I finally dug into the garden this week. It felt great. I was slow to get started this year because I was feeling defeated fighting the deer, groundhogs and ornamental invaders creeping through our property. Luckily I adjusted my attitude. It might have been the shot of hot, humid weather, the family hands that joined in to help or the fact that plants previously chewed on by now are thriving, with no groundhog sightings, yet.
My first visit to the local garden center this season was also a real treat. How exciting it is to see the rainbow of colors splashed across the beds of annual and perennial plants and flowering trees and shrubs. The options seem endless, but the mantra, "right plant, right place," echoes in my ears, and, at times is hard to heed. Sun, shade, moisture, pH and soil type each factor in to selecting the right plant, followed by the desired form (color, height, structure) and function (wildlife, cut flowers, screening) and, of course, deer resistance.
In my garden I have a mix of native plants and non-invasive non-native plants, and invasive plants, too. I inherited the invasive ornamentals, like shrubby honeysuckle, Japanese barberry, Asiatic bittersweet and goutweed (Bishop's weed), from the previous landowner and am methodically removing them and replanting with non-invasive species such as witch hazel, shadbush and a variety of ferns.
Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is a popular ornamental plant, but it escapes gardens and invades woods, out-competes native plants and serves as tick habitat.
(Photo — John Ruter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org)
The most recent addition to my garden is cinnamon fern. It joins ostrich fern, maidenhair fern, oak fern and common wood fern. Some naturally occurred on the property and others I purchased. The Adirondacks are rich in more than 25 species of native fern, some of which are available at local nurseries.
Gardeners are gaining interest in planting natives, and nurseries seem to be responding. Landscaping with native plants has many benefits. Native plants provide food and shelter for birds, butterflies and other desirable wildlife. Because they are adapted to local conditions, native plants are vigorous, hardy and able to survive winter cold and summer heat. Plus, once established, they require little or no irrigation or fertilization, which saves energy and water. Native plants are also resistant to local pests and diseases, so the use of pesticides is minimized.
Many gardeners, landscapers and nursery centers may not know what is native to the Adirondack region. A list of common native species can be found online at www.adkinvasives.com/documents/NativePlantListfortheAdirondackParklisting.pdf. Also, the New York Flora Atlas is a quick way to determine if a species is native to the state. Simply type the name of the plant of interest into the search bar online at www.newyork.plantatlas.usf.edu.
While invasive ornamentals are unfortunately still available for sale, for now, (Governor Cuomo's 2012 Invasive Species Prevention Act will prevent the commercial sale of regulated species - regulations are currently in development), a growing demand for alternatives will help tip the scale in nature's favor. Here is a snapshot of some of the common invasive ornamentals and native alternatives. Recommendations provided by Fiddlehead Creek Farm and Native Plant Nursery (www.fiddleheadcreek.com).
Instead of Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), try bayberry, Virginia rose, ninebark, winterberry or inkberry.
Instead of shrubby honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.), try serviceberry, swamp azalea, winterberry or spicebush.
Instead of Asiatic bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), try trumpet honeysuckle or wild clematis.
Instead of yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus), try blue flag iris or marsh marigold.
Help prevent the spread of invasive ornamentals in the Adirondacks by choosing non-invasive plants, shrubs and trees for your landscapes and gardens. For more information, contact APIPP at 518-576-2082 ext. 131.
Eye on Invasives is a biweekly column that spotlights a top invader when it is easiest to identify. Hilary Smith directs the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, a partnership program housed at the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy in Keene Valley. Find out more about this award-winning program online at www.adkinvasives.com.