Change of Season Good Time to Change Landscape
With Thanksgiving behind us, the feel of winter is in the air. Most trees have dropped their leaves and the landscape looks stark. Before you bring out snow shovels, sleds and skis, this is a good time to take stock of your home landscape with an eye to compatibility with native habitat. Our 1+ acre lots are not islands unto themselves, but part of a greater whole within southern New England. With proper planning and intention, each property can include habitat that supports wildlife and ecological health while being aesthetically pleasing. We face many challenges to achieving this. The Emerald Ash Borer has killed virtually every ash tree in the area, if not the whole state. Beech trees are being threatened by a tiny nematode in the leaves. Climate change is altering the type of plants that grow in this region. The 2023 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map for the US released last month shows a dramatic shift in Connecticut. The zones are based on the average annual extreme minimum winter temperature. While previously Woodbridge was in zone 6b (-5 to 0°F), we now straddle zones 7a (0 to 5°F) and 7b (5 to 10°F), which is new to CT. While these issues are beyond our control, there is a major ecological threat that resides in virtually every parcel in town that individuals can control, with effort. That is, invasive plants.
Invasives are non-native exotic plants that may have been planted intentionally years ago for their ornamental appeal, or accidentally when seeds hitchhiked with other products or people. With no local natural enemies, they thrive in our hospitable environment. They produce prodigious amount of seeds or fruit, which are dispersed by wind or animals, allowing them to spread rapidly. They are very harmful to our local ecology because they crowd out native plants, reduce biological diversity, and can threaten endangered species. As described below, one type of invasive plant helps spread Lyme Disease. That is just one way invasive plants can be a nuisance to individual property owners.
Now it’s time to take a survey of what is growing in your own yards. Are there shrubs still holding on to small red leaves that were on full display a month ago? Look closely at the stems. Do you see corky ridges on each side? Are they holding small red berries? These are Euonymus alatus, aka Burning Bush. Are there vines winding around trees and branches? They can climb quite high and grow large enough to actually bring down seemingly strong trees. These vines, known as Celastrus orbiculatus, Oriental Bittersweet, produce clumps of reddish-orange berries and can be identified by their orange-colored roots. Another plant that may be climbing up your trees or spreading its canes in broad mounds is Rosa multiflora or Multiflora Rose. This thorny bush may still be loaded with lots of red berries. A smaller bush, with lots of sharp spines and red berries is Berberis thunbergii, Japanese Barberry. This plant is identifiable by the yellow pith wood under the bark layer. Barberry is a particularly bad actor because it provides shelter for mice which carry deer ticks. Controlling Barberry helps to control the spread of Lyme disease.
What do all of these invasive plants have in common? They have spread to nearby woodlands and fields. You will be hard pressed to find any area traversed by the 35 miles of public trails in Woodbridge that aren’t overrun by one or more species of these and other invasive plants. (This problem extends far beyond Woodbridge to our State Parks, local Land Trusts, the Appalachian Trail and other areas.)
There are several things each of us can do to attack this formidable problem:
- Identify and remove all invasive plants from your property. For plants that still have berries, this is especially important to do now before birds feed on them during the winter and spread seeds around your property and beyond. This step requires constant vigilance as seeds already in the ground will sprout new plants next year. Fortunately, young sprouts are much easier to remove than mature plants.
- Replace invasives with native plants. While plants like Burning Bush and Barberry may have been planted years ago for their leaf color or other features, there are wonderful native alternatives that have similar characteristics. Make a plan or work with a landscape designer to help create a plan. As long as the ground is not frozen, now is an excellent time to plant. You need not wait until Spring as you may be able to find some great end of season sales at nearby nurseries.
- Volunteer to clear invasives in our area. Join our monthly trail events where you will be able to learn how to identify and properly remove invasive plants while making new friends with other volunteers from our community. (Other trail maintenance tasks performed include clearing fallen trees and limbs, cutting back growth that is encroaching on the paths, and other ways to make our trails as user-friendly as possible.) There are also opportunities to work with groups such as the Woodbridge Land Trust, Woodbridge Parks Association and Friends of Sleeping Giant State Park.
Feel free to contact me at email@example.com for help with any of these recommendations. I have presented here only a small sample of some of the most prevalent nuisance plants in our area. Your property may already be afflicted by a dozen or more other invasive plant species. By being mindful of which plants in your landscape are invasive or not, you can make modifications that enhance your outdoor space in ways that are both aesthetically pleasing, enhance biodiversity, and provide habitat to beneficial insects, birds and other animals. Encourage your neighbors to do the same to enlarge the area connected to our native environment.
Trails Update: On November 12th, a group of volunteers cleared a new trail in the Park Lane area from Krum Elbow to the Blue trail, east of the new solar farm. I hope you’ll check it out. On December 10, volunteers worked to reclaim the entrance to the Blue trail on the Bishop West trail network. Work included heavy pruning along a raised boardwalk and clearing a group of fallen trees before meeting the trail to the old quarry and kiln. The next second Sunday of the month trail cleanup/maintenance event is scheduled for January 14 from 11:00 am - 12:30 pm. If you would like to be on the email list for these events or would like to report any issues on a specific trail, please visit http://woodbridgetrails.org/ or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please remember that to enable everyone to equally enjoy our wonderful open spaces, motor bikes are not allowed, dogs must be leashed and all trash, including dog waste, must be carried out with you.
Andrew Danzig is the Woodbridge Trailmaster and a UConn certified Advanced Master Gardener.
This is an opinion not necessarily endorsed by the Woodbridge Town News.