2017 Dyck Arboretum Year in Review (Limerick Style)

End of December, in its last week,
dormant plants means the prairie’s asleep.
From our 35th year,
the events we will cheer,
this time when darkness is peak.

Winter Lecture Series

For wildfires, bird sounds, and butterflies,
folks brought open ears and wide eyes.
Learn new facts and stats,
about birds, bugs, and bats,
The 2018 Series will make you wise.

Spring Symposium: Living A Land Ethic in Kansas

Our members for an ethic take a stand,
with Kansas animals and plants in demand.
Farmers and ranchers spoke,
Teachers and leaders invoked,
a clear message – take care of the land.

Leprechaun Run

Around the Arboretum we ran,
to catch the bearded leprechaun.
Costumes were so green,
time away from the screen,
great fun for each child, woman, and man.

Landscaping Classes

Good folks want to limit their grass.
Mowing’s such a pain in the…rear.
Just add native plants,
attract birds, bees, and ants,
biodiversity you will amass.

Wisconsin trip to give talks at Aldo Leopold Foundation Land Ethic Conference

I paid my respects to Leopold.
A story that he simply told –
take care of the land,
to the future we’ll hand,
An ethic that’s worth more than gold.

Summer Soiree

Nice food and a speaker we did host,
sitting inside so that folks would not roast.
Stayed out of the sun,
silent auction was fun,
we love our supporters the most!

Weddings

In a setting where native plants live,
brides and grooms their vows they did give,
Their families were happy,
words may have been sappy,
discord we hope they’ll outlive.

Arboretum Grounds Management

Nice grounds that our members admire,
demand work with a rake, mulch and fire.
Native plants will create,
space for insects to mate,
and landscapes of which you will not tire.

Spring and Fall FloraKansas Plant Sales

Choose a forb, grass, sedge, shrub or tree.
We love to see a good buying spree.
Plant sales feed our mission,
and bring home the bacon,
friendly advice here is given for free.

Earth Partnership for Schools Program

Native plant lessons teachers do hear,
a program that is in its 12th year.
the kids lend a hand,
their lessons are grand,
prairie gardens on school grounds endear.

Field Trips

Kids come to learn things about prairie.
New names like bluestem and ground cherry.
Plant roots go so deep,
flower nectar so sweet,
insects are our friends and not scary.

Concerts

Great music in a prairie garden setting.
Enjoy tunes in nice seats without sweating.
Plucked strings are a treat,
harmonies are so sweet,
Crust & Crumb breads at break you’ll be getting.

Eclipse Trip

We drove to the corn state to see,
a brief view of the sun worry free.
All eyes in the air,
such shows are so rare,
wearing dark glasses was key.

Luminary Walk

Our grounds after dark are a sight,
gentle glows given by candle light.
Festive notes please the ear,
tasty treats add good cheer,
bundle up so you don’t get frostbite.

Thank you for being part of our Dyck Arboretum family

Our staff love our jobs that is clear,
volunteers and members we hold dear.
With a mission so true,
we’ll work hard for you,
Season’s greetings and happy new year!

O Cedar Tree, O Cedar Tree

This past weekend I cut down a red cedar to use as my Christmas tree; just the right shape and size and with the right amount of character. I feel great about cutting one of these trees out of the wild (an Arboretum staffer condoning tree felling? Yes!). Red cedars are beautiful, strung with lights and tinsel, but they have become a real pest in the Great Plains ecosystem. Here are a few reasons to skip the plastic tree or spruce farm and simply cut yourself a cedar!

Any Christmas tree, cedar or artificial, can benefit from some ecologically conscious decorations. Dried grass and seed heads of prairie plants look magical amongst warm white lights, but are biodegradable.

Cedars have become invasive

Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is native to Kansas and much of central and eastern North America. Native though they are, the USDA labels cedars as invasive, and rightfully so. Too many pastures and meadows are overgrown with cedars, choking out native grasses and wildflowers. Without natural wildfires and regular controlled burns, cedars have been allowed to flourish in places that historically would not have been suitable. The tallgrass prairie is one of the most rare and endangered ecosystems in the world, and the invasion of cedars upon open grasslands decreases species richness, changes soil composition and even threatens indigenous wildlife. If you are a landowner looking to do maintenance of your grassland or clear it of cedar trees, Dyck Arboretum can provide helpful information.

Trees and shrubs are overpopulating grassy landscapes. Randy Rodgers has a wonderful essay here on the impacts of trees encroaching on the prairie.

Cedars degrade the prairie ecosystem

Grassland dependent birds, insects and small mammals become displaced or outcompeted when red cedars populate formerly open land. The University of Nebraska has compiled a lot of data on this subject at The Eastern Red Cedar Science Literacy Project, where you can find informative and alarming tidbits like:

“Grassland birds are the most rapidly declining avian guild in North America (Fuhlendorf et al. 2012) and are rarely observed once juniper exceeds 10% of land cover (Chapman et al. 2004).” (Twidwell et al. 2013)

and…

“An increase in overstory cover from 0% to 30% red cedar can change a species-rich prairie community to a depauperate community dominated by 1 (small mammal) species, Peromyscus leucopus.” (Horncastle et al. 2005)

Endangered and vulnerable species like the American burying beetle and the greater prairie chicken are only further threatened by the turnover of grassland to cedar forests. Cedars do have redeeming qualities – winter shelter and forage for birds, drought tolerance and erosion control. Red cedars certainly have their place in a hedgerow or small grove, but should be carefully limited from spreading.

Cedar trees make prescribed burning  tricky and often exacerbate already dangerous wildfires by sending up massive flames. Overgrown cedar pastures are a serious fire risk, and may have been a factor in the 2015 Anderson Creek wildfire.

My coworker Brad has some great bumper stickers that encourage regular prescribed burns to prevent cedar overgrowth.

Cedars are a ‘green’ choice

For all the aforementioned reasons, cutting a cedar for a Christmas tree is already a very ecologically conscious decision. But there is more! Unlike plastic trees, cedars are biodegradable and can be used for firewood or garden mulch. Also note that conventional Christmas tree farms providing spruce or firs require lots of resources:

  • clearing/agricultural development of land
  • years of regular water input
  • pesticides to keep needles bug free
  • shipping and fuel costs to get the trees to distributors around the country

Why don’t we skip all that frivolous resource usage and cut down some of these pesky cedars instead? You can feel good about a tree that’s low on carbon waste but high in old-fashioned, folksy quality.

Get permission from a farmer, landowner or your county land management officials before you start cutting. They will likely be happy to get rid of one, and you may get it for free (more money for gifts, yippee!) and enjoy a lovely, cedar-scented home this holiday.

Looking Inward

In recent weeks, the staff, board of directors, and select members at Dyck Arboretum of the Plains have been looking inward through a strategic planning process to help better guide our future. We are in a process of filling out staff personality profiles, collecting survey data from members and volunteers, hearing from the public through round table input sessions, and will soon be having a strategic planning retreat in early 2018 to make sense of all this feedback. We are working together with Legasus Group, LC to guide us through this process.

Kids are good at examining the world close to them. Strategic planning is helping Dyck Arboretum look more inward to strengthen our future.

We hope this process will help Dyck Arboretum maintain relevance in an ever-changing society and culture, stay aligned with the values of our mission, remain sustainable well into the future, and keep our staff passionate about our vocations.

We have had good participation from our passionate and dedicated board and members during this process. They have been active taking the survey and attending round table sessions. A summary of the round table sessions is still forthcoming, but highlights from the survey are as follows:

  • 187 individuals completed the survey with 70% of respondents being active members
  • 68% of survey respondents participated in at least 3 different Arboretum sponsored activities with the FloraKansas Plant Sale being the most attended
  • 45% of respondents live less than 11 miles from the Arboretum
  • Respondents agreed that the Arboretum is a very valuable resource for the community and its facilities are well maintained, however, respondents knowledge of how they could support the Arboretum may be an area of improvement
  • Respondents seem to value the educational opportunities and having a beautiful space for events
  • 78% of respondents are highly likely to recommend the Arboretum to others, while only 3% of the respondents wouldn’t be as likely to do so

I love data and do tend to geek out on these kinds of number summaries. My personality profile tells me, after all, that I am a “thinker”. . . what I apparently lack in imagination and humor, I make up for in logic. So, it makes sense that I would tend to salivate at the lessons learned from this survey. Doesn’t everybody think that a spreadsheet conference sounds like a great time!?!

I obviously can’t convey all of the survey findings to you in this short blog post. But I can leave you with a few survey summaries of age demographics, events attended, and a Dyck Arboretum “word cloud.” The Wordle word cloud was generated by an analysis of the five pages of open ended responses of what people value most about the Arboretum. The word cloud gives greater prominence to words that appeared more frequently.

Age of Participants

  • 18-25 years old                     1%
  • 26-34 years old                    2%
  • 35-54 years old                    27%
  • 55-64 years old                    30%
  • 64 or older                            40%

Events/Activities Participated in the Last 3 Years

  • Plant Sale                                           73%
  • Luminary Walk                                    54%
  • Prairie Window Concert Series          46%
  • Winter Lecture Series                         24%
  • Summer Soiree                                   17%
  • Landscaping Classes                          15%
  • Spring Symposium                              12%
  • Leprechaun Run                                  12%

Below is a Wordle word cloud analysis of the responses to the question: What do you value most about the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains?

Make Your Garden Welcoming to Winter Birds

Something that amazes me every year is how birds survive the winter. Somehow they are able to find the food, water and shelter they need each day. Just the other day, I watched a pair of cardinals foraging in the buffalograss and eating seeds from the Maximilian Sunflower outside my window. They find a way to survive, but it can’t be easy.  I believe we can do a few things in our yards to make their lives a little easier.  Here is a list that will help them survive the cold weather and give you more up-close encounters with birds.

Photo by Dave Osborne.

Leave prairie plants up through the winter

Winter is a desperate time for birds.  They spend a tremendous amount of energy each day searching for food. Their winter food comes from a variety of sources, but one of the first places they search is in and around meadows and perennial borders.  By leaving these areas undisturbed through the winter, birds can find bugs, seeds that are highly nutritious in the seed heads, and tufts of grass near the ground.

Create a wildlife border

The more diverse your plantings, the more diverse the types of birds your landscape will attract. Think about different layers of plants, including trees and shrubs, that produce fruit and nuts that birds need.  Incorporate a few evergreens along with deciduous trees and shrubs, because the winter foliage provides extra protection from the elements and predators.  These layers mimic the natural areas birds flock to during the winter.

Create a compost pile

All those leaves that are blowing all around your yard make wonderful compost. They also make a nice place for bugs to hide. I have seen birds completely destroy a compost pile searching for insects and seeds.  Those leaves will also become next year’s soil amendment for your garden.

Make a brush pile

Our brush pile at the Arboretum is huge, but it is always filled with birds. It provides shelter from winter storms and protection from predators.  Even a small pile with logs, sticks and branches will provide the safety and security many birds need.

Provide Food for Birds in the Winter

The key to feeding birds in winter is to give them options. A diverse selection of seed, suet, and peanuts will entice many different types of birds. Locate feeders in areas out of the wind but within viewing distance. Hang some from tree branches and others on the ground.

Provide Water for Birds

Birds need ready access to water in the winter.  Bird baths, a puddle, or a stream are great options as long as they are not frozen. Heating these water sources will allow birds to find the water they need for survival especially during freezing weather.

Make plans to help

If you don’t have these key features in your garden already, create a design that favors birds and other wildlife.  Include grasses and perennials that produce seeds birds prefer. Establish shrubs with persistent seeds and fruit that birds can utilize in the winter.

Here are a couple of interesting websites that may help you create your plan:

Common Feeder Birds

Kansas Birds Checklist

How birds survive the winter in simply amazing. Helping to welcome the boreal birds to your backyard can be quite enjoyable for you and for them. By providing the habitat and food they need, your landscape can become a bird sanctuary and a haven that gives them food, water, and shelter to endure the winter.