My own wildlife garden has been sadly neglected for the past several years as I’ve struggled to recover from an auto accident. Amazingly, my garden has continued to be a wildlife haven: the birds continued to nest and feed, the garden was full of butterflies, the native bees seemed happy, and the bats swoop around every evening collecting insects.
But last fall I was away for several months as I became my mother’s full-time caretaker while she was ill. And my wildlife garden finally succumbed to all of this neglect. The Norway Maple seedlings grew large, the Sweet Autumn Clematis swallowed everything is sight, English Ivy happily climbed all of the trees, Japanese Stilt Grass has made a thick impenetrable carpet, and lots of other invasive thugs have moved in.
Very few of my native plants remain in the mess that has swallowed my garden. I have been working diligently trying to pull these invaders out of my garden, but to little effect. There is just too many invasives and not enough hours in the day.
So what to do?
I’m going to start over. A clean slate. A fresh start. And that feels good. Sometimes circumstances in the wildlife garden presents us with the opportunity for a clean slate, but this time I am choosing to take the whole thing apart and to completely start over.
Oh the possibilities!
I have several obstacles to overcome as I plan my new wildlife garden:
- The canopy of dense shade from the mature Norway Maples in my neighbor’s yards
- The press of invasive plants from my neighbor’s yards
- The small size of my own garden area
- I have two amazing dogs who need their own space in my garden area
So here’s my plan.
We were unable to walk through the pathways in my garden because they were so overgrown, so we started pulling — everything must go!
Some of the native plants are so exuberant, like Wood Poppies, Wood Aster, and Native Sunflowers, that we’ll transplant some of them to my neighbor’s side of the fence, where they’ll be quite happy under the Norway Maples, and will hopefully keep some of the invasive plants at bay.
The property on one side of my house has been abandoned for several years now, and while it is fascinating to observe secondary succession in action, the invasive plants that have sprung up there are the main source of the frustration of attempting to keep these out of my garden.
So with the help of my strong young nephew, we have cleared a 20 foot wide buffer zone along the dividing line between these properties. Over the years I have planted native shrubs and trees along this fenceline in an attempt to block the view of this abandoned house and garden.
So our first step was to pull all of the English Ivy and Sweet Autumn Clematis out of these trees. You could practically hear them breathe a huge sigh of relief as these nasty invasive vines were removed, and my native shrubs could breathe again. I’m hopeful that with the weight of these vines removed and the fact that now my shrubs will see some welcome sunlight, that the shrubs will recover.
Some of them look a little pathetic right now, all bent over and not much “green” left, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that now they can heal and recover.
Now that we’ve cut away all of these vines, the next step was to take the weed whacker and cut back all of the ground level plants. Then we laid cardboard over top and my nephew will be spreading mulch over that this afternoon.
This is a great method of weed control because it requires no chemical herbicides, which can poison the very wildlife I am working so hard to create welcoming habitat for in my garden. What you do is soak the ground where you want to remove the weeds, lay out your cardboard and soak that as well, and then cover with mulch. Now you let the power of the sun go to work, which will solarize the plants, and kill the seedbank remaining in the soil. The cardboard will break down and decompose over time, as will the mulch, and you will be left with a new garden bed all ready for you to add your favorite wildlife habitat plants.
My “buffer zone” will be completed this afternoon, and then it is time to tackle the space in my own garden, which I’ll tell you about next week.
Have you ever had to start all over in your wildlife garden? How did you approach this? What obstacles did you face, and how did you overcome them?
Follow along with my journey:
Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.
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