. A lot of ornamental shrubs shouldn’t be pruned until November. Specifically evergreens. Pruning too soon can encrouage new growth when warm weather pops-up. Best to wait until closer to Christmas time and then you can enjoy your clippings as décor for Christmas. Holly, yew, juniper,  and boxwood are best pruned late fall and are fantastic for decorating.

* Turf-Care- Fall is the best time to apply fertilizer for your lawn. Practice the S-O-D method. Install slow-release fertilizers in September- October- and December. It is best to have a soil test completed before fertilizing. Consult your local Extension Service for a kit to send off to Virginia Tech.

* Fall Bulbs- October/ November is a great time to plant your fall bulbs for spring blooms! Daffodils, Tulips, Crocus, Snow drops, and many other spring bloomers can be planted in the fall. Add a little bit of Bone Meal and red pepper flakes to protect against squirrels and you will reap wonderful spring beauties as early as February.


What else do you need to know about winter preparations for your landscape? Comment, let us know. Enjoy-


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