New Year’s Project FeederWatch Update

feederwatchby Lee Farnham

The weather was pretty nice for a mid-winter weekend, with temperature in the 40s and sunshine, and there were birds at all the feeders, but not in the numbers of the last two weeks.  My conclusion is that, like many of us, they had reservations for New Year festivities elsewhere.  Also, we were only watching for about 90 minutes on Saturday a.m., and Sunday p.m.  The time one watches definitely affects the report, partly in species seen, but also in the maximum number of each species seen at any one time.

This weekend was different in that several species that had been turning up, didn’t.  The English (House) Sparrow, the European Starling, Crow and Robins were all among the missing.  The Robins spent time during the week gobbling down any remaining Holly Berries, and are now waiting for the 2017 crop.

purplefinch

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

On the other hand, we’ve noticed that a number of birds not often seen around the Niger Seed (Thistle) seem to be taking a like to it in addition to the Juncos and Goldfinches.  We’ve seen Mourning Doves, Carolina Wrens, Titmice and House Finches also sampling the Niger.  We were looking at the House Finches on the deck rail on Saturday a.m. when I realized that there was a Purple Finch among them!  They are very irregular, and we haven’t seen one here for three or four years, but this was unmistakable.  What made it so easy to pick out is that it was right next to a male House Finch, and the difference in their coloring, at a distance of no more than ten feet was exceptional!  One of my very experienced birding friends described a Purple Finch this way:  “Imagine you’re looking at a House Finch, but all of a sudden you realize that it looks like it’s been dipped in raspberry juice…that’s what a Purple Finch looks like.”  He was absolutely right, and it was a thrilling sight.  He didn’t just make a solo appearance either, but we continued to see him at the Niger Seed, at the heated bird bath for a drink, and later at the Sunflower Heart feeder.

A perfect coda to the weekend came when the biggest woodpecker there is, the Pileated Woodpecker, made a brief appearance within the perimeter.  When a bird is more than 16″ long, has a 28″ wingspan, a bright red cockade and a voice like a Stentorian, it demands your respect, and it certainly got ours!

Seasons Results To Date

Project FeederWatch Update

feederwatchby Lee Farnham

As the Feeder Watch season progresses, the total number of birds seen at our location is rising, but it’s limited to a few species, not all.  We make a concerted effort to attract American Goldfinches by dedicating two tube feeders to them, as well as spreading Niger Seed on our deck rail, and also on the deck below it.  They also like Sunflower Hearts, so when they’re counted we also include that feeder, which is further away from the house.  (At times over the years we’ve seen Pine Siskins intermingle with Goldfinches if their food supplies further north are sparse…but none has been seen year).

By the same token, since we spread Safflower seed on the ground, there is a particular species, Mourning Dove, which is a ground feeder and they overwhelm the 10’ square enclosure we have If they’re all there at once.  At first, when they’re going to feed, there are a few scouts who drop down from surrounding trees.  If they don’t attract a crusading Cooper’s Hawk, then the rest soon join and the area under the Safflower feeder looks like a moving mass of Mourning Dove backs.

There’s no space for Cardinals, Titmice, Carolina Wrens, Carolina Chickadees or Juncos…they just wait their turn….which can come quickly because Doves spook easily, and if one or two leave, there’s a burst of activity and then they’re all gone.

The deck area, where we’ve spread Niger Seed (Black Thistle) is attracting more than just Goldfinches.  Northern Juncos appear to like eating off the deck, and sometimes the deck rail. This past week they were joined by House Finches, a Starling (!), Robins, White-Throated Sparrows,  a Mourning Dove, and a jaunty Carolina Wren.  Word is spreading.

Early one midweek morning (not part of the Feeder Watch report), I went down to replenish the Sunflower Heart and Safflower feeders, and scatter seed underneath both.  As soon as I returned to the house and looked at the feeders I was shocked to see that 51 Common Grackles had arrived for an early breakfast, and were all over the ground under both feeders….and then they flew off and haven’t been seen since!   There hadn’t been a one in sight when I’d filled the feeders a few minutes before.

So far this winter we’ve seen 22 different species, but our beloved Brown Creeper still has not shown up.  If you see one, please tell it we’re open for business, and that it should come on over!

Project FeederWatch Results 12/10-11/2016

feederwatchDec 13, 2016

Environmental Commissioner Lee Farnham, aided by his “kat” Reina, reports in with a weekly update on their bird watching activities for Project Feederwatch.


Reina and I were watching the feeders, mostly on Saturday a.m., but also later that day and on Sunday p.m. To prepare for a bigger crowd (always hoped for), I had again put more seed in the feeders themselves, but also strewn some on the ground beneath the sunflower feeder, safflower feeder and the thistle feeders.  A new cake of suet was added too, as we always want to have two cakes in the suet feeder for the woodpeckers, wrens, chickadees and nuthatch (but it’s 90% woodpeckers).

Several things stood out this past weekend:

  1. We’d spread Niger seed (thistle) on our deck, and the deck rail, and also in two feeders and it was pandemonium at times, and not just goldfinches.   There were nine juncos on the deck, and we saw House Finches, a Dove, and a Carolina Wren too.  Maybe the area was preferred because it’s right by the 24/7 water which never freezes (the bird bath heater is wonderful).
  2. For the first time this season we saw a Hairy Woodpecker, but it was at 0730 on Saturday a.m., and we never saw another. Still, Hairy Woodpeckers have been a mainstay for us through the years. Never many, but we did see two at a time, reliably, until this year.  To date, since the Hairy has now been seen, only the Brown Creeper is missing….and it is not often seen. Last year only 3-5% of NJ stations reporting saw Brown Creepers consistently, and we were among them. This year, nothing.  Memory tells us the Brown Creeper is most often seen between noon and 1PM, so that will be the next step, to watch around noontime. Stay tuned.
  3. For years we have had sprightly Chickadees at our feeders and water. They like Safflower Seed and Sunflower Hearts, and take a bite of suet on occasion.  We’ve always seen Carolina Chickadees (smaller, a little more gray at the end of the cheek), rather than Black-Capped Chickadees, but this past weekend we had a chance to see two Chickadees side-by-side when at the bird bath, and it was obvious that one was a Carolina Chickadee, and the other was a Black-Capped Chickadee. Don’t feel badly if it’s hard to distinguish them….just understand that we’re on the borderline between their ranges, so we’re bound to see both from time to time.
  4. Five swaggering American Crows were poking around under the Sunflower Hearts Saturday morning. Compared to the usual birds at that feeder they looked like Goliaths, and the Goldfinches, House Finches, Titmice, Chickadees, White-Breasted Nuthatches, White-Throated Sparrows and Juncos gave them a wide berth. After they left, the Robins (only three) arrived to see if there were any winterberry hollies left to devour.

That’s it for this week.  Check out the season summary to date in the PDF attached.  Look for more as the FeederWatch season progresses.

Christmas Trees – December 2016 Tree of the Month

christmastreeby Ann Farnham, LLA

Among the pleasures we enjoy in December is choosing a Christmas tree. The choices are many: the firs (Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir, Balsam Fir), pines (Scotch, Eastern White), red cedars, and spruce (Colorado Blue, Norway, Concolor). Throughout the United States there are more than 35 different evergreen species grown for the holidays. They are available either cut, in containers, or balled and burlapped.

If you choose to purchase a cut tree, try to prevent the trunk from being exposed to the air for more than three to six hours; it should be put into a container with water as soon as possible. Next, trim off the lowest branches which might interfere with the tree’s staying upright in a stand, and then remove ragged branch tips or unattractive branches. Saw off an inch of the trunk so the tree can absorb water freely, and fasten it to its stand, which should contain plenty of water. The water, especially at first, should be replenished often.

Artificial Christmas trees are often made of PVC, a dangerous chemical; they are not biodegradable, and do not have the wonderful fragrance of a real tree. However, they may be used for many years and are maintenance free.

A live tree, while somewhat more labor intensive to care for, may also be planted in your yard after its holiday use, and enjoyed for years to come. You must do some planning before you take the tree home but it is well worth while.

  1. Determine what spot on your property affords the correct exposure (full sun) and room. Check a good source or the internet to determine how much space your particular species of tree will require when mature.
  2. Dig the hole NOW before the ground freezes. Digging a frozen hole is no fun. Make the hole approximately 2 times the width of what you expect the container or root ball will be. This is important; and do not dig the hole any deeper than the height of the container or root ball. Fill the hole with leaves or mulch as insulation, and cover the hole and the pile of soil with a tarp and more leaves or mulch to avoid freezing. Throw away whatever sod was dug up as you do not want it included in the backfill.

Your live tree should be indoors as briefly as possible; place it at first (in a waterproof tub or container) in a garage or porch to allow it to acclimate to warmer temperatures. You can water it lightly and frequently, or place ice cubes over the root ball to keep the moisture levels up. Spraying the tree with an antidessicant such as Wiltproof will help control moisture loss through the needles.

When the tree is ready for planting, roll it into the hole and orient it so that its best side faces your house or the street. If the hole is too deep, add soil into the bottom and compact it until it is the right depth. Remove as much of the burlap around the root ball as possible; if it is in a container, remove the container. If it is in a wire basket, cut off as much of the basket as you can. Then, begin to backfill with the soil you set aside. Amendments such as peat moss do not need to be added to the soil, and do not fertilize. Water it thoroughly and slowly as you fill the hole; this will push out air pockets and saturate the sides of the hole as well as the back fill.

It is not necessary to stake or guy the tree. Cover the area – to the drip-line- with 2-3” of double-shredded, hardwood bark mulch, keeping the mulch 2” away from the trunk. Water your Christmas tree every day for a week, twice the second week, and then once a week until the ground freezes and your hose becomes useless.

BEST WISHES FOR THE HOLIDAYS FROM YOUR EWING ENVIRONMENTAL COMMISSION!

 

2016-2017 Project FeederWatch Begins

feederwatchby Lee Farnham, Past Chair, Ewing Environmental Commission

Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology started its annual Feeder Watch survey this weekend, and I spent between 1-4 hours watching my feeders and noting what species were there, and the most I saw of each species at any one time.   This was the first year I had not filled my feeders year ’round, so I got the seeds and suet (sunflower hearts, safflower, Niger [thistle] seed) at the beginning of November and filled the feeders so the birds would know that food was available, and would get to used to multiple daily visits.

We have the Safflower and Sunflower tube feeders at the bottom of our backyard, in an enclosure of about 70 sq. ft., protected by a wire fence that’s six feet high;  the seed is in feeders, and spread on the ground.  A large Holly bush separates the feeders, and provides cover.  A nearby brush pile provides further cover, as do MANY deciduous trees in this small woodlot.

There are two Niger (thistle) tube feeders mostly used by the New Jersey state bird, the American Goldfinch.  Those feeders are on the deck right next to a bird bath with a heater, which gives birds a reliable place to find water during the winter… it’s a BIG draw, as water is critical in the winter.

In preparing for the Feeder Watch season an initial supply of seeds and suet was laid in.  Sunflower hearts (no messy shells to worry about) in a 40# bag and Niger (thistle) seed (20# bag) came from Shady Brook Gardens in Yardley/Newtown, PA, also the source for suet (bought by the dozen).  Our Safflower seed comes from the Bucks County Audubon Society (BCAS) near Lahaska, PA because it’s available in 5# sealed bags, is from a PA manufacturer, is less expensive than anywhere else, and it’s support for BCAS… no tax is charged since BCAS is a non-profit.

Feeder Watch requires participants to watch for two consecutive days a week, so it’s a weekend project (usually accompanied by the family cat, Reina).  The observation post is in our family room, overlooking the backyard, with the safflower and sunflower feeders about 50 feet away, at the bottom of the yard.  The double suet cage (beneath a plastic witch’s hat to deter squirrels) is suspended on a cable between their deck and a dogwood tree, and is 20 feet away.  The thistle feeders, being on the deck, can’t be seen without getting up and walking about five feet.

The established routine is to watch in the early morning for 45-60 minutes, and then to do it again in the late afternoon, for the same time.  Ideally, it’s done both days, but the total time watched over the weekend is normally one to four hours.

Since this was the first weekend, it took a while to get back in the rhythm, but the birds cooperated, especially on Sunday late afternoon.  Here’s a summary of the first weekend:

  1. 15 total species seen, 47 birds in all.  The most were 15  Mourning Doves at 0630 on Sunday.
  2. The usual suspects at our feeders were all there except for the Hairy Woodpecker, an unusual absence as we’ve seen them all the time over the years.  However, there were three Downy Woodpeckers, a periodic Red Bellied Woodpecker, a wonderful Northern Flicker at one point, and a Pileated Woodpecker (the biggest there is!) cruised by late on Sunday.
  3. American Goldfinch has always been common and four were spotted (we usually have two tube feeders, and spread thistle on our deck rail and on our deck to attract many [but not quite yet]).  Three House Finches were seen alternating between Sunflower and Safflower’, and the Tufted Titmice shuttled between the water and the Safflower seed; four were seen at one time.
  4. Carolina Chickadees were very active on Sunday afternoon, when five were seen together.  Likewise, two White Breasted Nuthatches appeared near dusk on Sunday, as well as two Carolina Wrens.  Two Northern Cardinals (male and female), notorious late day arrivals, were tallied just before two White-Throated Sparrows, a Song Sparrow and a Junco ended this first weekend.

One idea that worked out really well was adding Sunflower and Safflower seeds to the feeders and on the ground around 3 PM on Sunday.  Later on there were swarms of birds, undoubtedly having learned that there was seed galore.  Maybe we’ll see the Hairy Woodpecker next weekend, and the elusive Brown Creeper (aka Creepie), seen only by about 3% of NJ Feeder Watch participants on a regular basis.

I’ve been doing this citizen scientist project for the Lab of Ornithology for 12 years; it’s my version of catnip for adults.

To learn more about the Feeder Watch program and participate as a citizen scientist go to their How to Participate page.  The site provides all types of information for those concerned about declining bird populations.  Examples include: The impacts of supplemental feeding on bird populations, Bird Friendly Winter Gardens, the Importance of Local Action to Create Better Habitat for All Species and many more such articles.

Drought Warning Now in Effect

raindropandearthIn the heels of extremely dry spring and summer seasons and with drinking water reservoirs plummeting to approximately 50 percent capacity in North Jersey, the NJDEP placed 14 counties into drought warning following a public hearing on October 21st.  The counties included: Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren.  In addition, the following counties are under drought watch: Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem.  All but three counties — Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland — are under a formal drought designation.

The DEP states that this is the worst drought in New Jersey in 14 years.  It has been exacerbated by warmer than normal summer temperatures.  In fact, seven of the last nine months (January through September) have been hotter than normal. This seems to be a recurring trend that we can expect to continue in the future.

The Administrative Order signed by Commissioner Martin establishes a formal process for the DEP to work with water suppliers in affected regions to ensure no single water supplier or region faces a significant shortfall should dry weather and high customer demand continue.

The goal of the drought warning is to preserve and balance available water supplies in an effort to avert more serious water shortages in the future. The warning also elevates the need for residents and businesses in impacted counties to reduce their water use.  The next step, if things do not improve, would be for the state to declare a drought emergency.

The drought warning does not mandate water saving restrictions, but rather citizens are strongly encouraged to take voluntary actions to reduce our water usage.  The DEP offers the following tips to reduce water use:

  • At this time of year, it is appropriate to let your lawns go dormant.
  • Turn sprinkler systems off automatic timers.
  • Use a hose with a hand-held nozzle to water flowers and shrubs, or let them go dormant.
  • Use a broom to sweep the sidewalk, rather than a hose.
  • Wash vehicles with a bucket and do not run the hose more than necessary, or use a commercial car wash that recycles water.
  • To save water at home, fix leaky faucets and pipes. Consider replacing your toilet with a low-flow version; this can save around 11,000 gallons per year.
  • Upgrade your showerhead to low-flow versions, which can save some 7,700 gallons per year.
  • Upgrade your faucets or install faucet aerators; this can save some 16,000 gallons per year.

For more state water supply status information and to view the Administrative Order, visit: www.njdrought.org

For more detailed information on water conservation technologies and interesting facts, visit: www.nj.gov/dep/watersupply/conserve.htm

Autumn Splendor – November Plant of the Month

sassafrasby Ann Farnham, LLA

At this time of the year we are especially fortunate to live in a region which displays brilliant leaf color in many of the abundant deciduous trees. The colors vary from yellow to orange, and bright red to purple. This does not happen throughout the world, but only in the Northern hemisphere and one small area in South America. The Northern hemisphere regions include Eastern Asia, Japan, Southwest Europe, and the United States and Canada. In the United States and Canada the foliage display ranges from Southeast Canada and the Northeastern United States, and its high altitude areas, like the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Rocky Mountains of the Western U.S. and Canada.

The brilliance of the color changes from year to year depending on weather conditions: a warm, wet spring, a summer which is not too hot and dry, and a fall with plenty of warm, very sunny days, lessened moisture, and cool nights.

By Berean Hunter (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Berean Hunter (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The process, which some of us learned in our high school biology classes, begins with the fact that deciduous, green leaves contain chlorophyll, which in the presence of sunlight, water, warm temperatures and carbon dioxide, produces sugars which feed the plant, tree or shrub. Leaves also contain carotenes and xanthophyll, pigment compounds whose yellow colors (the colors seen in egg yolks, carrots and flowers) are masked by the green chlorophyll. When the days become shorter, the chlorophyll has insufficient light to continue making sugars and breaks down, making the green color disappear; the other pigment compounds then become apparent. Meanwhile, the plant begins to form a membrane between the leaf and the leaf stalk, cutting off the movement of the leaf’s sugars to the rest of the plant, sealing off the leaf and gradually severing it. The sugars become entrapped in the leaf. Another pigment compound, anthocyanin, then appears as a result of the accumulation of the sugars; its appearance also depends on warm and bright sunny days followed by cool nights, under 45° but above freezing. The anthocyanin contains the red to purple pigments which we see on Sassafras, Red Maples, Fothergilla, and Flowering Dogwood, among others.

If a plant is located in a shady area it will not produce very brilliant colors as the process requires a certain amount of bright sunshine. A plant might exhibit much brighter color on its sunnier side, as well. A cloudy, rainy and warm fall restricts sugar production by the carotenes and xanthophyll, and what is produced continues to be transported to the trunk and roots, not “entrapped” in the leaf. Thus, poor or no color.

Some plants’ leaves will always turn yellow regardless of weather conditions, and some, such as Beech and some oaks, simply turn brown. All deciduous leaves eventually fall, some turning brown only after they fall from the plant, tree or shrub.

Needled evergreens such as pines, spruces and firs have needles which are covered with a heavy wax coating and have chemical fluids inside the needles which resist freezing. However, needled evergreens do experience periodic leaf fall and some, such as certain arborvitaes and junipers, change color.

Near freezing temperatures, low nutrients and other environmental stresses can also cause more and premature red in leaves.


This is an opportunity to encourage all gardeners to compost and use their leaves. A mulching mower chops up the leaves and returns them to nourish the lawn (mow frequently, however), and a blower-vac can chop up leaves into a bag for later composting and use. These chopped leaves make a fine mulch on beds. Pine needles also make an excellent mulch, being acidic in nature, especially beneficial for rhododendron, azalea, and other broad-leafed evergreen plants. 


  • To calculate the economic and ecological benefits of the trees on your property. go to treebenefits.com.
  • To estimate the age of a tree, go to mdc.mo.gov

The purpose of the Ewing Township Plant of the Month is to call attention to Ewing Township plants of note based on their beauty, size, historical significance or threat, and thus engender a greater appreciation by residents for the plants in our community.

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Plant of the Month from all Ewing residents. Let us know about your favorite trees, shrubs, flowers, and concerns in Ewing Township and perhaps one will be selected for the Ewing Township Plant of the Month.

With Drought Warning Imminent, Water Groups Urge NJ Environmental Officials to Address Long-Term Drinking Water Needs

raindropearthsm

SaveH20NJ.org, an alliance of environmental groups committed to preserving and protecting the state’s drinking water supply, expressed growing concern over the diminished levels of New Jersey’s reservoirs on the eve of a drought hearing by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

On the heels of extremely dry spring and summer seasons and with drinking water reservoirs plummeting to approximately 50 percent capacity in North Jersey, the DEP has scheduled a public hearing on Thursday morning, a necessary step before it can issue a drought warning.

A drought warning for the following 12 counties — in which millions of New Jerseyans rely on the public water supply — could be issued as early as Thursday: Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, and Union. Those counties have been under a DEP-issued drought watch since July.   In addition, the DEP has expanded the drought watch to include Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Monmouth, Ocean, and Salem counties. All but three counties — Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland — are under a formal drought designation.

A drought watch seeks voluntary water conservation; the more serious drought warning enables the DEP to require water purveyors to take action to conserve and secure drinking water sources.

“The condition of the four largest reservoirs in the state — Round Valley, Wanaque, Spruce Run and Monksville — is absolutely dire.  This action to designate a formal drought warning is extremely late, maybe too late.  I hope declaring a drought emergency does not happen, but if it does, DEP need look no further for someone to blame than in the mirror,” said Julia Somers, Executive Director of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition.

The last drought warning occurred in 2001. However, this is the second consecutive year that the DEP has issued a drought watch. In addition to drinking water reservoir levels reaching dangerously low levels, the DEP has listed all stream flows and ground water levels for the entire state as moderately, severely or extremely dry for at least the past 90 days. The DEP publishes updates to drought indicators for the state at njdrought.org.

“New Jersey’s dwindling water supply is a growing concern to the millions of families and businesses who rely on an abundant supply of clean and affordable drinking water,” said Ed Potosnak, Executive Director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. “Data and observation over more than a year have pointed to a water system in peril. While we applaud the DEP’s recognition of the worsening drought, we implore the agency to end its decades-long delay in adopting a long-term plan to preserve and sustain a clean drinking water supply.”

The NJ Legislature had the foresight and understanding to require proactive planning and ensure that NJ has enough clean water available to meet all of our needs. In 1981, the Legislature passed the Water Supply Management Act, and it requires that the DEP update the Water Supply Plan at least every five years. However, the last plan update happened in 1996 — 20 years ago.

“New Jersey’s Water Supply Plan is 20 years old and it fails to adequately plan for drinking water supply for NJ’s growing population. We need the DEP and Governor Christie to update and release the Water Supply Plan to ensure we have enough water to drink, grow Jersey Fresh Produce, support healthy habitats, recreation, tourism, and water dependent businesses in our state including Budweiser, Goya, and M&M’s,” Jennifer Coffey, Executive Director, Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions.  “Clean water is essential to life, economy, and a healthy environment in the Garden State. Without the Water Supply Plan, the state government is gambling with our future.”

“The drought in North Jersey is a sign of things to come.  Due to improper planning by the DEP, our residential and ecological communities will suffer far greater than if New Jersey released a water supply master plan years ago and implemented provisions to help deal with low supply and high demand.  Residents should voice their concerns at the hearing and demand immediate action with a strong plan that protects our most precious resource.” Jaclyn Rhoads, Deputy Director, Pinelands Preservation Alliance.

Tools and tips for water conservation in homes and communities including landscaping, leak detection, and best water practices can be found at: http://www.saveh2onj.org/

“We need to act now to protect our state’s water. Clean and plentiful water is essential for our economy and ecology. Threats to our waters threaten our wildlife, communities and economy,” Tim Dillingham, Executive Director, American Littoral Society

The public hearing is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, in the Millburn Free Public Library auditorium, 200 Glen Avenue in Millburn.

Reprinted with permission from the Association of NJ Environmental Commissions (ANJEC) and SaveH20NJ.org.

The Ecological Benefits of the Not So Perfect Yard

autumnleavesby Joanne Mullowney

The annual autumn cleanup is almost upon us and we would like to suggest that you channel your inner Environmental Steward by leaf cycling. Hoarding your autumn leaf drop provides numerous benefits for your landscape. It provides raw materials for the compost pile and an insulating winter cover in the garden. It helps with soil building and moisture retention. And, not inconsequentially, it helps save taxpayer dollars by reducing the amount of resources local governments put out for fall cleanup.  While you might think that this leaves the yard looking a little less than perfect, less labor may be required as we strive to become Leaf Litter Bugs.

The somewhat messy yard contributes yet another important benefit – habitat for the wild creatures that share our landscapes. 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? The untrimmed winter garden invites insects to reside in native grasses or settle in hollow plant stems; while birds feed from dried seed heads.

So how do you balance a desire to have a not-so-messy yard (and not irritate the neighbors) with the needs of the interconnected web of creatures that provide biodiversity in your garden? Well, you don’t have to let your whole garden go wild; you can start out small. Just leave a section or two untrimmed or start in the backyard. Or settle some leaves under the branches of your shrubs.

You might try a combination of methods. Rake out some of the leaves from the beds that are simply too overwhelming onto the lawn. 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 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. 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 all the while enhancing habitat.

Set yourself a goal of gardening more sustainably while trying to reach a balance between aesthetics and respecting the natural processes occurring in the landscape. After all, Mother Nature doesn’t have anyone carting out leaves to the curb. Our world desperately needs more environmental stewards, eco-gardeners working in harmony with nature and conserving natural resources. We ask you to become a litter bug; a Leaf Litter Bug, that is.

Do It Yourself Fall Planting: A Short Course

treeplantingtotm

By Ann Farnham, LLA

Why plant trees in the fall? Among the reasons, consider that fall temperatures are more moderate than summer, rainfall is steadier, and it is easier to work outside on the cooler days. The trees in question are less likely to go through heat or drought shock and will have an opportunity to establish some root growth before winter. Inventory at nurseries and garden centers might be reduced in price as the company will not want the expense of overwintering the stock (beware, however, that you do not buy the leftovers, less desirable plants from the earlier season!). In this area, plan to plant your tree from early September to, ideally, 6 weeks before the expected first heavy frost, around the end of October or early November.

Inform yourself thoroughly before buying your tree. Is the exposure (sun, shade, wind direction) of your chosen site correct for this plant? Are the soil type and pH what the plant requires? Concrete walls. patios, and walkways, for example, can make the soil pH more alkaline than the surrounding area. Most trees do well in a pH between 5.5 and 6.5; evergreens and broad-leaved evergreens prefer some acidity in the soil. Is the drainage adequate? Be sure to check this. Dig an 18” test hole to see how long it takes for water to drain out of it. If it takes more than over night, you will need professional help to improve the drainage.

Are there buried utilities in that spot? Walls and fences might create a microclimate which will be too warm for your plant of choice. The soil at this planting time should have a temperature over 55º at 6“ deep. Take a soil sample for analysis; our local extension service will do this. Be sure that your downspouts do not drain into the site and that there is adequate room for the mature tree. Check the tree for bugs, broken or diseased limbs, a dried-out root ball or container, or “wobble” from the root ball or container, which indicates stem breakage or damage. Is the tree “root bound”? That is, are the roots in the container so crowded –from being too long in that sized container- that they encircle the inside of the container? Do roots come out of the drainage holes? This condition requires extra measures or another plant.

Once you’ve checked out all of this and for further instructions, look for planting details, drawings, and plant lists at our Fall Planting page.

The Ewing Environmental Commission welcomes suggestions for the Tree Topics from all Ewing residents. Email suggestions or questions to eec@ewingnj.org.

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

By ewinggreenteam Posted in trees