Little bluestem meadow in autumn

Little bluestem and other native plants around the pond.
Little bluestem and other native plants around the pond.

The native grasses and wildflowers we planted around the pond this past summer have done very well. Quite a few flowered in their first year and I was able to collect seeds from little bluestem, Indian grass, hoary vervain, and showy tick-trefoil. Although I did not have enough little bluestem plants to complete all the areas I wanted to plant, I am delighted by the shape of the meadow as it winds down for winter. The reddish foliage of the little bluestem is standing upright, doing exactly what one wants a native bunch grass to do, that is, to provide food and cover for wildlife and to hold the soil.

There is some black plastic draped around the pond edge yet. It is starting to be brittle from more than a year of UV exposure and looks awful. We have moved it around, and will employ it again in the spring in its tatters for yet more weed-killing solarization. I cannot think of any other way to tackle the non-native forage grass (Phalaris?) which dominates the moister areas here.

Monarch caterpillars on young swamp milkweeds in newly-planted swale.
Monarch caterpillars on young swamp milkweeds in newly-planted swale.

I continued to plant the swale area throughout the second half of the summer and into the fall. Almost as soon as the swamp milkweed plugs were in the ground, monarch caterpillars appeared on them. We had two generations of American painted lady caterpillars feeding on our field pussytoes and plantain-leaved pusstoes. I planted several dozen white turtlehead (Chelone glabra) seedlings in diverse damp places and a big patch of pink turtlehead (C. lyonii) at the front of the swale planting. I have high hopes of Baltimore checkerspot butterflies finding my young turtleheads after seeing one Baltimore in the area this summer.

Big bluestem grass and other vigorous native plants have been planted on this slope.
Big bluestem grass and other vigorous native plants have been planted on this slope.

The bank between the vegetable garden and the farm lane (to the pond) was planted in September in a big push to get seedlings into the ground in time to root well before winter. For this sloping site I planned a “tall grass prairie” of tall, vigorous species: a backbone of big bluestem with other good doers like wild bergamot and wingstem. They seemed to have taken but there will not be enough fuel here to have a weed-suppressing spring burn next April. I suspect that this planting will require a certain amount of patience, imagination, and faith in native plants next summer. Note to self: Plan to burn in spring of 2016 and don’t fret.

Antenarria
American painted lady caterpillar on plantain-leaved pussytoes.

Although native grasses are wind-pollinated, and thus not usually considered important for pollinators, they are the host plants for several species of butterflies and nearly all the skippers. Because we have black locusts (NOT my doing and a big problem), we have lots of locust-dependent silver-spotted skippers. We also saw lots of Hobomok skippers and a few satyr butterflies last summer. I hope our skipper diversity will improve as I add more native grasses.

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Published by

Trish Murphy

Artist: botanical, still life, and natural history illustration. Garden designer: native plants and naturalistic gardens