sustainable landscapes

As hot as a July afternoon

I'm describing the bright colors of our fave native perennials. These hard-working superstars will bloom all through the summer with a little care and occasional deadheading to promote even more blooms. 

ASTER - offers hundreds of species across North America. Asters prolifically naturalize to cover large sunny, dry prairies. Excellent border plant in a broad array of colors from pale blue to regal purple. Asters bloom from July through the first hard frost. Butterflies, bees and wasps and other pollinators love the abundant nectar. 

COREOPSIS, also called 'Tickseed' comes in a range of warm colors from pale yellow to gold to rusty red and combos of these colors. Ray-shaped flowers dance on thin stems about 18-24" tall, perfect with mid-height native grasses like little bluestem or prairie dropseed. 

Coreopsis

 

ECHINACEA or coneflower should be in everyone's garden, right? The common name comes from the 'cone' of densely packed seeds in the center of the petals. Songbirds love the seeds, and while you can grow plants from seed, most people prefer to used root cuttings or plant divisions. All parts of the plants have medicinal value, from the flowers to the roots. 

echinacea

 

LIATRIS, or blazing star, is the queen of sequel blooming. With at least nine species you can plant, you'll enjoy their lavender to deep purple spikes from spring through fall. Once dominant on the Grand Prairie, blazing star does remarkably well in home gardens. Its unusual characteristic of blooming from top to bottom makes the blazing star a good choice in fresh-cut floral arrangements. The spiky foliage and pods of rattlesnake master make an interesting companion for blazing star in cut arrangements.

Blazing Star

 

MILKWEED - Swamp or rose milkweed is the host plant for migrating #monarchs. Fragrant, rose-colored, dome-shaped flowers form seed pods in fall, which break to reveal seeds that disperse in the wind. Deer resistent, milkweed grows in average to moist soils and is a great choice for bioswales and rain gardens.

Butterfly milkweed is also a favorite for attracting and sustaining butterflies. Unlike its cousin, swamp milkweed, this fiery orange bloomer prefers a dry, well drained location to survive and set seed.

MONARDA is a must for butterfly and hummingbird gardens with whorls of nectar-rich tubular flowers at the tip of each stem. Grow this pollinator favorite in full sun or part shade with moist, but well-drained soil. 

RUDBECKIA has 'black-eyed Susan' flowers, which bloom profusely with showy gold petals and dark brown centers. 

YARROW has the flat-topped umbrels of tiny flowers to that make the classic butterfly landing pad. Tough, drought-resistant plants bloom all summer in colors that range from white to gold to reds. 

We always include these perennials in #Bluestem landscape designs.  With beauty, performance and the benefits they give to watchable wildlife, what's not to love? Contact to start a conversation about a new, easy-care landscape for your home or business. 

#NativeWildflowers
#SummerGardening

#EasyCareLandscapes

#ButterflyGarden

#Pollinators

 

Barbarians at the gate of biodiversity

Barbarians.jpg

'RIGHT PLANT, RIGHT PLACE'. We've all heard that mantra. But, there are some plants that have NO PLACE in the landscape. These species are THE INVASIVES. And, as beautiful as each may be, they are destructive in the natural landscape. They are the barbarians at the gate of biodiversity.  Each invasive is highly adaptable and once they get a foothold are difficult to control in your landscape or when they escape into wild areas. Invasive species reduce biodiversity and critical wildlife food and habitat.

The good news is there are MANY GREAT NATIVE PLANT ALTERNATIVES to invasive plants or overused ground covers, shrubs and trees. Here are just a few of our “most UN-wanted” barbarian plants.  

Pachysandra, or Japanese spurge, is an invasive evergreen perennial INVASIVE GROUND COVER that spreads throughout the garden by means of underground stems and roots.

If you have this ground cover and want to eliminate it, you have three OPTIONS FOR PACHYSANDRA ELIMINATION.

  • DIG IT UP. Hard work, but an environmentally safe way to expose and eliminate pachysandra's shallow root system. To make sure you get all of the roots, cut through the foliage and remove the top 4 to 6 inches of soil in the affected area
  • COVER IT UP. Cover the entire planted area with black plastic. With black plastic, the sun will heat the soil under the plants and the plants will be deprived of sunlight and water. It takes a long time, though...three months to a year to completely kill the plants, more in shady areas.
  • POISON IT. Chemicals like glyphosate (Roundup) are the "last resort" method for large or troublesome patches. But, use with care. Glyphosate will kill any vegetation it's sprayed on and can also drift in wind or runoff.

The BEST OPTION is to never plant pachysandra, but rather CHOOSE A SHORT NATIVE SPECIES like wild ginger, barren strawberry, or one of the many cool, short sedges. If you can go a bit taller, look into native ferns, wild geranium, or a medium-short native grass or sedge.


One of the most insidious of all INVASIVE SHRUBS is bush honeysuckle, which includes two species, Morrow's (Lonicera morrowii) and Amur (L. maackii). You'll find this pest shrub in a wide variety of natural landscapes, even those without previous disturbances. There are several control measures including prescribed burning, hand pulling seedlings, cutting and herbicide treatments.

FOR BUSH HONEYSUCKLE CONTROL, the Missouri Department of Conservation recommends these option:

  • Spring PRESCRIBED BURNING in fire-adapted communities will kill seedlings and kill the tops of mature plants.

"Bush honeysuckles readily re-sprout and repeated fires are necessary for adequate control. It may be necessary to burn annually or biennially for five years or more for effective control."

  • HAND PULLED sprouts when soils are moist. All of the root should be removed or re-sprouting will occur. Physical removal by hand-pulling smaller plants or grubbing out large plants should not be used in sensitive habitats. Open soil and remaining root stocks will result in rapid re-invasion or re-sprouting of honeysuckles and other exotic species.
  • HERBICIDING cut honeysuckle stems. After cutting with brush-cutters, chainsaws or hand tools, apply a 20-percent solution of GLYPHOSATE to the cut stump by low-pressure spray or by wiping the stump with a sponge applicator. This method should prevent re-sprouting.

NATIVE ALTERNATIVES TO BUSH HONEYSUCKLE include viburnums (Viburnum sp.), roughleaf dogwoods (Cornus drummondii), ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) and inkberry (Ilex glabra)

Callery, or Bradford pear, is an invasive, exotic species that crowds out native plants and fails to support wildlife. 

Callery, or Bradford pear, is an invasive, exotic species that crowds out native plants and fails to support wildlife. 

Callery pear, (Pyrus calleryana), commonly known as ‘Bradford pear’, is a deciduous INVASIVE TREE that was brought to the United States in 1917 from China. It was thought that a hybrid species between the imported tree and the common fruiting pear would improve disease resistance in fruit crops. The Bradford cultivar also caught on as a new landscape ornamental during the 1950s and a number of subsequent cultivars continued to come on the market. While individual cultivars are self-sterile, different cultivars are known to cross-pollinate, producing fruits and viable seed. Spread occurs when the fruit of these hybrids is eaten and distributed by birds and other animals.

A single 'escaped' Bradford pear tree can spread quickly by seed and vegetative means to form dense thickets. Even a few of these trees will outcompete native plants and woody seedlings around them, including spring wildflowers.

  • BRADFORD PEAR CONTROL includes PULLING young seedlings, or CUTTING and treating stumps with a 25-50% GLYPHOSATE solution. Like bush honeysuckle, because of the persistent seed bank and potential for resprouting, vigilant observation and retreating of an area may be required for several years.

NATIVE TREE OPTIONS that are equally ornamental include flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.), wild plum (Prunus americana) and hawthorn ((Crataegus sp.).

Chinese silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis) is a tall, elegant but INVASIVE GRASS that forms plumes of seed easily spread by wind.

  • REMOVE INVASIVE SILVERGRASS from your landscape by cutting off the seed heads, placing them in a garbage bag and disposing of them. The following spring, dig up the plant and remove or chemically treat the stump when growth begins. Cut the previous year’s growth to about 12” tall and spray with glyphosate. You may need to repeat this process to completely kill the plant.

NATIVE GRASS OPTIONS that are both beautiful and beneficial to watchable wildlife include little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium, prairie dropseed, (Sporobolus heteroplepsis), indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans)and feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora). Natural selections and cultivars of these are also well-behaved choices.  

Native prairie dropseed is an elegant, mid-height grass that blends beautifully with wildflowers and other native grasses. 

Native prairie dropseed is an elegant, mid-height grass that blends beautifully with wildflowers and other native grasses. 

Why a good landscape plan is better than a cinnamon roll

All right.  Maybe a cinnamon roll sounds pretty good right now.  But, a good landscape plan that takes your personality and lifestyle into it will give you pleasure much longer. If you want to add to your home or business landscape, there are key planning and design points to keep in mind:

 

Keep it simple.  In the exuberance of planning, keep maintenance in mind. Don't cut up your lawn with small flowerbeds, but rather think of your property as a whole and use larger, simpler beds. Bold designs with mass plantings are more striking and are easier to maintain. Many perennials, which return year after year, naturalize easily and can be used to fill in problem slopes or create meadow sites. Use short groundcovers between and under shrubs to minimize weeds and add another layer of interest.

The designs of Piet Oudolf are excellent examples of bold, simple landscapes inspired by nature.

The designs of Piet Oudolf are excellent examples of bold, simple landscapes inspired by nature.

 

Remember the cost of your new plants goes on beyond installation. Future costs of maintenance include investments of time and money through weeding, watering, fertilizing and replanting.  That goes for turf, too. Don’t waste your efforts on maintaining an emerald expanse where low-maintenance paving or resilient perennial plants might serve your needs. Use grass for areas where you’ll use and enjoy it and to define and balance colorful beds and borders.

 

Think scale and palette. Use tall growing flowers and grasses to the back, middle-sized flowers in the center and low growing flowers in the front so you can enjoy them all.  Use plant colors and textures that complement your property and existing plantings. Think about seasonal blooms, but also the colors and textures of foliage and grasses. A winter scape of bronzed grasses and seed heads often rival the summer counterpart.

 

If you’re unsure about color selections, tried and true color combinations are a safe bet.  Traditional complementary color pairs are created with a primary color (red, blue, or yellow) and a secondary color (red with green, blue with orange, and yellow with purple). These combinations are vibrant and the colors intensify each other.  By moving around on the color wheel, interesting combinations can be created.  For understated elegance, try a soft, tone on tone theme, for example cream with ivory and peach. And, don’t forget white. An all-white garden is beautiful, especially in the moonlight.

Collections by Judy Allmon, Bluestem Services

Collections by Judy Allmon, Bluestem Services

 

Go bold. Mass your colors for maximum color impact. You can also mix different species of the same genus for texture interest and extended bloom. For example, various coreopsis species offer different shades of yellow, as well as varied heights and compactness.

 

Babies grow up. Keep mature height and breadth of trees and shrubs in mind when you plant them so that, as they mature, they will not interfere with window views and sidewalks. As a rule, use a plant’s height to guide spacing from a path. For example, a plant that grows to 36” should be at least two to three feet back from a walkway or patio to avoid feeling crowded.  

 

High and dry. Grade soil away from your home to take care of excess moisture run-off. Usually 1/8 to 1/4-inch drop per foot is ample. You might also consider a rain garden filled with deep-rooted perennials to help absorb stormwater run-off.

 

Frame or screen views. As you look out from the vantage of your picture window or kitchen window, is the view attractive, unsightly, or so-so? Block an unsightly scene with an evergreen hedge or a grove of small trees. Create a soft, layered effect with a mixed grouping of evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs. Similarly, an attractive scene can be enhanced with judicious plant framing. In addition, you could score the added bonus of spring flowers, summer shade or fall color from foliage, berries or bark. Depending on the placement, your plant grouping will also serve as a winter windbreak.

 

Keep it mysterious and inviting. Use plantings to guide view lines, make separate garden spaces and create a sense of discovery. Involve all the senses whenever possible... fuzzy textures and fragrant plant materials are as memorable as visual components. 

 

Make sure your primary paths are easy to walk and wide enough for two to walk side by side. Keep ‘working paths’ safe. For example, a flagstone path from turf to a water spigot keeps your steps level and dry.

 

If you add steps, keep their ascent gradual with a step height (rise) of six inches or less.  Calculate the depth of the step by subtracting twice the rise from ‘26’. With this calculation, a step with a six-inch rise would have a run of 14 inches (26 – [2 X 6] = 14).

 

Make it your own. Remember, a garden becomes personal when it reflects you, your locale and your interests. Incorporate colors from the room where the garden will be viewed. If you enjoy bird watching, plant nectar-rich or heavy-seeding species that develop into living bird feeders.  Include statuary, collected items or found treasures to add personality and conversation starters.

 

Interested in working together? We'd love to talk with you! Email us @ BluestemServices@gmail.com, or just give us a call at 573.230.1196.

Why we love sustainable (and, you should too!)

As I write this, a male cardinal is snacking on the vibrant red berries of our native Deciduous Holly (Ilex decidua). He loves the berries, but he also appreciates the cover from the holly grove's dense branching. We have a suite of birdfeeders, but somehow it's more satisfying to see birds dining on seeds and berries al fresco

This brilliant red male cardinal loves eating berries from our deciduous hollies. 

This brilliant red male cardinal loves eating berries from our deciduous hollies. 

So, obviously one of my top five reasons for a sustainable home landscape is watchable wildlife (#1) . But, you should know when you invite wildlife into your yard you may see sex and violence.  Several years back, a client called to tell me how distraught she was that her children saw a black snake eat a mouse in her backyard.

"Yes, ma'am. That's a great lesson for them on the food chain."  

Click. 

Hey, bringing nature home isn't all Disney. But, with natural plant and animal diversity (#2) come natural predators that are healthier for the environment--and healthier for us than chemical pesticides, herbicides and, fungicides. Think ladybugs, praying mantis, toads and more.  And, related to this are natural pollinators including butterflies, bees and, hummingbirds. 

Being water-wise is next (#3).  I'm sure our water bill is far less than some in our neighborhood with thirsty non-natives that are out of their element.  The way we've landscaped to slow, absorb and filter stormwater also helps--with a broad bioswale buffer filled with native grasses and woodies and permeable gravel strips. We're part of the solution to saving our local watershed along with those who have redirected downspouts to rain gardens and rain barrels. Household water costs will rise 40% within the next five years making affordable water inaccessible to 1/3 of American households. Do you think people would rather water plants or themselves? 

High-risk areas likely to face affordability challenges are those with a median income below $32,000.   Image by Mack EA and Wrase S, 2017, PLoS ONE

High-risk areas likely to face affordability challenges are those with a median income below $32,000. 

Image by Mack EA and Wrase S, 2017, PLoS ONE

 

I'd be lying if I didn't admit I love the fact that our landscape is admired by the neighbors (#4). But, that's not just because of the sustainability issues. Although a survey conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects found a high demand for landscape sustainabiity.  It's also because our design is a native interpretation with design intent. And, that helps give the natural connection (#5) that we all crave and need.  Recent studies from the University of Kansas and University of Michigan found that over 70% of people feel they've lost touch with nature. One finding showed children aged eight to 18 spend nearly eight hours daily in front of screens.  This disconnect leads to depression, reduced attention span, lower self-esteem, stunted academic growth and a lessened empathy for the environment. 

No wonder watching our resident cardinal makes me feel so good! 

Interested in working together? We'd love to talk with you! Email us @ BluestemServices@gmail.com, or just give us a call at 573.230.1196.