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Gardening for wildlife - help!

Ross Koning Koning at ECSUC.CTSTATEU.EDU
Mon Sep 9 08:11:44 EST 1996

At 12:14 AM 9/8/96 -0400, JennPeck wrote:
>My school will be embarking on a major landscaping project soon and I
>would like to use this opportunity to add plants of educational as well as
>natural value.  I would like to hear your stories of success and link up
>to any handy resources, especially local/native (WI).


My recommendation is to demand diversity on your campus.
The theme is popular with administrators and can apply
to your landscaping as well.  By diversity I don't mean
50 varieties of crabapple...some people do think that way.
Be sure you get one or two (for pollination and "safety
in numbers") of each of as many species as you can afford.

Near your science building, be sure to get a male and a
female ginkgo.  Most nurseries are not sure which sex
they are giving you...get a guarantee for a replacement
if the sexes are the same.  You should also get some dawn
redwood (Metasequoia) for the botany class.  Some red
pine is good so that in a few years you will have some
cones that will supply you with a flush of seeds in
spring semester.  Great for a slight heat-treatment to
pop the cones open rapidly.  At our latitude and climate,
douglas fir comes into male and female cones ready for
pollination just in time for my spring botany class...pines
here are much later.  You might want a range of different
Magnolia species (especially some late-flowering soulangeana
types) for the angiosperm labs.  I like a few forsythias
around for simple cross-sections stained with phloroglucinol,
but nothing beats good old staghorn sumac for that!  Yews
and junipers provide specimens with visible pollination
droplets.  I also like to be sure that the campus is planted
with native vegetation.  A walk in old woods gives you a
great idea of what will survive your winters and summers.
Given space and some TLC, our natives are gorgeous!  Plants
with low branches and large thorns are not popular with the
maintenance staff, but if you underplant with tough ground
cover (blue-rug juniper works well under our hawthorns) the
problem of those on mowers is eliminated.

You probably need to buy the biggest conifers you can find
(that come with a warranty for two years!).  If they are
evergreen and about the size of a Christmas tree for a dorm
room, you may find your young trees topped.  It's hard to
believe that people would destroy a 15yr old tree for a week
or two of "decoration" only to put it in the campus dumpster
after finals...before Christmas even comes...but it has
happened repeatedly on our campus.  Even Colorado blue spruce
has been topped here!  Planting deciduous conifers gives me
just a little bit of vicarous revenge!

The Rosa rugosa varieties are nice in places where parking
lot and sidewalk salt might accumulate.  They tolerate a fair
amount of salt and yet bloom profusely and fragrantly in
early summer.  Somewhere a collection of grasses is nice...
but not too close to air-intakes for ventilation systems.
Many people are allergic to grass pollens.  Other plants
that like waste areas include Equisetum arvense.  You can
transplant some, but tossing lots of collected cones in
the area will usually work too.  If the area is damp, so
much the better!

Unless you have a huge staff of groundskeepers, I'd shy
away from fancy roses.  They require too much care and
don't survive vandalism very well.  We are successful with
some of the Meidiland (sp) landscaping varieties that need
no sprays, dusts, or fertilization.

A collection of bamboos is wonderful if you have the space.
Controlling some of the spreading types is an important
issue, though.  An area with many criss-crossing sidewalks
might be a way to contain some of these.

Getting your campus staff trained for the pruning jobs is
important.  Many people think that shrubs should be cubes
and/or spheres.  It seems everyone wants to get into topiary
with every species!  If it isn't boxwood, don't shape the
shrubs is my plea.  Natural pruning (back to a branching
point) is the only way to go in my opinion.  This allows
you to keep a plant "in bounds" without destroying its
native form.  For example, forsythia needs to be pruned
once a year just after blooming...you cut to the ground
every branch that is larger than your thumb in diameter.
Then you never touch the forsythia again that year!  It
will go to a beautiful "fountain" shape.  In the spring
you will have lovely arching canes loaded with blooms
(if the weather cooperates).  Natural pruning is once
per year...your grounds crew will love your idea!

Wood chips are OK as mulch to reduce trimming and weeding,
but shredded bark lasts longer and looks better.  The other
nice advantage to these mulches is the nice crop of slime
molds, stinkhorns, and other fungi they support for class

In cool damp areas on the north sides of the buildings,
don't forget the ferns.  Some need room to spread but
others are very "shy".  Some separation is needed to
avoid one species from "taking over".

Anyway, good luck!  Yours is a fun project...I envy you!
We did ours years ago and I am itching to do more!


Ross Koning                 | Koning at ecsu.ctstateu.edu
Biology Department          | http://koning.ecsu.ctstateu.edu/
Eastern CT State University | Phone: 860-465-5327
Willimantic, CT  06226  USA | Fax: 860-465-5213

                Plant Physiology is Phun!

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