Substitutes for Invasive Garden Plants: October 2017 Plant of the Month

by Ann Farnham, LLA

In September 2017 the Ewing Green Team and the Ewing Environmental Commission published a brochure about twelve invasive plants which, unfortunately, are sold at nurseries and garden centers in our area. Some states and communities prohibit the sale of known invasive plants, but Ewing does not do this. We named the brochure Invasive Plants commercially available in New Jersey. It was distributed at the 2017 Ewing Community Fest along with another brochure, The Ecological Benefits of the Not-So Perfect Yard. We called the invasive plants “The Dirty Dozen”, citing the most commonly used invaders.

In the chart below we list good substitutes for these popular but invasive garden plants. The suggested plants are all hardy to our USDA Hardiness Zone and are native plants.

To clarify what the advantages are to using native plants, the information is available on this web site, dated March, 2017, “Native Plants”. More information, titled “More Bad News”, was the April, 2017 Plant of the Month. More information about the substitute plants, natives and invasives, is easily accessible on the Internet.

Be sure to visit www.npsnj.org/plant-lists-native/trees for landscaping; www.MAIPC (The Mid-Atlantic Invasive Plant Council), and plants.usda.gov. We also recommend the book, Plant Invaders of Mid Atlantic Natural Areas by Swearingen, Reshetiloff, Slattery and Zwicker.

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

                                       PLANT SUBSTITUTES FOR THE “DIRTY DOZEN”
Common Name Botanical Name Substitute  Common Name Substitute Botanical  Name
Autumn Olive Eleagnus umbellata Bayberry Myrica pensylvanica
Winterberry Ilex verticillata
Highbush cranberry Viburnum trilobum
Bamboo (Running)      [ 1] Several species and genera Ilex opaca American Holly
Magnolia virginiana Sweetbay Magnolia
Ilex glabra Inkberry Holly
Ilex verticillata Winterberry Holly
Rhododendron maximum Rosebay Rhododendron
Juniperus virginiana Eastern Red Cedar
Bradford Pear    [2] Pyrus calleryana Amelanchier laevis Allegheny Serviceberry
American Snowbell Styrax americanus
Fringetree Chionanthus virginicus
Green Hawthorn Crataegus viridis
Winged Silverbell Halesia diptera
Dogwood * Cornus alternifolia, florida*, sericea
Burning Bush    [3] Euonymus alatus Chokeberry Aronia melanocarpa, arbutifolia
Highland Blueberry Vaccinium corymbosum
Fragrant sumac Rhus aromatica
Burning Bush    [3] Euonymus alatus Summersweet Clethra alnifolia
Smooth Witherod Viburnum nudum
Butterfly Bush Buddleia davidii Ceanothus americanus New Jersey Tea
Cephalanthus occidentalis Buttonbush
Clethra alnifolia Summersweet
Japanese Silver Grass Miscanthus sinensis Sorgastrum nutans Indian Grass
Andropogon gerardii Big Bluestem
English Ivy Hedera helix Pachysandra procumbens Allegheny Spurge
Xanthorhiza simplicissima Yellowroot
Gaultheria procumbens Creeping Wintergreen
Mahonia nervosa Longleaf Oregon Grape
Japanese Barberry Berberis thunbergii Fothergilla gardenii Dwarf Fothergilla
Ceanothus americanus New Jersey Tea
Itea virginica Sweetspire
Diervilla lonicera Bush-Honeysuckle
Myrica pensylvanica Bayberry
Winterberry Ilex verticillata
Chokeberry Aronia melanocarpa, arbutifolia
Japanese Honeysuckle Lonicera japonica Lonicera sempervirens Trumpet Honeysuckle
Clematis texensis Scarlet Clematis
Japanese Wisteria Wisteria floribunda, sinensis Wisteria frutescens American Wisteria
Purple Loosestrife Lythrum salicaria Monarda didyma Bee Balm
Asclepias syriacus, incarnata Butterfly Weed, Milkweed
Coreopsis verticillata, grandiflora Tickseed
Echinacea tennesseensis Tennessee Coneflower
Eupatorium  dubium, hyssopifolium Joe Pye Weed
Liatris spicata, aspera Gayfeather, Blazing Star
Winter Creeper Euonymus fortunei Arctostaphylos uva-ursi Kinnikinnick, Bearberry
Decumaria barbara Woodvamp
Vaccinium crassifolium Creeping Blueberry
1 See July POM, 2017 Running Bamboo
2 See March TOM, 2016 Callery Pear
3 See July POM  2016  Burning Bush
See also March POM 2017   Native Plants
April POM 2017   More Bad News
Cornus florida* Choose disease resistant variety

The Ecological Benefits of the Not So Perfect Yard 2017

recommendations for sustainable fall landscaping care…

by Joanne Mullowney

We love autumn.  Not only are we leaving the hot, sticky days of summer behind for the cooler, more breathable days of fall, but soon the brown gold from the neighborhood trees will blanket the ground with the last gift of the growing season.  This seasonal leaf drop can recharge your landscape and create habitat for wildlife if you let it.  So don’t treat your leaf litter as trash, but rather as the gift that it truly is to the millions of tiny creatures that are a part of our gardens’ ecosystems.

The Benefits of Leaf Litter

Raking up and disposing of our leaves, chopping down dead flower stalks and grasses all contribute to a manicured appearance which we have been conditioned to think of as the norm.  However, in nature, trees don’t drop their bounty at the curb for pick up.   The benefits of leaf cycling, or hoarding your autumn leaf drop for use in your landscape, are many.

Leaves provide an insulating winter cover in  the garden for plants and those tiny creatures that sustain life in the garden.   Don’t buy expensive mulch.  Mulch with fallen leaves.  Wherever possible, leave them to decompose where they fall in your garden beds.  Or settle the leaves under the branches of your shrubs. Give it a year and your leaf litter will have broken down while providing mulch and increasing the soil’s water retention abilities (moisture retention).

You can also rake out some of the leaves from the beds that are simply too much and might smother tender plants and cause them to rot over the winter. Add them to the compost pile or the leaf pile on the lawn while the rest remain in the beds. Then take your mulching mower and chop them up into small pieces. (Yes, using gas mowers is considered an unsustainable gardening practice, but consider the greater good.)

Rake up most of the chopped leaves and place them back in the garden around shrubs and plants .   Not surprisingly, they are greatly reduced in volume and contribute to a more manicured look. The remainder can stay on your lawn and decompose there. Do this as needed until the end of the season and the leaves will break down over the winter providing your soil with valuable nutrients (soil building) all the while enhancing wildlife habitat.  One incidental benefit is that of reduction of Township resources allotted to fall cleanup, saving taxpayer dollars.

While you might think that this leaves the yard looking a little less than perfect, you are nourishing the landscape and providing valuable resources and habitat for wildlife.

The Benefit of Providing Habitat

This somewhat messy yard contributes yet another important benefit – habitat, not a traditional concern of the average gardener.  Did you know that despite its not so perfect look, leaf litter provides an important foraging space for a wide variety of birds, small mammals and insects?  Also providing benefit is the untrimmed garden where ladybugs and lacewings reside in native grasses and pollinating bees settle in hollow plant stems.  Butterflies and moths winter in chrysalides on the ground and baby spiders hide out amid the decaying plant stems. Birds feed from dried seed heads in winter.

Some wildlife use the leaf litter and other dead vegetation to insulate them from winter’s chill, while others, such as earthworms feed on the litter, breaking it into smaller pieces. Bacteria and fungi in turn convert theses smaller pieces into nutrients which then sustain neighboring plants. They in turn help support biodiversity by becoming food themselves. Toads, beetles, ladybugs and much more also live in your backyard’s leaf litter. Each is an integral part of the food web.

Support Wildlife Thru Your Not So Perfect Yard

We recommend the following practices from the Habitat Network to help you in your quest to provide habitat and reduce your ecological impact.  Adopting good practices in the fall also leaves you well set for spring in the garden.

  • Leave your leaves on the property (Leaves are too valuable a resource to dispose of!)
    Leave them in the garden beds when you can, mow them or compost them.
  • Allow dried flower heads of some of your garden favorites to stay standing in your garden.
    ­The dark stems and flower heads of some of our native flowers look gorgeous against the snow and nothing is more exciting than seeing our small winged friends feasting upon the seed heads.
  • Let your ornamental grasses grow tall and seed.
    Don’t cut down your ornamental grasses. They provide shelter for the insects that pollinate our gardens and feed fledgling birds and other wildlife.  Not to mention that they also look fabulous swaying in the wind.  They make a fabulous addition to the fall (and winter) landscape.
  • Build a brush pile with fallen branches instead of removing them.
    If you build it they will come. This author no sooner established a small brush pile in a back corner in the yard and it was inhabited. 
  • Leave snags on your property as nesting places.
    This one is hard in a small yard.  But you don’t have leave the whole tree.  You can leave a small part as part of the garden ornament and wildlife will take up residence.
  • Forget the chemicals.
    This one is not hard. Just do it! 
  • Don’t be in a rush to begin your garden cleanup in the spring.  Wait until after several 50℉ days to begin, when spring has really arrived, allowing overwintering pollinators to move on first.
    You gave them a home all winter; don’t yank it away from them too soon.

Vanishing Habitat

As habitat for wildlife is decreasing, so too is wildlife, and at an alarming rate.  A recent National Wildlife Federation newsletter states:  More than half the world’s wildlife has vanished since 1970.1  This includes  mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish.  Quite simply, we’re destroying our planet’s ability to support our way of life.

Wildlife needs habitat to survive and we need to do a better job balancing the need to provide habitat for animals’ survival against commercial forces.  Habitat requires food, water and shelter and even a small yard can support birds, butterflies, beneficial insects, and small animals thru proper landscaping and landscaping habits.  They need more than lawn and it is important to provide trees, shrubs, and other plants (particularly native varieties and a topic for another post) that shelter and feed wildlife.

We ask you to adopt a somewhat messy yard and eschew the leaf disposal.  Keep your leaves so that they can decompose naturally in your own yard and support the butterflies and other small insects that live in the leaf litter.  Take the Habitat Network pledge to Garden Messy and Pledge to be  a Lazy Gardener.  Then put your feet up and enjoy the season.

Printable brochure of sustainable fall landscaping tips.

1.  Source:  Living Planet Report 2016 by World Wildlife Fund http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/lpr_living_planet_report_2016.pdf 

September Plant of the Month (NOT!) – Stilt Grass

by Ann Farnham, LLA

Stilt Grass (AKA Eulalia or Nepalese Brown Top), is botanically classified as Microstegium viminium. This is a notable invasive pest with which most Plant of the Month readers are probably familiar. Introduced into Tennessee as packing material for porcelain coming from Japan and China in 1919, it has now spread into 19 states from New York south to Florida.

Stilt Grass can seem invincible. Flowering occurs here in New Jersey in mid-August to September, and the yellow to red dried seeds are produced from August to mid-October in our area; the seeds are tiny, 0.1” in diameter, and one plant alone can produce 1000 seeds.  They spread, not through animal involvement, but water runoff, wind, our shoes, our clothes, mechanical equipment, mowing, tilling, flooding, and more. Although the plant is an annual, dying back at the first frost, the seeds remain viable for five to ten years, making quick control a fantasy. Germination occurs in late spring, before crabgrass emerges.  This grass thrives on roadsides, in ditches, moist woodlands, lawns, flower beds, and vegetable gardens.

Disturbed sites, moderate to dense shade, and moist, acidic to neutral soils are preferred. Stilt grass, like so many invasives, out-competes native plants. Animals avoid the plants and seeds, and deer ignore them while grazing on other plants nearby, which creates more space for the stilt grass. Huge patches develop as a result, threatening native communities, displacing natives, and degrading wildlife habitat. Large areas of dead Stilt Grass, after frost and before spring plants appear, are fire hazards. There seem to be no insect or diseases which attack Stilt Grass.

What does this invader look like? It has pale green to lime green, lance-shaped leaves which are arranged alternately along the stem and measure 1-4” long and 0.5” wide; there is a white stripe which goes along the mid-rib. It will reach 2 to 6.5’ tall depending on environmental conditions. The weak, narrow stems are erect to reclining, and where the stem node touches the soil it will take root and sprout more plants. The roots are shallow.

Control of Stilt Grass may take years, but there are guidelines which will help. Foremost, control attempts must be addressed before flowering and seed-set. In small areas, such as flower beds, 1. hand-pulling is easy, as the roots are shallow. However, do not be surprised when more appear in the spring; remember, the seeds live for years.  2. String trimmers are very effective if you can avoid whacking your perennials and shrubs. Remove the grasses and do not include them in compost piles or the city brush and grass clippings collection area. 3. A pre-emergent herbicide- such as Preen, corn gluten meal, Pendulum, Panoramic, or Oust – might help in the early spring. This is an annual effort.

Large areas can be weed-whacked, and post- emergent herbicides can be used. The post emergent herbicides include Roundup, Aquaneat, Finale, Assure 11, Aclaim and Barricade. Post emergent herbicides must be used very carefully, when rain and wind are not occurring, and where other, to-be-saved plants are not nearby. There are grass-specific herbicides as well.

Good Luck!

The Ewing Environmental Commission (eec@ewingnj.org) welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

To calculate the economic and ecological benefits of the trees on your property. go to treebenefits.com.

Running Bamboo – July 2017 Plant of the Month (NOT)

by Ann Farnham

In May of 2016 a bill (A3735) was introduced in the New Jersey Assembly to establish requirements for the sale and planting of running bamboo in response to the pleas of a frustrated new homeowner who, after purchasing her property, discovered running bamboo invading hers from a neighboring property (see Making Bamboo Taboo).

The bill specifically pinpointed the genus Phyllostachys and a species, arundinaria. However, Phyllostachys is not the only invasive running bamboo that grows in New Jersey. There are other running bamboo genera; Pleioblastus, Sasa, Arundinaria, and Semiarundinaria, grow here, and some grow as far North as Boston, primarily along the coastal regions. There are three native North American species and more than 700 species world wide, most native to China, Japan, and Asia Minor. Bamboos are not all tropical nor confined to lower elevations.

The common names “Heavenly Bamboo”, “Lucky Bamboo” and “Japanese Bamboo” are not bamboos but unrelated genera.

About Bamboo

Bamboo is a grass, but unlike most grasses we are familiar with, they have underground stems (rhizomes), from which new clumps (culms) arise. The rhizomes of running bamboos can range to 25 feet in length from a single culm in one single growing season and thus, before long, a significant number of plants emerge from them, sometimes intruding into unwelcome areas like neighbors’ lawns, driveways and flower beds. There are “clumping bamboo” genera which have rhizomes as well, but they do not have the invasive properties of the running bamboos.

Many bamboos, both clumpers and runners, make beautiful and graceful garden plants and thick privacy screens. They are usually low maintenance and care-free except for the rigid control that must be practiced to contain the runners’ rhizomes.  They are available in many sizes, colors and shapes, striped and solid. Some are among the fastest growing plants in the world:  up to 3’ in 24 hours, some to a height of 100 feet. Bamboos flower or set fruit infrequently; some species do so only after anywhere from 15 to 120 years, after which most die. Many are attractive in containers indoors, outdoors, or as bonsai.  Insect and disease pests are not very prevalent.

Economically, bamboos are very important throughout the world, not as garden and home plants, but as food, textiles, art objects, paper, tools, fishing poles, furniture, and building materials, among others. Ecologically, bamboo is a workhorse, sequestering carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen prodigiously, and providing unique wildlife food and shelter. It is a vital food for Pandas, whose populations have been seriously affected when groves die after flowering; likewise, animals which proliferate eating the seeds, die when the grove stops producing.

Clumping Bamboos

There are beautiful clumping bamboos, such as Fargesia (Pandas’ favorite) and other clumpers, which are cold hardy and disciplined. They can serve as privacy screens as well as accent plants and focal points. Clumping bamboos, contrary to running bamboos, do not require 2-3’ plastic, concrete or metal buried barriers, or surrounding ditches which require seasonal cleaning out of new rhizomes, or frequent 15-20’ wide perimeter mowing.

Running Bamboo Negatives

Running bamboos deplete surrounding soil of nutrients, which prohibits complementary planting or a wildlife friendly understory. They require a lot of real estate, none of which should approach neighbors, public land or highways because if not properly contained, the hardy plants spread aggressively and can cause damage to concrete sidewalks, home foundations, and other structures. Running bamboo is particularly problematic when it spreads from one property to another, and causes damage to the neighboring property.

Summary

There is much more to write about bamboos (physiology, restraint methods, maintenance, physical characteristics, distribution, propagation), as well as the many other species that have been categorized as invasive in NJ.  The Ewing Environmental Commission recommends that all homeowners learn more about the problem of invasive species, the damage that they cause in our ecosystem, and what you can do to halt their spread.   The New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team is an organization that is dedicated to that purpose.   For starters, take a look at their Do Not Plant List and then check out their Go Native Brochure for beautiful, native alternatives to plant in your home landscape.

Running Bamboo Legislative History

Bill (A3735), establishing requirements for sale and planting of running bamboo, was introduced in the NJ Assembly (217th Legislature) on May 19, 2016. It was sponsored by Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo from Legislative District 2 (Atlantic).  It moved to the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee.  On October 13, 2016 the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee reported favorably upon the bill.

An identical bill (A2301) was introduced in the NJ State Senate on June 6, 2016.  It was sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan, from Legislative District 2 (Atlantic).  It was referred to Senate Environment and Energy Committee.  No action has been recorded since.

Saucer Magnolia – May 2017 Plant of the Month

by Ann Farnham, LLA

The beautiful Saucer Magnolia, Magnolia x soulangiana, blooms in Ewing in April and May.

This small tree or multistemmed large shrub is a hybrid and usually thrives in USDA Hardiness zones 4 – 9 (Ewing is USDA Hardiness Zone 6b). It is a cross between Magnolia denudata and Magnolia liliflora, reportedly a hybrid made by one of Napoleon’s retired cavalry officers, Étienne Soulange-Bodin, around 1820 in France.

In the garden it makes a beautiful focal point and is one of the first trees to bloom in the spring along with flowering cherries, redbuds, and the shrub, forsythia.

Saucer Magnolia blooms before its leaves appear in the spring but the flower buds are frequently damaged by frost as they open so early. Having a medium growth rate, a tree may reach a height of 20 to 30’ with a variable spread, pyramidal to rounded in form with low branches; it is also grown as a multi-stemmed shrub. There are dozens of varieties, each with a distinctive size and shape, with flowers which measure up to 4 to 8” across, and colors varying from purple-pink to white.

The best site for a Saucer Magnolia will have an acid, moist, porous and deep soil and full sun to partial shade. It tolerates wind and urban pollution fairly well. The roots need ample room to develop and the tree should be mulched to the drip-line (keep the mulch at least 6” from the trunk). If pruning is necessary, it should be done right after flowering.

There are several pests and diseases which attack Saucer Magnolia but fortunately they are infrequent. The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker woodpeckers seem to favor its bark, and ring the tree with little holes, but the damage is slight.

The Ewing Environmental Commission (eec@ewingnj.org) welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

To calculate the economic and ecological benefits of the trees on your property. go to treebenefits.com.

More Bad News About Non-native Plants – April 2017 Plant of the Month

by Ann Farnham, LLA

We continue to hammer away on the disadvantages of using non-native plants. Remember, a good definition of a native plant is one that existed in any specific region before the European settlement in this country. Ewing is in the Mid-Atlantic region and our natives are well adapted to our particular soils, precipitation, temperatures, elevations and exposures. Our native wildlife – insects, mammals, birds, reptiles – developed along with them.

Many people believe that if a plant is sold at a local nursery or garden center that it is all right to use. Unfortunately, that is not correct. Because we have no laws or ordinances that prohibit the sale of introduced or invasive plants (some states do), they are widely available. What we can do at this point is to be informed and avoid buying them.

What are some of the popular, non-native plants sold in local nurseries and garden centers?

In March, 2016 we wrote about Bradford Callery Pear, (Pyrus calleryana); In June, 2016 it was Acer platanoides, Norway Maple; in July, 2016, we wrote about Burning Bush, (Euonymus alatus); and in August, 2016, Winter Creeper, (Euonymus fortunei).  Unfortunately, these are all available at local nurseries and garden centers. A few more garden center boarders – invasives and aggressors – are listed below; most, having few natural predators, form un-challenged thickets at the expense of our native plants.

  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii): This vigorous, nectar-producing butterfly attractor is an attractive shrub with fragrant, colored flower spikes, It self-seeds prolifically, however, and before long your planting bed will be overcome with a Buddleia thicket which crowds out everything else. It is classified as noxious weed in Oregon and Washington.
  • English Ivy (Hedera helix): This popular and sometimes very lovely vine easily goes astray, spreading throughout woody areas and gardens, choking out other vegetation. English ivy kills trees and shrubs by smothering them.
  • Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica): This is not a bamboo, in spite of its popular common name. All parts of the plant are toxic, especially to Cedar Waxwings, cats and grazing animals, resulting in many deaths. Heavenly Bamboo crowds out other plants with prolific seeds and underground stems.
  • Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) : This shrub is banned in Wisconsin and Massachusetts. It displaces native plants with prolific, bird-dispersed seeds, and harbors ticks (due to the high humidity in its dense foliage) mice, and, as a result, lyme disease.
  • Japanese Spirea (Spiraea japonica): this plant harbors many insects and diseases but still outcompetes and replaces native plants. Its seeds, dispersed by birds, form dense thickets which are very tolerant to many conditions. It impedes the germination of native seeds.
  • Japanese Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda): This very adaptable vine shades out other plants and girdles trees and shrubs as it climbs, cutting off nutrients by choking the trunks and producing dense shade.
  • Maiden Grass/Chinese Silver Grass Miscanthus sinensis: More than 50 ornamental varieties of this grass are sold in the United States. The wind-dispersed, viable seed forms thickets which are very adaptable to many conditions, choking out native plants. This is a very popular ornamental grass which is popular to use in a lot of landscaping.
  • Periwinkle Vinca minor: ( not V. major).This groundcover forms dense, extensive mats, choking out other plants. It harbors blights and is allelopathic, meaning that its chemical compounds inhibit the growth of nearby plants.               
  • Privet (Ligustrum sp):  This popular hedge plant is toxic to pets and mildly toxic to humans. Thousands of fruits outcompete and replace natives. The seeds, dispersed by birds, form  very dense thickets. Compounds in the leaves protect the plant from feeding insects, so it is “trouble free” for the hedge-growing home owner.

For more important information about non-native plants, read Plant Invaders of Mid Atlantic Natural Areas by Swearingen, Reshetiloff, Slattery, and Zwicker

Go to www.MAIPC, the Mid Atlantic Invasive Plant Council for additional plant lists.

Native plant alternatives to exotics can be found in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants. In addition, be sure to visit the web sites:

  • The Native Plant Society of New Jersey for their
    • Tree recommendations for planting (both large and small)
    • Wild and Native Plants of NJ
    • Trees and Tall Shrubs by County
    • Invasive Species list
    • Wildflowers and Garden Conditions
    • link to the USDA database and
    • Plants by county.

The  Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

Project FeederWatch Update – Weekend of March 18/19

by Lee Farnham

As Feeder Watch draws to a close on April 7, we continue to see the effects of a coming change in the seasons. This weekend had 20 different species, three fewer than last weekend, but the total number reported was up to 129 from 112 a week ago….yet a year-round resident, the Carolina Wren (a real favorite of ours) was among the missing. We know he’s there because we saw him on Monday after we were finished…it’s a matter of our adjusting to his schedule, not v.v.

Goldfinches again led the hit parade;  if we had seen three more it would’ve given us a new record for the year, 58.  Juncos had a strong weekend with 14; they are mostly seen on our deck, beneath the Thistle feeders for the Goldfinches.  In fact, I’ve seen 16 of them at one time, but last weekend, they were all over:  on the deck, under the suet, around the Sunflower Hearts, and under the Safflower.

Mourning Doves got into bigger numbers (20), but the novelty about reporting 20 is that only six of them were on the ground, under The Safflower. The rest were on branches of our Hemlocks, at the end of our yard, but they can be included in Feeder Watch count because they will drop down to feed.

Transients, like Grackles, Red-Wing Blackbirds and Starlings will taper off quickly, but maybe next week will bring the return of the Carolina Wren, and perhaps a Cedar Waxwing, or Bluebirds, or even a Brown Creeper.  “Creepie’s” not been seen this year, and it isn’t right….he always used to come around 1200 and scoot up (not down) the Sassafras and Dogwoods looking for insects.  If you see him, please ask him to stop by when we’re looking next weekend.

The final total for the weekend was 20 species and 129 total birds. See Observation tallies to date.

Note:  Lee Farnham is an avid birder and a long-time participant in Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology Feeder Watch program in which more than 16,000 citizen scientists from all states and Provinces of Canada report weekly feeder activity from early November to early April.

Project Feederwatch Update – First March Weekend

by Lee Farnham

The weekend didn’t start out to be as spectacular as it ended up, but I had vowed to watch at least an hour on Saturday morning, which meant that I had logged 12 species by the time I ended.  There is a core of birds that always appear:  Downy, Hairy and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Goldfinches and Juncos, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Cardinals, White-Throated Sparrows, Mourning Doves, Carolina Wren, Carolina Chickadee and Titmouse.  Later in the day a Starling showed up, and then a Pileated Woodpecker (!!), what a treat to see him banging away on the suet.

By Vkulikov (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The following afternoon was when a Grackle invasion occurred, for the second time this  year!  A few scouts were seen, and noted, but Then a swarm of Common Grackles was upon us, on the Sunflower feeder, and the Safflower, a few on the Suet and many more in the trees, And they were very loud….and then they were gone!!  From trees overloaded with Grackles, nothing, but then they were back, more determined than ever, and I eventually counted more than 50.  While looking at the various groups in the trees I noticed that a few weren’t acting like Grackles, so I returned to them after making my count and found a lone Red-Winged Blackbird (first this season), and four Brown-headed Cowbirds (ditto).  The males have a darkish brown head with a black body, all somewhat shiny, and are unmistakable.

The females with them were probably looking for nests to put their eggs in, for they are notorious for laying their eggs in the nests of others.

The Grackles came and went three or four times, and in between two Blue Jays had some Sunflower and a pair of House Finches sampled the Safflower….and the Pileated Woodpecker had some more suet.  What a great weekend!!

The final total for the weekend was 19 species and 169 total birds. See Observation tallies to date.

Note:  Lee Farnham is an avid birder and a long-time participant in Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology Feeder Watch program in which more than 16,000 citizen scientists from all states and Provinces of Canada report weekly feeder activity from early November to early April.

(Native) Plants of the Month – March 2017

istock_000045324030_large_monarchby Ann Farnham, LLA

Why do we emphasize using native plants? What are native plants? Are they better than introduced, exotic, non-natives? Why does the Ewing Township Code, Landscaping, require at least 45% native plants in all non-private property planting plans?

A native plant is one which, over countless years, developed with our environment’s soil types, precipitation, temperatures, elevations and exposures. A good definition of a native plant is one that existed, in any specific region, before the European settlement in this country. Our region is the Mid Atlantic Region.

Since that European settlement, hundreds of plant species have been introduced from many parts of the world. They are often very beautiful, sometimes seem to fit a specific need, might grow easily, and show off an owner’s sophistication and botanical interests. Many, however, have turned out to be invasive and some are toxic to people and wildlife.

Native plants, then, are adapted to their particular regions, in our case, the Mid-Atlantic. They are compatible with the physical geography and factors mentioned above. As a result, they require, after establishment, much less maintenance, less water, and do not require chemical applications of fertilizers, pesticides, and soil amendments. Birds, butterflies, beneficial insects, reptiles and mammals rely on their fruit, nuts, nectar, and seeds. Many birds depend upon native plant insects, such as caterpillars. Many alien plants are toxic to these native insects.

Imported exotics interrupt the food web by frequently out-competing the natives for space, exposure and nutrients. They usually do not support the insects upon which our bird population depends. For example, one brood of Chickadees requires 6000 caterpillars as food by the time it attains maturity (birds require the protein and fats from insects in order to mature or to lay eggs; in non-breeding times seeds and fruit do the job). A native oak, for example, can support more than 500 species of caterpillar, whereas a non-native Gingko only supports 5 species. Bird populations are in steep decline, certainly not only the result of habitat loss.

Our penchant for beautiful, green lawns has destroyed functional ecosystems by the use ofchemicals. In the process our waterways, air and health become polluted as well. The lawn mower itself compacts the soil and emits pollution where there used to be meadows, fields and woodlands, now lost to urbanization. We need to develop yards and gardens with friendlier habitats by using native trees, shrubs and flowers, and reducing lawn areas.

Many of our native plants have died or been seriously compromised with introduced pests such as the Emerald Ash Borer (ash trees), the Wooly Adelgid (hemlocks), the Japanese Beetle (almost everything), and fungal diseases brought in by the nursery trade. The attached Native Tree List has several trees, such as the Ash, Eastern Hemlock, American Sycamore and Flowering Dogwood, which now should not be used at all. Some selected, resistant varieties of Flowering Dogwood, however, are available such as the Rutgers-developed Cherokee series.

We want to recommend three books for your further understanding in alleviating the problems above.

  1. Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy;
  2. Native Plants of the Northeast by Donald Leopold;
  3. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants.

In addition, be sure to visit the web sites www.npsnj.org/plant-lists-native/trees_ for_ landscaping and plants.usda.gov.

See also, the Native Plant Society of NJ’s excellent list in Native Trees for Residential Gardeners.


The  Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents.

To calculate the value that trees add to your property, go to tree benefits.com/calculator/

Project FeederWatch Update for Weekend of Feb 11/12

feederwatchBy Lee Farnham

Other tasks kept us (my cat and me) from getting to Feeder Watch until around 2PM on Saturday, but we made up for it by watching for at least 90 minutes.  Surprisingly, we saw only nine species during that time with the most prominent absentee being a Red-Bellied Woodpecker.  They’re normally all over the suet and sunflower hearts at least four or five times a day.

However, late in the day we were treated to a Cardinal invasion when eight were seen around our sunflower feeder and under the safflower feeder.  The difference between the two feeders is that the sunflower has a ring around the bottom of the seed tube that allows birds to perch while they feed (you can adjust the weight to allow heavier birds or not… ours is set to 1.4 ounces, which is plenty for multiple birds, but doesn’t let squirrels get to the seed).  The safflower seed tube is in a cage, so only smaller birds (Titmouse, House Finch, Carolina Chickadee and Carolina Wren) can get into the feeding ports….but we spread loose seed on the ground for each feeder too, so ground feeders (including squirrels) have access.

northern_cardinal_pair

By Ken Thomas – KenThomas.us(personal website of photographer), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2589165

The interesting thing about Cardinals is that they normally travel in pairs, so if you see the red male, look closely for his mate, or vice-versa.  And the ones we had on Saturday afternoon were equally divided between the sunflower and safflower. On the safflower side they were sharing the ground with House Finches and a Carolina Wren while Titmice and Carolina Chickadees ate above them (and scattered seed to them).  On the sunflower side there would be a Cardinal on the feeder ring, and another one or two on the ground, sharing seed with Juncos, White-Throated Sparrows and the ubiquitous squirrels.

The missing Red-Bellied Woodpecker turned up late on Sunday, along with a White-Breasted Nuthatch and two infrequent visitors: a Robin and a European Starling, both were interested in the suet…the Robin picking pieces off the ground, but the Starling holding onto the cage which he took his whacks.

The final total for the weekend was 16 species and 122  total birds.  See Observation Tallies to date.

Note:  Lee Farnham is an avid birder and a long-time participant in Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology Feeder Watch program in which more than 16,000 citizen scientists from all states and Provinces of Canada report weekly feeder activity from early November to early April.