Gardening time is here

It's time for me to think of gardening, now that the snow is finally gone from the front yard. So, here's my annual plea to gardeners: Please, don't plant INVASIVES! Most of what we have in our gardens--fruit, vegetables, shrubs and flowers--are NON-NATIVES, but this term is not the same as "invasives." Only a few of the "alien" or "exotic" species we like to grow are ever a problem here. The climate (so far) does not allow the tropical "annuals" to survive the winters. Vegetables are often hybrids that can't reproduce on their own (corn, for instance). Most species in the mint family, however, spread underground and have to be watched carefully if we don't want them taking over the whole garden. (Many plants with no hint of mint in the name are mints, so be careful about those "hardy, fast-growers," like bee balm. It's a great plant for hummingbirds, butterflies, and many other insects, but put a deep metal ring around it.) But the mints in our flower gardens don't crowd out native species, so we do not call them invasive. The biggest problems are likely to be wetland and aquatic plants. When they get loose it is hard to stop them as you don't want to put poisons that work well into water. They may work too well. Eurasian yellow iris is now in water bodies all around the outside of the Adirondack Park and is spreading inside. Purple loosestrife will quickly crowd out the natives needed by our water birds, turtles and other wildlife. Phragmites or Common Reed, that huge, beautiful grass in the ditches, has stolons that grow like an alien from outer space across pavement. Don't let it get started! Japanese Knotweed or Mexican Bamboo was planted by our foremothers as a fast growing hedge. It sure worked. Some species are still being sold by places that should know better, so ask if an "easy grower" is native or not. Sometimes so-called "natives" are native to the U.S. but do not have natural enemies to control them here. Some troublesome animals are spread in the mud of birds' feet or in droppings, on motor boat propellers (Eurasian milfoil), by fishermen (nightcrawlers), in the mud on truck and ATV tires (earthworm eggs). Earthworms, as I have said before, are thought to be "holy" by gardeners. But read the latest National Geographic if you don't believe this: Almost as far south as the Ice Age glaciers went, there should be no earthworms as they were all killed off and move back very slowly on their own. In hardwood forests, they can eat all the leaf litter, which is needed for our spring ephemeral wildflowers and native saplings to survive. A very aggressive invasive, garlic mustard, follows on the heels of the earthworms. It makes a dense growth, shading out our natives, and thriving even in very shady areas, unlike many exotics. And the seedbed takes years to die out. Who cares? Anyone who values our unique American natural heritage cares. But you do need to need to know what is ours and what isn't. Honeysuckle isn't. I hope to be developing natural history brochures for the town trail, which goes from the RR Depot, under the bypass, on past the town beach, and out to where the North Creek turns at Peaceful Valley Road. The section from the RR trestle to Main St. is dominated by honeysuckle and Norway maple, both invasives. Some nice natives do hang on here and there but mostly the soil underneath is totally barren. Non-migratory, resident Canada geese are invasives, too. They are a long story but once again, they are genetically distinct from the wild geese that migrate from the mid-Atlantic to the tundra as they have since the last Ice Age. I recently showed slides about bogs to a local group. The Adirondacks are very rich in these safe havens for natives. Bogs, some of them 10,000 years old, are just too weird to support anything but plants adapted to cool, wet, acidic, oxygen-poor conditions, thank heavens. Pitcher plants, many heath shrubs, black spruce, larch and orchids are some of the relics from long ago that you will care about if you make a little effort to learn about their incredible survival tricks. (Get John Eastman's Swamp and Bog!)

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