Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Planting Sites Across the City

May is a crazy, busy time of the year, getting plants into the ground. We've planted at Hess St. School, Eva Rothwell, Land's Inlet, Paramedic's community garden and getting ready for planting at City Hall, Victoria Park and Ryan Bishop. This weekend, we'll be at the down town Mosque!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Catching up with Paul O’Hara: Trees as pollinator-friendly plants. Native Plant Nursery Launch.

Original Red Oak on West Avenue South. Photo Credit, Wendy Crawford.
The news continues to be depressing. Our fellow creatures have too little habitat to provide them adequate food and shelter. But when we plant native plants, we are helping immeasurably.

We talk a lot about planting wildflowers to attract insects, but aside from serving as air filters and shade providers (amongst a myriad of other services), trees also support beneficial critters.

I caught up with Paul O’Hara, local field botanist, landscape designer and native plant gardening expert, to chat about native trees as pollinators.
“Besides providing nesting and cover for wildlife, the flowers of trees also produce pollen and nectar for bees, beetles, butterflies and many other native insects. In fact, trees are the best pollinator plants in our neighbourhoods,” says Paul.

Quoting from a favourite of his, Doug Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home, Paul enthuses, “Oaks attract over 500 types of butterflies and moths.  They are king when it comes to feeding the most pollinators.  But all native trees are excellent pollinator plants.”  Check out a list of native trees and the number of butterflies and moths that they support at Doug Tallamy’s site here.

With seven trees in his modest front yard, Paul says, “There are opportunities for tree planting in every corner of the city, even the smallest of spaces.  It’s just a matter of selecting the right tree for the right space.”  

For the City of Hamilton, Paul recommends planting bur oak, red oak, sugar maple, red maple, black cherry, trembling aspen, basswood, hackberry, Kentucky coffee-tree, serviceberry, pagoda dogwood, red cedar, and white pine, to name a few.  All of these trees provide flowers and/or fruit, nesting and cover for insects, birds and other wildlife.

Locke Street Native Plants

Paul has been designing and building native plant gardens and naturalization projects as the owner/operator of Blue Oak Native Landscapes since 2004, but this year Paul has started a native plant nursery in his backyard called Locke Street Native Plants. (website under construction).

Paul doesn’t have enough room on his Hamilton property to grow trees, so Locke Street Native Plants will specialize in native pollinator perennials (wildflowers, grasses, and sedges) and shrubs that are custom grown from local seed sources.

His catalogue includes over 50 species from popular native perennials like  wild geranium, solomon’s seal, black-eyed susan, virginia mountain mint and butterfly milkweed to uncommon species like purple joe-pye weed, early goldenrod, spikenard, woodland sunflower and hoary vervain.  

Paul will be selling his wares at the Locke Street Farmers’ Market on Saturdays from 9am-1pm starting June 11 and from his backyard at 113 Locke Street North (near Victoria Park) by appointment starting May 24th.  

Call (905) 540-9963 or email blueoak@sympatico.ca to book an appointment today.  

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Tallgrass Prairie for Biodiversity

MacForest Tallgrass Prairie Restoration
Carolinian Canada describes “Tallgrass communities” – also known as tallgrass prairies and savannas – as natural grasslands with a great diversity of grasses, wildflowers and animal life.

The site defines prairie as a natural community that is dominated by grasses rather than by trees, as in a forest. Tallgrass prairies are dominated by fire adapted clumping grasses and depend on regular fires to maintain their unique floral composition. Growing with the grasses are many other kinds of non-grassy herbaceous plants known by the collective name of "forbs."

Tallgrass prairie species such as Big blue stem (Andropogon gerardi), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), and Showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) are some of the common species of tallgrass prairie habitat in our area which provide habitat for pollinators and other wildlife—key to maintaining the biodiversity of our native fauna.

Many prairie grasses and forbs are used by a variety of pollinators as egg laying and overwintering sites, and provide abundant seeds eaten by birds and other animals through the fall and winter. But tallgrass prairies are some of the most endangered ecological communities in Canada, with approximately 1 percent of their original extent remaining. Tallgrass Ontario reports that tallgrass communities once covered a significant part of southern Ontario's landscape. Owing to degradation and destruction through agriculture, urban development, invasion by non-native species, and mismanagement, less than 3 percent of the original extent remains in our region, with most remnants existing in small, isolated patches.

Sebastian Irazuzta is a 3rd year PhD student at McMaster University. His research focuses on the interaction between bees as pollinators and native plant species. He is particularly interested in how bees recolonize restored native tallgrass prairie habitat.

Sebastian explains that one reason we see so many bee species in tallgrass prairies is that the clumping grasses create a heterogeneous mix of exposed soil and dense vegetation, which are ideal for many ground nesting bee species. “The need for such habitat is a big concern since urban lawns and gardens may provide flowers but not bare ground nesting areas. Good bee habitat has to have both food sources and nesting sites” Sebastian explains.

At the McMaster forest where Sebastian carries out his research, they are working to restore natural habitat. McMaster University has owned a property on Lower Lions Club road for 50 years—a chunk of land originally a farm sold to developers, who sold it to Mac.  In the process developers had scraped a lot of topsoil off: “Now we have a very flat field of mostly clay, which hold water in the spring and then bakes hard in the summer sun. This is not conducive to growing much,” Sebastian says.

To help ameliorate the soil, they have been experimenting with bio-char because as Sebastian points out, “charcoal mixed into the soil increases the surface area for microbes to live on, retains moisture, and is beneficial for native plants species because carbon holds on to a lot of nutrients.” Tallgrass prairie plants transform the soil; over time the plants themselves will change the acidity and composition of the soil. These grasses are deep-rooted (up to 5 meters) and able to access a lot of water from deep down. As these deep roots die they add organic matter and break up the soil, thus reducing its density and making it easier for new roots and other organisms to penetrate. The situation with tallgrass prairie ecosystems is a “blessing and curse,” Sebastian says. “One of the reasons we have very little tallgrass in Ontario is that settlers quickly realized these areas were very rich and easy to plow under to produce food!” As a consequence, most tallgrass prairies were quickly transformed into farmland.

At the 115 acre property known as McMaster forest, Drs. Dudley and Harvey and their graduate students are re-establishing a complex tallgrass prairie on 10 acres along the southern end of the property.  A mix of 42 species of grasses and forbs, selected for their resistance to deer and tolerance to clay were seeded in 2014.  “At the start you couldn’t see across the property for the dense stand of Buckthorn, which is invasive and prevents other things from growing,” Sebastian says. “Invasive are takers—they don’t provide an optimal food source, nor do they provide habitat for local species.” This non-native invasive species along with a few non-native grasses took over open fields at Mac forest and created an ecologically poor environment.

Back in 2013 lots of volunteers helped with the buckthorn removal – a task that took all year.  With the guidance of the Conservation Authority, they did a controlled burn of many large Buckthorn piles. Tallgrass prairie plants are adapted to fire. Fire gives them a fighting chance because the non-native and often more aggressive, invasive species can not tolerate fire and will be killed off, leaving the fire adapted species to flourish. “We found that our seed mix did much better than the non-native plants that germinated within the burn areas,” Sebastian says.

Along with the Mac Forest, other efforts to restore more of this ecosystem in the Hamilton area are underway. The Hamilton Conservation Authority this year did a second controlled burn of the old gravel pit off Paddy Green Rd. This area has previously been planted with tallgrass prairie grasses and will regenerate with more vigor this summer. Organizations such as The Ontario Tallgrass Prairie and Savanna Association coordinate and support all groups interested in restoring grasslands. Many private land owners are also beginning to see the benefits of gardening with native tallgrass prairie species, and nurseries such as the St. William’s Nursery specialize in locally sourced native species and can provide a wide range of native seeds and potted plants for urban gardening. Currently they have contracts to plant tallgrass prairie habitat along highway lands.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Project Update: Pollinator Paradise Sites

Eva Rothwell Centre
We are excited to be working with new partners to create more pollinator-attracting sites and expand the pollinator corridor across the City of Hamilton.

Some of our partners include City Housing (we have two locations) and the Eva Rothwell Centre.

City Housing
We will be planting a pollinator patch at City Hall (Hunter St. site) and are thrilled to have the support of Councillors A. Johnson, Matt Green, Sam Merulla and Jason Farr, where we’ve been planting in their wards (1-4). 

We're looking forward to partnering with Winston Churchill Secondary School, Bishop Ryan Secondary School and Hess St. School to plant on school property.

We're also gearing up to plant at the Down Town Mosque, Paramedic Community Garden, and we will be planting a new site (Park Row) with our friends at the Crown Point Garden Club.