Gardening for Butterflies, Birds and Bees forum: Has anyone renovated their entire yard?

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Invaded
Nov 18, 2017 2:06 PM CST
This question could fall under a few forums: Wild flowers, Native habitats, Gardening for wildlife, Gardening for Butterflies, Birds and Bees, or Landscape Design, but this forum seems to have some traffic so I'll ask here.

I've recently read Garden Revolution by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher, and I'm now reading The New American Landscape by Thomas Christopher and others. Next up I plan to read Bringing Nature Home, and The Living Landscape by Doug Tallamy. These books all present reasonable arguments and strategies for more sustainable landscapes, like replacing lawn areas with regionally adapted meadow, shrubland and woodland, or a combination of these. Has anyone here actually done this, either in partial or in full, on your property? I'd be interested in your experience implementing the change, and the obstacles you faced, and strategies you used to overcome them.

I have a little less than an acre in NJ that had been foreclosed and unmaintained for quite some time, with several large mature trees that aren't from this ecoregion, and an understory of weak turfgrass and invasive vines, herbaceous weeds, and shrubs. The region has been cleared, farmed, developed and repurposed so many times over the centuries that a book I read to find out more about the natural landscape, has invasive species listed as part of the regional plant community. It even concedes that very few remnants of the original landscape remain in my region. I'd love to convert it to a more ecologically valuable piece of land, but the entrenched invasive species on the property and in the wider region are going to make it extremely difficult. Even turning it back into a decent suburban lawn would prove to be an expensive long term project. What's your take on reforming a piece of property in this way?
Name: Laurie b
Western Washington (Zone 7b)
Houseplants Region: Pacific Northwest Sedums Orchids Tropicals Region: Mexico
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lauriebasler
Nov 18, 2017 4:42 PM CST
It can be done. It won't be easy. Extension offices are a valuable tool, and offer some surprising solutions, even some assistance for free. Start small, and don't ever expect to feel done. No garden is ever done. As your back aches and a weedy vine pops up unexpectedly, realise not even the most perfect seeming garden is ever finished, and will forever be work. Pick the spot you see the most, and make it acceptable to your eye, then maintain that, while moving on, in baby steps. Be patient. Others will see it as a beautiful improvements while you see it as a slow work in progress.
Name: Laurie b
Western Washington (Zone 7b)
Houseplants Region: Pacific Northwest Sedums Orchids Tropicals Region: Mexico
Image
lauriebasler
Nov 18, 2017 4:46 PM CST
Then when the whole area is tolerable, and maintainable, you can start to really implement your vision. Do this the same way, in small sections and baby steps, always stopping to keep the other areas in check.

Invaded
Nov 18, 2017 7:39 PM CST
lauriebasler said:Then when the whole area is tolerable, and maintainable, you can start to really implement your vision. Do this the same way, in small sections and baby steps, always stopping to keep the other areas in check.


Thank you Laurie. I have begun this incremental process recently by converting a strip of lawn into a mulched bed that will eventually be a shrub border along the road, and smothering a particularly weedy area in my line of site at the back of the lot with 12" of arborist chips. All the chips were from some haggard white mulberry trees on my property that I coppiced, and from a large damaged maple my neighbor had taken down.

In the spring I'll start planting permanent stuff like understory trees and shrubs, and fill in the one new bed with tall grasses and perennials while I try to keep everything else at bay.
Name: Ann ~Heat zn 9, Sunset
North Fl. (Zone 8b)
Garden Sages Native Plants and Wildflowers Xeriscape Organic Gardener I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level
Butterflies Charter ATP Member Plant Identifier Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Dog Lover Birds
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flaflwrgrl
Nov 18, 2017 8:07 PM CST
Invaded, we changed our entire yard over. A much smaller area than you have but you can read about what we did here:
https://garden.org/ideas/view/...
I am a strong believer in the simple fact is that what matters in this life is how we treat others. I think that's what living is all about. Not what I've done in my life but how I've treated others.
~~ Sharon Brown ~~



Name: Ann ~Heat zn 9, Sunset
North Fl. (Zone 8b)
Garden Sages Native Plants and Wildflowers Xeriscape Organic Gardener I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level
Butterflies Charter ATP Member Plant Identifier Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Dog Lover Birds
Image
flaflwrgrl
Nov 18, 2017 8:09 PM CST
I might add that we sold that home 4 or 5 years ago. What did the new owners do? Ripped out every single thing we did & had sod installed everywhere. Shrug! Oh well.
I am a strong believer in the simple fact is that what matters in this life is how we treat others. I think that's what living is all about. Not what I've done in my life but how I've treated others.
~~ Sharon Brown ~~



Northern NJ (Zone 6b)
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LorettaNJ
Nov 29, 2017 1:53 PM CST
Thanks for the nice book list! I read/have Planting in a "Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for a Resilient Landscape" by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West. I recommend that one too plus you might find either author lecturing locally.
This is really a favorite subject of mine. I have been selecting plants more and more for their ability to host or provide nectar, food or habitat. I hope you keep us updated about your progress.
Name: Sandy
Tennessee (Zone 6b)
Region: Tennessee Birds Annuals Garden Photography
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Lakeside
Nov 30, 2017 12:00 PM CST
My property is already pretty wild, so I'm sort of moving in the opposite direction from where you are. However, I do have a fairly large area that the power company cleared and sprayed, which I'm trying to establish as a low maintenance, wildlife-friendly area. One thing I tried there, without success, was establishing a wildflower meadow. Turns out it's not as easy as it looks Sticking tongue out Sticking tongue out

I tried just scattering wildflower seeds over about a 1/4 acre. It looked okay, but sparse, the first spring. Then the grasses grew up and it looked pretty messy. The grasses took over the second year. This was a setback for me but not too big a deal because I live in a rural area without immediate neighbors to deal with. If you're in a residential area, you'll need to keep things somewhat maintained or you could end up with complaints, so a notice from the city that you need to cut things back.

After my initial meadow failure, I noted that there were some plants that had survived in with the grasses. I dug those up (mostly purple coneflowers and black-eyed susans) and concentrated them in one area. Over the past few years I've added more of those and I keep testing other plants to see what does well. When I find something that works, I add more of those to the mix and expand the planted area.

I've found that Rudbeckia "Goldstrum" is very popular with bees, butterflies, and birds; needs very little attention, reseeds, and will eventually spread and take over weedy areas. They work very well for me here in Tennessee. Not sure if they'd do as well in NJ.

I'm also experimenting with conifers in various locations. They're pretty tough and have wildlife benefits. Some spread and provide low maintenance ground cover, others have interesting shapes to provide structure to your garden.



"People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us." ~ Iris Murdoch
Name: Laurie b
Western Washington (Zone 7b)
Houseplants Region: Pacific Northwest Sedums Orchids Tropicals Region: Mexico
Image
lauriebasler
Nov 30, 2017 11:20 PM CST
@Invaded, when I read your response, YOU have vision, for now but more impressive for the future. You have a good plan and you know what you want, and you're thinking forward to next spring. I was impressed. I tip my hat to you.
I can't wait for some pics.

[Last edited by lauriebasler - Dec 1, 2017 10:47 AM (+)]
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Invaded
Dec 1, 2017 8:20 AM CST
Thanks for the supportive responses! I have a vision and a plan for a few areas, but I'm not sure how it's going to work out in practice. I'm an inexperienced gardener with a small budget and limited time, and all the progress is going to be incremental. The trees and shrubs Im getting will be immature offerings from a land trust, and I dont think they'll look like much for a very long time. I'm hoping to grow some of my own perennials from seed. Pictures are probably going to look a little sad at first.

Lakeside said:My property is already pretty wild, so I'm sort of moving in the opposite direction from where you are. However, I do have a fairly large area that the power company cleared and sprayed, which I'm trying to establish as a low maintenance, wildlife-friendly area. One thing I tried there, without success, was establishing a wildflower meadow. Turns out it's not as easy as it looks Sticking tongue out Sticking tongue out

I tried just scattering wildflower seeds over about a 1/4 acre. It looked okay, but sparse, the first spring. Then the grasses grew up and it looked pretty messy. The grasses took over the second year. This was a setback for me but not too big a deal because I live in a rural area without immediate neighbors to deal with. If you're in a residential area, you'll need to keep things somewhat maintained or you could end up with complaints, so a notice from the city that you need to cut things back.

After my initial meadow failure, I noted that there were some plants that had survived in with the grasses. I dug those up (mostly purple coneflowers and black-eyed susans) and concentrated them in one area. Over the past few years I've added more of those and I keep testing other plants to see what does well. When I find something that works, I add more of those to the mix and expand the planted area.

I've found that Rudbeckia "Goldstrum" is very popular with bees, butterflies, and birds; needs very little attention, reseeds, and will eventually spread and take over weedy areas. They work very well for me here in Tennessee. Not sure if they'd do as well in NJ.

I'm also experimenting with conifers in various locations. They're pretty tough and have wildlife benefits. Some spread and provide low maintenance ground cover, others have interesting shapes to provide structure to your garden.





You are on the right track, most sources say it will take 3+ years to establish the meadow and it should be dominated by grass. Some of those slower-to-establish perennials might not show up until years later. The species you have seen are pioneer species that will eventually be overtaken by longer lived species. In Tennessee the woods might start to fill in before you ever get to the point of a mature meadow though. For these reasons, I am leaning toward the woodland garden myself, planting desirable trees and shrubs and controlling weeds.
Name: Laurie b
Western Washington (Zone 7b)
Houseplants Region: Pacific Northwest Sedums Orchids Tropicals Region: Mexico
Image
lauriebasler
Dec 1, 2017 10:52 AM CST
It will be a sight to your eyes because of your labor and commitment. You will love it right away. Make a space you can see from the house a tiny color spot, with inexpensive perennials and bulbs for color right away. Just having that will do wonders to tie you over as the garden grows into what you see in your mind.
[Last edited by lauriebasler - Dec 2, 2017 4:57 AM (+)]
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Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Garden Photography Bee Lover Region: Utah Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Photo Contest Winner: 2015 Photo Contest Winner: 2016 Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
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dirtdorphins
Dec 1, 2017 10:29 PM CST
Yes, or more accurately, still working on it...
Now I wish that I had before and after pictures, but, in the beginning, it was so hideous and unbearable that no pictures were taken!

We purchased a disaster a little over 10yrs ago...can't believe it's been that long already...anyway--
Great location, large corner lot in an old, outlying neighborhood of town proper (i.e. not quite suburbia). The house had been a rental for quite sometime, then abandoned for many years, fell into such a state of disrepair it was to be condemned (roof caved in) and of course the yard was a chronic eye-sore and huge point of contention for all the neighbors--junk trees and thickets of only the most xeric 'weeds'.

We didn't really have a plan or know what we were doing. We just had to do something.
Making matters worse, I had come from the midwest, leaving behind enchanted gardens, growing in glorious soil, where it actually rained with some frequency. I wanted to recreate that and failed miserably, here in the high desert.

Little by little, we have managed to create something else entirely. We feed the bees from thaw to freeze and ourselves a little bit.

Fortunately, Laurie is spot on!

lauriebasler said: Pick the spot you see the most, and make it acceptable to your eye, then maintain that, while moving on, in baby steps. Be patient. Others will see it as a beautiful improvements while you see it as a slow work in progress.


The neighbors are all so very grateful to us just for trying!
Everyone stops by regularly to tell us they love everything we've done and are doing--both the people and the pollinators Smiling Property values are up and rentals are down in our 'hood. And I know that we have inspired others around us to do some transforming.
It's never been my intention to restore the yard to match the surrounding hillsides with sagebrush and rabbit brush. Honestly, many of my experiments are kinda out of place in the main, but when they work it's really quite satisfying Thumbs up

One of the most frustrating things in our case, starting with such a well established weed seed bank, is that any time we disturb the soil we get vigorous sprouting of all kinds of undesirables. A few years ago, after compacting the soil with some heavy equipment (doing some rock stuff) we had the brilliant idea to aerate the lawn we had finally looking like a passable lawn. Of course, all those little dirt plugs yielded nasty weeds Blinking where the heck did all these Grumbling goatheads come from D'Oh! Hilarious!



anna190
Dec 30, 2017 2:40 PM CST
[quote="Invaded"]This question could fall under a few forums: Wild flowers, Native habitats, Gardening for wildlife, Gardening for Butterflies, Birds and Bees, or Landscape Design, but this forum seems to have some traffic so I'll ask here.
Hi,
I am new to the group so may not be doing this incorrectly.

I read 100 Plants for Bees, from the Xerces Society and got hooked on the idea of a pollinator garden.
When we move to Pensacola, FL there will be 5 acres that is all lawn, a wasteland for life. At any rate, for a best case result, they recommended 5000 sq. ft. for size, 1st year cover with clear green house plastic to begin to get rid of seeds and weeds. Then, start planting your seeds(pesticide free, local Native Plant Groups. )for the next growing season and continue from there. This is on pages 6 through 23. There are sections on trees and shrubs also. I'll start a little smaller, I think, and add more area over time.

There is a lot of other information in the book that relates to your thread and it can be purchased from the Xerces Society. Hope this helps you a little bit. It will be at least a year before I can start the process
of killing the seeds but I'll let you know progress. I would like to follow your progress, too, if you have the time. All the best, AMAH. Smiling

Invaded
Dec 30, 2017 8:04 PM CST
anna190 said:[quote="Invaded"]This question could fall under a few forums: Wild flowers, Native habitats, Gardening for wildlife, Gardening for Butterflies, Birds and Bees, or Landscape Design, but this forum seems to have some traffic so I'll ask here.
Hi,
I am new to the group so may not be doing this incorrectly.

I read 100 Plants for Bees, from the Xerces Society and got hooked on the idea of a pollinator garden.
When we move to Pensacola, FL there will be 5 acres that is all lawn, a wasteland for life. At any rate, for a best case result, they recommended 5000 sq. ft. for size, 1st year cover with clear green house plastic to begin to get rid of seeds and weeds. Then, start planting your seeds(pesticide free, local Native Plant Groups. )for the next growing season and continue from there. This is on pages 6 through 23. There are sections on trees and shrubs also. I'll start a little smaller, I think, and add more area over time.

There is a lot of other information in the book that relates to your thread and it can be purchased from the Xerces Society. Hope this helps you a little bit. It will be at least a year before I can start the process
of killing the seeds but I'll let you know progress. I would like to follow your progress, too, if you have the time. All the best, AMAH. Smiling

Thanks for the info I will check out those sources.
I just read Bringing Nature Home by Tallamy and it seems like targeted cutting and herbicide application will be necessary for stuff like Japanese honey suckle and multiflora rose. I have almost 1000sq ft of mulched beds to plant in the spring and I'll start prepping other areas during the year. I'll post progress here as it comes.
Name: UrbanWild
Kentucky (Zone 6b)
Kentucky - borderline of 6a & 6b
Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Butterflies
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UrbanWild
Jan 7, 2018 10:23 PM CST
I am not on the same scale as most here. However, I can speak to impenetrable superorganisms of mixed invasives, weedy seedbanks, and repurposing a property.

My property is urban. The house and carriage house were built in 1890. The lot is roughly 45' x 200' (13.7 m x 60.96 m) or 0.2084 acres (0.0843 hectares). I don't yet have an estimate of the portion left after subtracting hous, carriage house, front porch, sidewalks, etc.

To say it was almost all lawn would be an insult to lawns. It suffered from decades of abuse and neglect. The "lawn" consisted of expanses of every noxious non-native invasive weed the decades generously provided. Some tangled mats of invasive vines were the size of dinosaurs and made full use of the buildings, telephone lines, cable wires, and more!

We purchased it about 1.5 years ago. The first thing I did when we came home from the bank-signing was murder burning bushes and start attacking vines. It took daily hacking and slashing for a solid month to bring them to ground. Each time they reared their heads, we'd cut them off. In some areas, I had to peel up "sod" and the first few inches of soil to remove as waste as the seedbank was/is loaded with undesirables. Going was/is slow as I don't have a truck, am limited to how much can go to yard waste, and am working with a small budget. But bit-by-bit, it is taking shape as wildlife habitat/farmstead. I am having to work with beds because we need some lawn for paths and the dog. Also limiting how much we can do to the lawn is the fact that gas, water, sewage, & electric run underground from the street, back the entire length of the lot to the carriage house.

I am including artificial modifications such as feeders, water dishes, bird houses, bat houses, salt/mineral puddles, solitary bee nest boxes, bumble bee boxes, etc.

The first half-season and last full season we sacrificed whole flats/carloads of plants to make cuttings and increase the planted areas. We placed special importance on early & late flowering species for pollinators, flower transitions, foodplants, etc. We have a mix of natives as well as named varieties. We still have a long way to go but we keep chipping away at it.

It took 128 years to get this way. We've had 1.5. We've made lots of mistakes but focus on successes and a plan b once or thrice. It still looks like a construction site...even more so in winter. We've made a good dent while also addressing structural issues in both buildings.

You'll be fine as long as you look at it in the long-term. Don't expect quick, sweeping changes. Be happy when some do happen. Just keep chipping away. You'll notice, and so will the animals.
Always looking for interesting plants for pollinators and food! Bonus points for highly, and pleasantly scented plants.

"Si hortum in bibliotheca habes, nihil deerit." [“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”] -- Marcus Tullius Cicero in Ad Familiares IX, 4, to Varro. 46 BCE

Invaded
Jan 15, 2018 1:11 PM CST
Thumb of 2018-01-15/Invaded/485224
Thumb of 2018-01-15/Invaded/8018ac

I was busy this weekend filling these trays with soil and seed, to sit out and cold stratify. Fingers crossed I will have a bunch of plugs to plant out in the spring.

These are the seeds I planted, based on where they will go:
Sunny area around line of small young shrubs:
Senna hebecarpa (Wild Senna) 
Agastache scrophulariaefolia (purple giant hyssop) 
Eupatorium fistulosum ( hollow stem Joe Pye weed) 
Rudbeckia laciniata (cutleaf coneflower) 
Vernonia noveboracensis (NY iron weed) 
Delphinium exaltatum (Tall Larkspur) 
Helianthus maximiliani (Maximilian sunflower)
Tridens flavus (purple top grass) 

Shady/semi shady areas:
Geranium maculatum (wild geranium) 
Polemonium reptans (Jacob'sLadder) 
Aquilegia canadensis (Columbine) 
Carex sprengelii (Long-beaked Sedge) 
Eupatorium coelestinum (Mistflower) 
Aster macrophyllus (Big-leaved Aster) 
Aster cordifolius (Heart-leaved Aster)   
Cinna arundinacea (wood reed grass) 
Asclepias syriaca (Common Milkweed) 

Front bed:
Ceanothus americanus (new jersey tea) 
Callirhoe involucrata (purple poppy mallow) 
Astragalus canadensis (milk vetch) 
Agastache foeniculum (anise scented hyssop)  
Sisyrinchium angustifolium (stout blue-eyed grass) 
Coreopsis lanceolata (lance leaf coreopsis) 
Rudbeckia fulgida (orange coneflower) 
Lespedeza violacea (violet lespedeza) 
Penstemon digitalis (foxglove beardtongue) 
Lathyrus venosus (Veiny Pea) 
Antennaria plantaginifolia (pussytoes) 

I think I will fence off a few areas with deer netting to help the plants get established.

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