May 8 to 17 is National Public Gardens Week and we want you to celebrate with us. The Arboretum grounds are open for visitors to stroll and enjoy the many spring flowers in bloom. Plan your visit to the gardens through the Arboretum website and social media channels.
These are challenging times, but public gardens large and small can provide many physical and mental health benefits. We all need a dose of the outdoors these days. If you can, get outside and enjoy your garden. And if you don’t have your own backyard oasis, I invite you to make our garden your home, or to visit another public garden nearby.
It’s hard to believe that the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains is nearly 40 years old. Founded in 1981 by Harold and Elva Mae Dyck, the Arboretum has developed into a local and regional attraction. Its mission to cultivate transformative relationships between people and the land has never been more important. Whether through education and outreach programs, plant sales, tours, or a quiet walk around the gardens, the Arboretum is a microcosm of the prairie that helps make connections to the land inspiring.
If you are not able to come to Hesston, follow the Prairie Notes blog or review the archives for helpful tips or inspiration for your next pollinator garden. By the way, there are still plants available in our greenhouse. Place an order for curbside pickup or visit the greenhouse to peruse the many wonderful plants for wildlife.
The BEST way to celebrate National Public Gardens Week with us is to show your love by coming to the Arboretum. We want you to be welcomed and safe. Please give others space and take the proper precautions, but take time to enjoy the beauty of the spring wildflowers.
If you are able, help the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains continue to care for its 30-acre prairie garden, offer horticulture programs, educate students of all ages, and connect people to the land. There are many ways you can support the Arboretum — by making an online donation, becoming a member, purchasing a gift card for the future, or designating Dyck Arboretum as your Dillons Community Rewards recipient organization. We invite you to visit our Giving Opportunities page to learn more.
Gardens of every size are important to wildlife, including pollinators. A patchwork of small native plant gardens throughout our cities and towns are the harbor for migrating pollinators or permanent residents to our area. They provide habitat, a safe haven and vital food for survival.
From vignettes such as balcony gardens or a corner in your backyard to larger prairie reconstructions, each garden can be a critical stopover for wildlife. Large or small, a collective effort to establish native plants in landscapes can make a tremendous difference.
Besides the good they do for wildlife, native plants build the soil, clean water, and filter the air. They are good news for everyone and every thing on this earth. For these reasons, we have put together some custom native plant kits for a variety of garden conditions. Whether you are new to the prairie scene, these kits can be used to get a running start on your next native habitat.
Sunny Rain Garden Kit
(full sun, wet to medium soil moisture)
Do you have a wet section in your yard? These wet-loving natives will do just fine. From late spring to fall, these wildflowers will provide a succession of blooms and even look attractive through the winter.
Spring Woodland Kit
(shade/part sun, medium soil moisture)
These delicate beauties are at home in any woodland setting. We have included a couple groundcovers that will spread to slowing fill in your area. Be rewarded each year by these spring wildflowers.
Three Seasons Pollinator Kit
(full sun, medium to dry soil moisture)
This garden will provide season long nectar for some of your favorite butterflies, bees and other pollinators. Some host plants are also included. Plant these natives in any sunny spot in your yard.
Whatever your motivations for using natives, you will also be rewarded with a renewed connection with the nature. You will not have an ordinary landscape, but one that helps the birds and pollinators you are concerned about. Why not turn your landscape into something that makes a real difference?
To order these garden kits and other plants available for pick-up from our greenhouse, visit our FloraKansas Native Plant Festival page. We look forward to helping you get to know these plants!
Spring is coming. Nature is not locked down, but continues to come to life. We notice the buds expanding and the crocus blooming. Leaves emerging from the depths and plants all around us waking from their winter slumber. As spring unfolds around us, something extraordinary is about come our way again. The Monarchs are coming.
Providing for pollinators
The monarch’s annual spring migration north from Mexico has begun. You can track their progress through Monarch Watch and Journey North. Each year we take note of when this incredible journey passes through our area. It is amazing to think that these delicate creatures can make this trek north and south every year.
Statistics show that the monarch butterfly population in
North America has declined by over 90% in just the last 20 years. This is disheartening. One of the biggest factors in monarch decline
is the increasing scarcity of its only caterpillar host plant: milkweeds.
Monarchs can’t successfully reproduce, or migrate without milkweeds, resulting
in the species decline.
Monarchs also need other blooming native wildflowers, trees, and shrubs that provide nectar for the adult butterflies to feed upon. This habitat, critical to the survival of the monarchs, continues to disappear at an alarming rate. This natural habitat decline is taking a steep toll on wildlife of all types.
Plant more than milkweed
Many of us are planting milkweeds and native nectar plants in our gardens to help monarchs survive. Here is a list of plants from our Native Plant Guide that monarchs prefer:
Aster ‘October Skies’
Aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’
New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae sp.)
Blackeyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
Coneflowers (Echinacea sp.)
Blazing Star (Liatris sp.)
Beebalm (Monarda sp.)
Milkweeds (Asclepias sp.)
Yarrow (Achillea sp.)
Goldenrod (Solidago sp.)
Vernonia ‘Iron Butterfly’
Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Lavender Towers’
Prairie clover (Dalea sp.)
Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium sp.)
Chokeberry (Aronia sp.)
Leadplant (Amorpha sp.)
ServiceBerry (Amelanchier sp.)
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus sp.)
American plum (Prunus sp.)
Elderberry (Sambucus sp.)
Viburnum (Viburnum sp.)
Buckeye (Aesculus sp.)
Redbud (Cercis sp.)
Persimmon (Diospyros sp.)
Linden (Tilia sp.)
Stretch the season
A greater variety of plants will attract a greater variety of wildlife, including monarchs. Try to plant several species of wildflowers with varying bloom times, providing nectar sources that stretch through the season. Different pollinator populations peak at various times through the warm months, so provide for them by having a long blooming garden. Early spring and late fall flowers can help sustain migrating species in the difficult stages of their journey. Research has shown that a lack of late season nectar sources is as crucial to migration success as milkweed. Help these insects get the energy they need all through the year!
If you plant even a few milkweeds in your own garden, you can help reverse the fortune of these beautiful insects. Support habitat and other food sources for monarch butterflies and other wildlife by planting native plants. It is always beneficial to reduce mowing, and limit or eliminate the spraying of herbicides and pesticides. You can be part of the ultimate solution, which is to provide the plants monarchs need for their life cycle. Watch for these incredible butterflies. They are coming.
One final thought I came across the other day:
“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” – Audrey Hepburn
This spring is going to be anything but normal. I know that’s an obvious understatement. All this social distancing has made me think of the many things I need to get done around my house. Social distancing time may be beneficial and help me stop procrastinating. My house needs to be painted. I need to add a fresh layer of mulch on my front flower beds. Another thing I was thinking about was planting another tree.
For those of you who are looking for things to do with your children who are home from school, planting a tree is a great activity to do together outside. And with the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day on April 22nd and Arbor Day on April 24th, there are many related online educational resources available to help talk about the importance of trees and caring for the earth.
So in that vein, here are the steps I take when planting a tree.
Choose the right tree
I work from a short list of trees I know will grow well in our area. Some of my favorites are: Caddo sugar maples such as ‘John Pair’ and ‘Autumn Splendor’, Shumard Oak, disease resistant crabapples, Shantung maple, and bur oak. There are so many good options for our area, but make sure you are aware of the tree’s mature size. This will affect power lines, crowding buildings and porches, and heaving sidewalks. See our Native Plant Guide or recommended plants from KSU extension for other options.
We have all seen the cheesy commercials to “dial before you dig”, but the truth is it’s important to locate utilities. It doesn’t cost anything. You just give the location and then wait a few days for them to flag the area. It is worth making the call rather than guessing while you’re digging.
Locate the tree
Depending on the tree, some may be easy to find while others may take some time. We recommend smaller trees that are ¾” to 1 ½’ caliper trees. In our experience, these smaller caliper trees tend to root faster and acclimate to the site better than larger 2-3 inch caliper trees. Plus, they are more economical and as I get older, I am less willing to wrestle with a 200 pound root ball than I used to be.
As you look at your new tree in a pot or balled and bur lapped, you must find the root flare. This is the point where the trunk widens to transition to roots. If the root flare isn’t visible, you will need to remove enough soil until it is exposed. This is a critical step to insure the tree is not planted too deep because this root flare needs to be slightly above the soil line. Sometimes, nurseries heap two to three inches of soil on top of the flare, causing you to plant it too deep.
Dig a proper hole
Dig and measure, dig and measure so you don’t dig too deep of a hole. Make sure the root flare is a couple inches above the soil line. The tree needs to sit on solid soil, not loose soil that will settle and move the tree deeper. Make the hole two to three times the diameter of the root ball.
Plant the tree
Before putting the tree in the hole, remove all wires, twine or anything else tied to the tree. If you don’t, these ties and wire can girdle the trunk or branches and cause severe damage.
Once the tree is in the hole, orient the larger branches to face south. The prevailing winds are from the south, which force branches to grow on the north side of the tree making it lopsided.
Once oriented, carefully remove the wire basket and cut circling roots from potted trees in two or three spots around the root ball. This process will encourage new outward rooting of the tree.
Back fill with the same soil you removed from the hole. Don’t amend the soil with something like peat moss, because you want the tree to immediately root into original soil, not some artificial environment. Trees planted into peat moss or amended soil have toppled over by wind because they just circled in that loose soil, never venturing out into our clay soils. Don’t give them an option, force the trees to grow in our challenging soils from the start.
There is no need to fertilize at this time either. Fertilizing forces growth that cannot be supported by the new root system. If you need to fertilize, it is better to wait several years until the root system is more established. I don’t add root stimulator either. In my opinion, it is an added expense that doesn’t benefit the plant enough to justify the cost.
Build a basin for watering
After the tree is properly back filled, I like to build a small basin around the tree. This will help with watering the tree, but also slowly settle as the back fill settles. This basin can be mulched to help with cooling the environment, retaining moisture and controlling weeds. Give it a good soaking at this time.
Staking the tree
Most smaller trees will not need to be staked. It has been proven that trees will establish quicker when left to move with the wind, which make the trunks stronger. Larger trees will obviously need to be staked the first year, but stake only when necessary to keep the tree from toppling over until roots can anchor the tree on their own. If you do need to stake a tree, we put one stake on the north side and two on the south side of the tree. These stakes are evenly spaced around the tree. Don’t use old garden hose but rather true tree straps around the trunk of the tree tied back to these stakes. After one year, remember to remove all of the stakes, wire and straps from the tree.
Maintenance after planting
It is better to wait to do any pruning on the tree for the first year. The only exception would be removing any damaged branches. With the basin you have created around the tree, it makes it easier to water it thoroughly once a week for the first year depending on rainfall. Keep in mind that it takes a year or two to develop an adequate root system to sustain a tree on its own without supplemental watering.
I have a placard at my desk with a quote from Martin O’Malley that says, ‘Reversing deforestation is complicated; planting a tree is simple.’ This post seems rather lengthy, but the process of planting a tree goes rather quickly once you get started.
At our Native Plant School sessions, the topic of weed control often comes up. When establishing new beds or planting buffalograss, eradicating weeds prior to planting is critical for success. Hand weeding can be time consuming on these larger areas. Often we first use chemicals to control difficult weeds in our landscapes and garden areas without thinking about other options or ramifications of the chemicals we use. Solarization is another technique you can use without reaching for the chemicals to control problem weeds.
What is solarization?
Solarization is the process of covering an area with clear plastic to heat the soil and kill weeds and seeds in the top six inches of soil. If done properly, the use of chemicals to control weeds is not necessary.
What weeds can be controlled?
Solarization can be an effective method of controlling many weeds such as bermudagrass, bindweed and other annual weeds. Keep in mind that some of these weeds have extensive root systems and many re-sprout, even after being subjected to super high temperatures. It may take several solarization attempts to completely eliminate them from the area. In the end, it may take a few more months before you are ready to plant, but you have not used chemicals to control these problem weeds.
Steps to Solarization
It is best to use this method during the longest, hottest days of summer. The goal is to get soil temperatures under the plastic above 140 degrees. It is easier to reach these temperatures in June through August.
This is a process that will last for a couple months. Plan ahead in your planting schedule so solarization has enough time to work. Some of the more aggressive weeds will not be eliminated in just a few weeks.
It is best to remove existing growth and lightly till the entire area.
Remove stalks and debris that will puncture the plastic.
Rake the area smooth. It is critical that the area is completely flat so plastic lays right on the soil with no air pockets.
Irrigate the entire area so it conducts heat better. The soil should be moist to 12 inches deep, but not muddy. This is a real trick in clay soils. This is a critical step in the process, because it is not recommended to re-irrigate after the solarization process has started.
Dig a 8-12 inch trench around the solarization area.
Lay one entire piece of plastic over the area and tuck the edges into the trench you just dug.
Cover the edges of plastic in the trench with soil, pulling plastic tight as you move across the whole area. This makes a good seal around the entire site.
Solarization incorporates the same principles of a hot compost pile to kill weed seeds and break down organic matter. We have used this technique in smaller areas here at the Arboretum from time to time with mixed results. Some have been very successful, but others have not completely eliminated some of the target weeds. Smaller areas have had better results than larger areas especially when dealing with aggressive weeds like Bermudagrass.
In the end, I think solarization should have a place in your weed control options. It is a nice alternative to using chemicals. Give it a try sometime.
When one thinks of classic and elegant conifers, Eastern white pine often comes to mind. Unfortunately in the Great Plains, summer heat, wind and drought restrict growing Eastern white pine to only well protected sites. We have a stand of Eastern white pines strategically planted with protection from these adverse conditions. Even these few original Eastern white pines planted in the early 1980’s are slowly expiring because of environmental challenges.
Fortunately, there is an alternative. The Southwest white pine, Pinus strobiformis, is a tough, drought- and heat-tolerant conifer. Its native range extends from Texas to Arizona and south to Mexico. They inhabit dry, rocky slopes in mountainous areas.
Somewhat shorter and broader than its eastern cousin, the Southwest white pine reaches 30-60 feet in height at maturity, with a broad, rounded crown. Needles are five per bundle (fascicle), 1.5 to 3.5 inches in length with a dark green to blue-green color. The top and bottom of the needles have somewhat distinct white stomatal lines. Though not as long and soft as the needles of the Eastern white pine, the needles are very soft textured and pliant. The long cylindrical cones mature in two years and produce a brown oval seed that is edible.
Adaptable to our high pH soils, Southwest white pine prefers well-drained soil in full sun. It is a moderate to fast grower. Young specimens in the Arboretum have grown 10-12 inches per year since they were planted in the mid-1990s.
Also consider a Southwest white pine as an alternative to Austrian pine, which has suffered from Sphaeropsis tip blight in the last decade. It can be used as a large specimen or in a screen or windbreak planting. Its hardiness, drought resistance, and fast growth are definite attributes to consider in our challenging climate.
Other evergreen and conifers we use here at the Arboretum: Arizona Cypress, ‘Taylor Juniper’, ‘Canaertii’ Juniper, Black Hills Spruce, Pinyon Pine and Vanderwolf’s Pyramid Limber Pine. There are no guarantees on any of these. They may develop blights, or other diseases in time. Certainly they are all attractive to bag worms.
If you have been walking through the Arboretum over the past few weeks, you probably noticed the deciduous holly. Ilex decidua gets so much attention because of its incredibly lustrous fruit of red, orange, and yellow. As the leaves fall away each year in November and December, the fruit magically appears and remains on the tree for most of the winter.
These colorful berries are not a preferred food of birds, but become more appetizing when snow covers the ground. Often trees are completely stripped of berries in a couple days after a heavy snow, because other food sources are not readily available. Many birds, including cedar waxwings, flock to these trees to feed on the fruit later in winter.
Deciduous holly requires male and female plants to produce fruit. Tiny white flowers appear before the leaves in March and April. We have several male selections planted in close proximity to the female plants to assure the development of the attractive fruit each year. It is best to keep the fruit producing female plants in the foreground and tuck the male forms out of sight. We have used the branches with fruit cluster as holiday decorations.
Habit and Site Preferences
Deciduous holly, or Possumhaw as it is often called, is a small tree or large shrub that grows 15-20 feet tall. The smooth gray bark of the trunk and branches hold the fruit on the upper half of the plant. Here in the Arboretum, we have both tree forms and suckering shrubs. Either is attractive and the suckering shrubs making a nice screen. As their name indicates, they are deciduous, dropping the leaves in autumn to fully reveal the berries.
These deciduous trees grow best in full sun or partial shade. Trees are more vigorous and produce more berries in full sun. We have several along our creek channel and some around our parking lot. They are quite adaptable to wet or drier conditions.
A few selections at the Arboretum:
‘Council Fire’ – An upright, rounded form growing 15′ tall and 10′ wide, this plant is superior for its ample fruit production and retention in clusters along the stems.
‘Red Escort’ – This is a male selection (pollinator) with glossy leaves and a habit to 20′ tall.
‘Warren’s Red’ – This cultivar grows on the eastern border of the Arboretum parking lot. It is very hardy and consistently produces fruit. It is more shrub-like and upright, ultimately reaching 15’ tall.
‘Sundance’ – Nice tree form to 10’ tall and 8’ wide. It has the longest lasting fruit, which is orange-red.
We are planning to have several deciduous holly varieties at our spring FloraKansas Native Plant Festival. Check out our Native Plant Guide for these cultivars along with Ilex verticillata varieties. Each will give you great winter color and habitat for the landscape. We love their hardiness and toughness as well as the beautiful fruit. Why not give them a try?
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, One clover, and a bee, And revery.
The revery alone will do, If bees are few.
Maybe it’s the swaying grasses in a gentle breeze or pollinators clustered on the top of a coneflower on a warm spring day. A primrose opening in the evening like a beacon in the night. The vibrant combination of black-eyed Susans and blazing stars growing harmoniously with little bluestem. Or the vital role native plants play in the overall healing of the land.
Whatever your inspiration for creating a prairie landscape, hold onto that dream, but also prepare yourself for a surprise. In my experience, when working with native plants, the resulting benefits of your effort will surpass anything you can imagine.
Connection to the Land
There is something special about native plants. They grow with you in a sense. As their roots grow deeper, you begin to understand the importance of the landscape you have created.
If you live in the prairie, a prairie landscape creates a sense of place. It reflects your connection to the native landscape. This connection is good for you, but also good for the land.
Assist the Environment
Over the past decade, there has been a renewed interest in native landscaping. These plants are naturally adapted to our soils and climates. If properly sited, they require less care, have fewer problems, and create habitat and year-round beauty. A prairie habitat attracts many different forms of wildlife, including birds, butterflies and other beneficial insects.
The prairie is an important part of the web of life in the vast Great Plains. Your native landscape, though small, is one part of a patchwork prairie that, when pieced together, has tremendous environmental benefits.
Aesthetics that Reflect the Prairie
There is a paradigm shift happening on what is considered appealing in the landscape. Not only what is attractive, but what is acceptable to have in your landscape. More and more people are moving away from the traditional lawn by replacing them with vibrant landscapes of diverse wildflowers, grasses, trees and shrubs.
Often we start growing a prairie landscape for what it does for us. However, the special beauty these plants provide will attract a host of other admirers, including our neighbors.
It’s difficult to quantify the savings you gain after a native landscape is established. Savings of time, water, chemicals, and fuel for your mower are long term savings from your investment in native plants. As these plants work in harmony with nature, you benefit in many different ways. These plants will bring a smile to your face as you see the beauty and the return on investment they bring.
Each landscape is a personal choice that expresses your interests and vision. Whether you are planting a small foundation bed with natives around your home or reclaiming an overrun pasture, you have decided that you want more from your landscape. This timeless landscape is so vital to our environment.
If you are motivated to start a native landscape and need help with your landscape design or have questions about where to start, attend one of our Native Plant School classes or read previous blog posts about design or pollinators. We would be happy to help.
I don’t know what your resolutions are for 2020*, but one of mine is to spend more time outdoors. Whether working in the garden, fishing along a stream or simply taking a walk with a friend or loved one, there are not many activities that can benefit us more than spending time outside away from screens.
I would like to encourage you to start 2020 off right by determining to intentionally get outside to connect with the land. I realize there are additional perks, but here are five benefits of spending time outdoors:
It is well documented that people are not getting enough sleep. Our harried schedules and longer work days don’t usually allow for much time outdoors. Spending too much time indoors away from natural light disrupts our circadian rhythms, which changes our sleep patterns. We can synchronize these rhythms by spending more time outdoors. Take in the sun for a better night’s sleep.
I’m reading a book this month that promotes the many benefits of moving. Not moving to a new city, but physical movement. It doesn’t really matter how you make it happen, but simply reminding yourself to get outside and then intentionally going for a walk has incredible physiological and psychological benefits. It boosts the good chemicals in our bodies to help us reduce stress and anxiety while sustaining a positive self-image. A little time outside helps to keep everything in balance, mind and body.
Increased Vitamin D
There is a balance we need to take, but exposing your body to the sun around the noontime helps increase vitamin D in our bodies. There is evidence that low Vitamin D levels in the body increase the risk of certain cancers and heart disease. Sunshine helps keep our bones stronger and lifts our spirits. It only takes 10-15 minutes of sun exposure several times each week to do some good. So make a point to get out into the light – just don’t take in too much sun.
This a big one for me. Every time I force myself to get outdoors and closely look at nature, I am amazed. The intricate beauty of a coneflower in bloom, diverse pollinators, Mississippi Kites flying around, snow collecting in switchgrass, birds earnestly searching for food before a rainstorm and so many more experiences help signal my body to slow down. I can’t explain it, but it works every time.
Take in the Fresh Air
Whether it’s the freshness after a rain (Petrichor), lilacs blooming in spring or newly turned soil, the smells of nature are subtle, but powerful. The fresh air of the outdoors has tremendous calming qualities and often conjures up memories from the past. Step outside to breathe some fresh air!
What are we waiting for?
I think most of us know all about these and other benefits from experience. And yet, if you’re like me, we struggle to remember those benefits when we most need them. Ironically, I don’t get enough outdoor time even working at the Arboretum. But when I do, I have found that it is good for my mind, body and soul. That is why in 2020, I am striving to spend time enjoying the outside world. I encourage you to join me.
*From Wikipedia , 2020 (MMXX) is the current year, and is a leap year starting on Wednesday of the Gregorian calendar, the 2020th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 20th year of the 3rd millennium, the 20th year of the 21st century, and the 1st year of the 2020s decade. 2020 is really a cool year when you think about it.
I really enjoy the work we do here at the Arboretum. I am deeply rooted in the Kansas landscape. Having grown up on a farm, connecting with the land seemed like an easy thing for me. However, I never really noticed the small details and intricacies of the plants that grow here until I started working at the Arboretum.
The Arboretum is almost 40 years old. From our founding, building relationships with the land was our foremost charge. The 1981 mission was to “foster and appreciation of the natural beauty of Kansas”. Our growth since those humble beginnings is linked to the timelessness of our mission and connecting people to the Kansas landscape.
As you know, connecting to the land has never been more important. With concerns of habitat loss, declining bird populations, fewer pollinators, or decreasing biodiversity, your connection will have a powerful impact as you learn more about your role in making positive changes. What you do will make a difference.
Knowledge is powerful. Whether in personal or work relationships, in working with plants, or anything else, the more you know the deeper the connection grows. Relationships grow as we learn, relate and spend time interacting with each other or with the elements of nature that surround us. The Dyck Arboretum of the Plains’ mission to ‘cultivate transformative relationships between people and the land’ is all about building relationships through continuous learning.
It is my wish that each of you find a personal connection with the land that makes your life better. As you develop this connection, other positive impacts will naturally happen. Stewardship, conservation, appreciation, enjoyment and reflection are personal responses to a profound connection to the land.
In the coming year, we invite each of you to share in experiences that inspire you and deepen your own connection to the land and with the Arboretum. It is our desire to make your lives richer as you find solace, comfort, joy, anticipation, and discovery in the events and activities centered around our mission.
Whether you support the Arboretum by giving financially, attending events, sharing about our work with your friends and family, or providing your expertise and energy through volunteering, your participation makes this place better. Your commitment to this shared mission deepens our relationships not only with each other, but also with the land.