Today is the Spring Equinox of 2021. But, really, this post is a summary of the last season in photos since it is so overdue. The global pandemic kept me grounded which meant I and others did lots more clearing last spring of unwanted plants in the meadow. Ryan and Emily cleared truckload after truckload …
1918 – 2018
Happy one hundredth birthday! I know I’m late, but the actual day did not go unnoticed. I was birding in Colombia with 3 others. We were in an expansive wetlands watching waterbirds. “Today would have been my father’s 100th birthday had he not died at 95,” I told them — maybe somewhat out of the blue!
Last summer when preparing for a public walk through the Kennel House meadow, I came upon this picture of us. Too bad, I thought then, that it does not show the plants in the meadow except as a haze of greenery. I wanted a before-and-after kind of photo so people could see the progress in restoring the meadow. You will remember how ruthlessly we tore up the bittersweet by its roots, how relentlessly we hacked away at the stems of Japanese bamboo. We look pretty clean and relaxed in the photo. It must have been snapped as we were on our way into the field. We’d be wringing wet by the time we finished.
Now I look at the picture and I see something else: we are both wearing second-hand gardening clothes. Well, you’re hat is a Dunes Club — i.e., first hand — item. Everything else is sourced from the Jonny Cake Shop or other second-hand store. Do you remember those pink pants of mine? I had a matching pair in an equally as WASPy-golf-club-color of green. I don’t know what happened to the green pants, but after 20 or 25 years, the pink ones disintegrated.
Thank you for passing on to me that practice of buying second-hand clothes. I don’t use it for all my clothing (as Mother will be glad to hear), but it is handy for gardening wear. Since the pink pants — which more or less fit — and an awareness of the hazards of Lyme-disease-bearing ticks, I’ve been buying second-hand garden wear that pulls over regular clothing so that I can shed a top layer when I come out of the field.
I know that at age 90 or so you wanted to live to 100 You should be glad you did not. You would be horrified with the state of American politics. You often told me that the Senate was not worthy of the respectable image it tried to project. Brawling, even fist fights, were not unusual at least in the 19th century you said. Today a fist fight would look civilized next to the unfathomable cruelty and callousness of Senators. And that’s just that start of the despicable behavior of our elected officials.
You would be pleased, however, with the state of the old field. It would be folly to say that the bittersweet (note the piece wrapping it’s way along the rail of the fence) is gone. But it is no longer the dominant plant species. The same can be said of the Japanese bamboo. The two hedgerows of evergreens that I planted from pencil-sized seedlings — one along the driveway to the houses behind and the other up the rise to the road — have grown in. They work well to choke out invasives and establish the boundaries of the field. The fence I lean on in the photo rotted away years ago. The edge between the field and the lawn is now defined by garden beds and the vegetable garden fence. A rose of Sharon that Winkie dug up for me from the Great House garden serves as a post between the lawn and the meadow in the south western corner.
Thank you for your gardening tutelage while I was growing up not to mention your physical labor at the Kennel House. Shed #1 is still stocked with your tools, by the way. You live on around here.
Happy birthday! usnan salguod
No mow, no more
The meadow experiment this year has been to mow only the paths.
That practice was most successful in meadow restoration terms in the boggiest areas where the Goldenrod and Joe Pye weed have grown into a dense mass of yellow and pink. Together they have squeezed out the Thistle and driven the invasives to a less visible position close to the ground. And the Dodder of last year has not returned. This section will get mowed before winter so the plants will not have to be disturbed in the spring. A fall mowing every other year may be just what the bog requires.
In the driest section of the field where the soil is the poorest, skipping a mowing in the spring seems to have made almost no difference: the warm season grasses that grow there have regrown on schedule. The poor soil seems to have kept succession in check. Perhaps a spring mowing every second year is what this “desert” needs.
Moving up the meadow, the ground slopes ever so slightly to the west and the soil must improve because cool season grasses crop up among the warm. Here the no-mow plan seems to have allowed for a gain for the forbs like these Black-eyed Susans which appeared for the first time in great masses this year.
The extra weeks of growing that the no-mow plan gave herbaceous plants allowed them to take over ground left after the Bittersweet succumbed to Triclopyr. Milkweed and Goldenrod but also Asters, Poke Weed, Pearly Everlasting, Agastache and (the non-native) Tansy took advantage of the opening.
The score after a season of the no-mow plan seems to be forbs one, graminoids zero. Neither the cool nor the warm season grasses appear to have spread with the no-mow plan. The real losers might be the invasives. (The meadow keeper hopes that Zeus is not reading this blog; he would be loading a thunderbolt with orange roots and berries for flinging directly next to the bee hives as recompense for such hubris). Bittersweet and Black Swallow wort appear to be on the decline though of course not gone.
There may be another loss, an aesthetic one. Mowing in the late spring knocks the cool season grasses and the herbaceous plants back giving the warm season grasses a break — just as it’s supposed to. Without that assist, Little Bluestem, Broom Sedge, Switch Grass and the other warm season native grasses will have have to share the stage with the less balletic Goldenrod when they start bowing with the fall breezes.
No-mow as a practice has come to an end. Management of the meadow will now follow a mowing schedule for each habitat of the field.
Return of the non-natives
Most of the meadow looks innocent these days. It’s short and green where the cool-season grasses are growing. It’s disorganized and brown in the warm-season areas where those grasses are just staring to grow. But that’s not the whole story.
Skunk cabbage greens up the bog. The blueberries have pink flower and fruit buds. The clethra bushes are not yet in leaf but they stand tall above the debris of last years’ Joe-Pye weed, asters and goldernrod that take over the boggy parts by mid summer.
But the invasives can’t resist corrupting the scene. Barberry bushes that resisted the douse of triclopyr have leaves. Bittersweet tentacles that hid in the grasses have buds. Leaves are open on Autumn olive branches where there were no plants six weeks ago. Tiny Japanese knotweed stems have pushed through the ground on the western slope. Black swallow wort — the last to appear — is above ground.
At the end of March, I pulled or clipped two wheelbarrow’s worth of bittersweet stems from the upper bog. Ten days ago I removed one more. Today I pulled bittersweet from the Bayberry heath and made a mental note of the places where I missed some colonies. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a few more hours of pulling in before the period of innocence ends.
Balancing Goldernrod with Asters
“What you need is a few sunflowers,” suggested the goldenrod authority. He was circling the meadow in fading light as evening was settling in. He had observed that I had nothing but the usual goldenrod, but to my great disappointment he would not name them. I was hoping for an authoritative identification of the few species that populate the field.
Sunflowers were not on my radar. The only native sunflower I know prefers woodland of which I have almost none. But scanning the meadow bursting with goldenrod I decided what I want is more asters like these New York asters that grow near the bog.
The goldenrod authority was also a house guest, and notwithstanding the sunflower suggestion, brought an aster as a gift. I planted his aster on Monday but it looked lonely. Wednesday bought 6 more: Rhody Native asters ( 3 A. novi-belgii and 3 A. undulatus) from Blue Moon Nursery. Emily planted them at the edge of meadow between “Susan’s folly” and the veggie garden. These seven asters have their work cut out to begin to balance the resurgence of goldenrod where Bittersweet used to dominate.
A year ago, I could not have imagined that I would have a field yellowed with Goldenrod today. It seems that where I disturbed the ground in pulling Bittersweet, Goldernrod seeded.
“Spray and Pray” update
For the record, since I have not been keeping good records, I started spraying in mid July. By Bastille Day, I had dispensed 32 gallons of Triclopyr. See the group photo before the containers went into the dump.
Each container makes 8 gallons of herbicide. (The 5th container was an empty from last year. I triple rinse each container as I do the mixing so I can recycle the canisters.)
Thirty-two gallons was not enough to spray all the Bittersweet and Black swallow wart that had emerged by July. After a break of a couple of weeks, I did a second round of spraying. I’m not sure how much Triclopyr I put down that time, maybe another 12 gallons.
The “praying” part of the process requires time. The label does not offer good guidelines on how long it will take to kill or dishearten the growing of the target plants but it is at least two weeks. Between my house guests, his camping trip, excessive heat and rain on work days, Nic was not able to start the post-praying tasks of pulling and cutting until early August.
I took a tour today. Despite the spraying and then the praying, Bittersweet is still there — popping up in the paths, entwined around some Goldenrod especially in the wetland, and otherwise sprinkled here and there. Black swallow wart crops up in places, mostly where I think I had not sprayed. But what a change. The old field is now variegated with a richer sampling of weedy growth. It looks truly mangy. I could not be happier. But I know it is only an interlude.
“Susan,” Carl said, “has Dodder,” giving the word a spit. Lisa, for whom this was news, helpfully said, “Maybe it will go away next year.”
Dodder or Cuscuta is a parasitic plant in the morning glory family. The genus becomes rare in cool temperate climates. So climate change has brought me a rare parasite! If Lisa is right and we get a normal winter, maybe Dodder will not return next year.
But for this year, it has sprung into attack mode with Joe-Pye weed and goldenrod as its victims. On the first day of summer, when Carl identified the plant, its leafless orange stem (it has very little chlorophyll) had entwined only a few flower stalks.
It went from a tentative presence to attack mode, enfolding several patches of plants the lower marshy area of the meadow. And flowered.
That exchange between Carl and Lisa was enough to make Dodder removal Nic’s meadow assignment. By the time he went home that day in late July, he had filled 2 contractor’s bag’s with Dodder. By the time he finished removing all the Dodder, he had abandoned the bagging and created a mountain of Dodder that I’ll burn later in the season.
Dodder seeds are minute and produced in large quantities. A hard coating allows seeds to survive in the soil for 5–10 years or more. While the Dodder is in flower, it does not seem to have set seeds yet. Given the certainty that Dodder is something unwanted, Nic and I decided he would remove all the flower stalks with Dodder.
15h 13m 16s
15h 13m 16s. 20 June was the last of the lengthening days. Isn’t it odd that “summer” means ever less daylight?
But at the moment I took this photo I could not complain about the light or about the restoration of parts of the meadow. As the seconds of daylight decline, I’ll get back to work on the spray and pray program.
Grass has been growing here for about a month. Some meadow grasses already have flowers. So what’s the status of the invasives?
Knotweed got an early but feeble start. I’ve pulled about 30 shoots, none of them more than a foot, many only a few inches. That’s all currently above ground.
That might be Black swallow wort in the photo. It must not get going until later in the season because the photo shows the entire crop to date. Wait, I can’t say that. The photo shows all the shoots of that plant that I came across in the areas that had had Black swallow wort last year. When I looked online for photos to use as comparisons, I found my own shots!
And, dear reader, I know you are waiting for the update on the Bittersweet! Rest assured, Bittersweet is still in the meadow. But, it has not been this absent since it began invading the field more than two decades ago. It is most prevalent in those places in the north east section where I could not spray herbicide because it was too tightly interlaced with desirable broadleaved plants.
It is also coming back in relatively greater strength than in other parts of the meadow in an area I hand pulled last April to the south of the path to to the former bee yard. Does this suggest that hand pulling is less successful than spraying?
A patch to the south of the Barberry heather had a minor resurgence as well. That area was another where I had to be careful not to spray desirable plants so I had used herbicide extremely sparingly. This spot, and other areas that did get some herbicide, show something else as well: many of the youngest leaves of the Bittersweet are wilting. is the wilt from a lack of rain or is the plant systemically weakened? Maybe I’ll know after a rain, although I am cutting back as many shoots as I can so I am reducing my ability to tell. I want to keep my need for further spraying to a minimum. I also want to keep after the Bittersweet before it further tangles with the plants I want to preserve.
So, on first blush, the herbicide treatment seems to have been a resounding success. And wildlife appears not to have been too disturbed. These butterflies were mating while I snipped around them. They were using a old, cut Bittersweet stem but note the strawberries flowering below them. (These butterflies are orange when they open their wings; I better learn to identify these meadow residents!)
The poison ivy seems undaunted, although it collapsed immediately when sprayed last summer. The dewberry is debating how to fill some of the gaps in its network of foot-snaggers. I’m confident it will find brilliant new routes.
The meadow has a mohawk
In between rains, the old field had its annual haircut on Thursday (29 March). Set at its highest position (5 inches), the mowing machine and the mower, Scott Wallace, needed all afternoon to do the deed. Scott mowed at right angles to last year’s paths as a precaution against reenforcing last year’s ruts but the ground was much drier this year and the mower lighter so that was not an issue.
But the meadow did end up with a new feature. It has a Mohawk! (You have to enlarge the photo to see it.)
Last summer, I discovered a Bayberry health on a rise mid-field. I sprayed and pulled Bittersweet until the area looked to be predominantly Bayberry again. Then I marked it off from the mowing. The result, is a ridge of Little bluestem at the periphery of the heath.
The well head, the bird boxes, the large brush compost and the bee hives in a new location, are now the only other level changers in the field. Despite the frost this morning, I think I can hear the grass growing.