Friday, October 7, 2011

6 Hours Later

Pachysandra Removal in Process
My back is aching; my legs are cramped, and I'm awfully dirty.  I spent 6 hours over two days pulling out the Pachysandra.  On the first day, I was totally amazed.  At the end of 4 hours, pulling plants and coaxing roots from the soil, I had not seen a single sign of life other than earthworms.  Not a single spider, beetle, fly, or other insect.  The Pachysandra leaves were untouched by insects or other creatures.  How could this be?  Not a single insect.  I know, I know.  This is a non-native plant.  And native insects don't generally eat non-native plants.  After all, one of the reasons so many of us used Pachysandra in the past was its "pest free" status.  But not a single bug!  Not even the deer had munched on these plants.  I would have thought at least a few insects or creatures would have roamed the dense stand looking for food.  But not a single sign of life above the ground.  Wow!  I didn't expect to experience first hand such dramatic evidence of herbivores shunning non-native plants.

On day two I continued my eradication of this plant.  The roots are shallow but extend far from the green plant.  Pulling on a root often created a movement three or four feet away where the "other end" of the plant shook and eventually gave way to my persistent pulling.  Although my muscles still ache, this is kind of fun to see some quick results.  I run into the large roots of two specimen-sized Bleeding Hearts.  They are non-native ephemerals, meaning they grow and flower early in the spring and totally die back to the ground in the summer.  But what a show they put on in the spring.  Decision time!  Non-native but  magnificent spring specimens, or pull and replace with something native.  Over the past 12 years I've nurtured them and watched these two plants grow in size and marveled at their beautiful drooping deep pink and white flowers.  Pull or leave?  I'll leave them.  No, they aren't native and thus don't provide the life I'm trying to reestablish.  So they go.  I start pulling and the roots break easily in my hands.  OK, I'll leave some small pieces.  No, no no.  I've had to water these for twelve years.  They are beautiful but that's all.  No other benefit.  OK, that's it.  OUT!   As the roots keep breaking I keep struggling with my decision but finally decide for the wildlife, for conserving water, and my new found respect for the environment.  After filling several 5 gallon buckets, finally all the Bleeding Heart roots are gone. 

As I continue pulling pachysandra, I started to see some pill bugs, small spiders, and other small insects.  Why the difference from the prior day.  There is some life here.  I'm thinking "are non-natives not so bad after all?"  What's different this day over the prior day.   I continued to pull and follow every root I found.  These pachysandra roots are everywhere.  Ah.  Now I see.  There are several small areas of decaying wood branches. The insects seem to be concentrated around these piles of woody debris.  Microorganisms are working on breaking down the wood, and larger creatures are feeding on them.  This small food web is just a tiny example of the new life that will flourish in this area once it's restored to native vegetation.

Five garbage bags of pachysandra later, now on to the good stuff.  On day three I'm at my local native nursery loading up on a variety of plants to replace the Pachysandra.  After consulting with Jan, I ended up with Great Blue Lobelia, Foxglove Beardtongue, Smooth Aster, Common and Swamp Milkweed plants, Butterflyweed, Brown-Eyed Susan, Jewelweed, and some Cardinal Flower.  To keep the cost down, most of these purchases were very small, young plants called plugs.  However, the Smooth Asters are blooming now, so I got larger quart size ones.  I also got a Silky Dogwood to replace the foreign Variegated Red Twig Dogwood that was on far right of this planting area.  Jan and I had quite a discussion about the Jewelweed, its wildlife benefits, and how prolific it can be.  Jewelweed is the native variety of the common non-native Impatiens used so much in "traditional" gardens.  Unlike most of the native plants I'm growing, this is an annual.  It lives for only one year.  I was stunned as Jan pinched a seed pod on one of these plants.  It exploded and sent seed scattering for feet in every direction.  What great fun.  Jewelweed is also known as Touch-Me-Not.  I guess we now know why.  As we loaded the Jewelweed onto the cart, we could hear seed pods popping.  I expect I'm going to have a lot of Jewelweed next year.  While at the nursery, I met an energetic young lady who turns out to be a locally known Monarch butterfly expert.  You can see her Monarch pictures at   She was so enthusiastic about Jewelweed for attracting hummingbirds and butterflies, I wanted to hurry home to get it planted. 

Replanted with Native plugs
Over the next two days I planted all these treasures.  I was able to remove 15 pieces of drip irrigation that previously kept the pachysandra, dogwood, and bleeding heart watered.  Now this is where I learn patience.  You can hardly see the new plants in this patch of dirt.  This late in the season with the cold weather setting in, I don't expect any new growth.  But the Jewelweed can sow its seed, and the others can start making themselves at home.  I know next year they'll start to fill in, and the following year, this will be marvelous.  In the meantime, I keep dreaming of a lush bed, alive with bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, a variety of other interesting insects and birds, and a changing palette of colors as the seasons change.

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