Wonderful Autumn

This time of year a person interested in plants can get very tired and rundown.  I certainly have been dragging.  The relentless heat and drought has many plants stressed and prematurely going dormant.  We have been watering as we can but we can’t water everything.  As we wait for rain and hope that our little plants can hang on, there is still beauty happening all around us. 

I was reminded of this last week as we hosted several groups of fifth graders.  We stopped at some fall blooming asters including purple New England asters that were teaming with hundreds of different pollinators.  Monarchs were passing through too and they added to the excitement at what they were experiencing from this landscape.  These pollinators were eager to find nectar in this created habitat.  It reminded me anew why landscaping with native plants is so important. These children were amazed at what they saw. Their awe and wonder at the diversity of pollinators really impacted me. Sometimes we need to see things from the eyes of children.  

We like the aesthetics these landscapes provide for our homes, and businesses, but these patchwork habitats are needed and sought out by many different pollinators.  Here are some eye candy for you to enjoy. 

Bordered patches are commonly found throughout the southwest US and Northern Mexico, but can be found in Kansas through late fall.

Our landscapes can be frustrating and troublesome at times. These landscape can also be therapeutic and healing. Maybe you need to step back like I did this past week and take in the simple beauty all around us. Even though you may be suffering from landscape maintenance fatigue, you are doing something vitally important both for you and the wildlife that is attracted to you prairie garden.  Don’t lose heart. 

Monarchs congregating in the Arboretum Amphitheater today. Hundreds of them. This was just one branch. WOW!!

On Weeding: Process over Perfection

My mom was serious about weed pulling. Especially after she retired, one could often find her out in her yard pulling weeds for hours at a time. Since I didn’t consider myself much of a gardener at the time, I didn’t really understand why she would spend so much time on what seemed, to me, to be a very mundane and laborious task.

It wasn’t until she entered the later stages of a terminal illness that I understood what a solace it was for her, a way to feel a sense of control over something, however small or futile it may have seemed to others.

Now that I have begun to develop a meaningful relationship with my yard, I find myself starting to “channel my inner Mom”. I have a semi-regular routine of going out to my front lawn to pull weeds from an ever-expanding patch of buffalo grass. In this practice, I have learned that weeding is an act of focused intention. And though it is also an act of exerting control over the land, if paired with an intention to learn from and respond to the plants themselves, this control can be moderated by care.

This weeding routine began two years ago, when I noticed a few buffalograss seedheads poking up through our polyculture lawn. Five or six years prior, we had felled an aged maple tree. Since then, the area in front of our house has formed a natural matrix of dandelions, clover, bermudagrass, foxtail and bindweed. But apparently, at some point there had been some buffalo grass, which was now emerging again. I wanted more of it and less of those other things.

I felt overwhelmed by the idea of using chemicals to kill the existing vegetation in order to have a clean slate for seeding. Instead, inspired by long-time Arboretum volunteer and mentor Lorna Harder, I began mimicking her strategy of pulling the undesired plants to give the buffalo grass a chance to propagate.

Most people probably wouldn’t choose this strategy for establishing a lawn. Whether it’s because of other demands on their time or a personal preference, most will opt for a more straight-forward approach with a predictable timeline, as recommended by my colleague Scott, or the Kansas State University Turf Management folks. I have decided that for me, it’s more about the process than the product. I consider weeding a part of my self-care routine, one that also benefits the ecosystem of my yard. Each year, as I take stock of how much ground was covered (pun intended), I am motivated to choose which area I’d like to work on next.

If this type of approach to gardening appeals to you as well, but feels too daunting, I would like to offer some encouragement that I recently received from one of our members. Try not to focus on all there is still left to do. Remember to look at all the progress you have already made.

Something to ponder while I continue my daily weeding.

My spouse Jon clears bermudagrass and other vegetation from the perimeter of a seeded patch of buffalo grass in our back yard. As with the front, this area had been heavily shaded by a large tree and needed a cover crop.

Plant Profile: Pitcher Sage, Salvia azurea

During the doldrums of late summer, light blue flower spikes thrusting skyward along Kansas roadsides and prairies provide welcome contrast to the yellows of the state’s many sunflowers.  Pitcher sage, also known as blue sage or pitcher plant, is a delicate looking prairie native with ironclad constitution. 

Salvia azurea, also known as blue sage, is a member of the MINT FAMILY.

Pitcher sage is a somewhat common plant in the rocky areas of the tall and mixed grass prairies. This plant is an erect, hairy perennial ranging in height from one and a half to four feet with short, thick rhizomes (horizontal underground stems). Very adaptable to garden situations, it prefers drier soil in full sun. In sandy sites it has been known to self-seed, but this is seldom a problem in clay loams. The crowns can slowly broaden from rhizomes as the plant matures. 

Pitcher sage blooms from late July to early October, although peak bloom is early September in most years. It is blooming right now in our Prairie Window Project in the south part of the Arboretum. The light blue flower color is common in prairies around south central Kansas. There is a cultivated variety, Salvia azurea “Grandiflora,” that displays an intense deep blue flower. Once established, it requires water only during extended dry periods. 

Besides the unique light blue coloration, the flowers possess an unusual mechanism to ensure cross-pollination. The corolla is lobed with a narrow concave lip covering the style (female) and the anthers (male) which mature at different times in the same flower. The lower lip is broad and protruding, providing a landing pad for visiting honey bees, bumble bees and other pollinators.  The bee grasps the platform, thrusts its head down into the throat of the flower and pushes its sucking mouth parts into the nectar glands. By this action, the bee is simultaneously pushing down on the structure at the base of the stamens. This causes them to descend from the upper lip spreading pollen on the bee’s back. As the bee visits other flowers, it spreads pollen to receptive styles. 

Bumble bee in search of some nectar.

The Arboretum grows pitcher sage for its late summer color and the bee activity it provides.  The plant is a bee magnet in full bloom. It is always entertaining to watch lumbering, black and yellow bumble bees wrestle their way into the flowers in search of nectar while unwittingly carrying the promise of another seed crop on their striped backs.   

Plants for hillsides and slopes

One of the more common landscaping conundrums is deciding what to plant on steep slopes or hillsides. These areas require plants that can establish quickly, have fibrous root systems, that hold soil to control erosion, are tolerant of fluctuating soil moisture and potentially poor nutrient availability, and require little care once established.

Slopes and hillsides are already challenging because of sun exposure, and the degree of the slope only exacerbates the problem. Establishing plants from seed is the most economical choice, but is also the most subject to erosion for the first 3 to 5 years until plants get established. Often, turf grass such as fescue, buffalograss, or bermuda grass is the first groundcover choice for keeping soil in place, but mowing these sloped areas can be a challenge, maybe even dangerous. Turf does not create much habitat for wildlife and pollinators either.

There are many plants that will establish cover more quickly than seed. These native plants offer a lower maintenance alternative to a mowed lawn. The following list is just a start. Remember to plant more densely (1-2 feet apart) so the area gets completely covered with plants quickly.

Grasses

The following grasses, with their extensive fibrous root systems are ideal plants to stabilize a steep area and prevent soil erosion.

  • Andropogon geradii (Big Bluestem)
  • Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama)
  • Chasmanthium latifolium (River oats)-Can grow in sun or shade but is aggressive. It will spread by seed and rhizomes to crowd out most other plants.
  • Elymus canadensis (Canada wildrye)
  • Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass)
  • Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem)
  • Sporobolus heterolepis (prairie dropseed)
Little Bluestem with Aromatic Aster and New England Aster

Wildflowers

  • Achillea millifolium Yarrow
  • Allium cernuum Nodding onion
  • Amsonia sp. Blue star
  • Aquilegia canadensis Columbine
  • Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly weed
  • Baptisia australis False blue indigo
  • Dalea purpurea Purple Prairie Clover
  • Echinacea purpurea Purple coneflower
  • Eutrochium (Eupatorium) maculatus Joe-pye weed
  • Filipendula rubra Queen-of-the-prairie
  • Liatris pycnostachya Prairie blazing star
  • Liatris spicata Dense blazing star
  • Rudbeckia sp. Black-eyed Susan
  • Penstemon digitalis Penstemon
  • Symphyotrichum oblongifolium Aromatic aster
  • Solidago sp. goldenrod
  • Tradescantia ohiensis Spiderwort
  • Veronicastrum virginicum Culver’s root
Amsonia ‘Butterscotch’ and Aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ with mulch between plants to control erosion.

Trees and Shrubs

  • Amelanchier canadensis Serviceberry
  • Cercis canadensis Redbud
  • Coruns sp. Dogwood
  • Crataegus viridis Hawthorn
  • Heptacodium miconioides Seven Son Flower
  • Ilex verticillata Winterberry holly
  • Lonicera reticulata Grape honeysuckle
  • Prunus Americana Wild Plum
  • Prunus sp. Sand cherry
  • Prunus virginiana Chokecherry
  • Rhus aromatica Fragrant sumac
  • Sambucus canadensis Elderberry
  • Viburnum prunifolium Blackhaw Viburnum

If the erosion is already very serious, you might want to consider using erosion-control blankets to stabilize the erosion area until the plants can take over the job. The erosion-control fabric works by slowing the runoff water and allowing sediments to fall out rather than be washed away. Choose a mat that will decompose over time, e.g. straw or jute, rather than something made of plastic. Start by slicing a small opening in the mat so plants can be put into the soil beneath. I recommend hand watering during establishment as much as possible since sprinkler irrigation can increase soil erosion.

For more gentle slopes, heavy mulch or pea gravel can be used to control erosion during establishment. Each slope situation is unique, but if you can, the best strategy for stabilizing a slope with plants is to establish vegetation at multiple levels—plant trees, shrubs, grasses and wildflowers. A multi-level canopy will do the best job of intercepting and slowing precipitation before it hits the ground, reducing surface erosion. Different vegetation types also provide both deep and spreading roots that stabilize the entire soil profile. Generally, it takes 2-4 years to get these plants fully established and roots anchored into the slope.

Slopes covered with a variety of grasses including switchgrass and fountain grass at Wichita Art Museum. Photo by Brad Guhr

Hard To Find Plant Species Available This Fall

Due to the diligent nursery work of our suppliers, and a bit of searching on my part, we will have interesting new species to offer at our fall FloraKansas event, as well as some old favorites that have been missing from our inventory for awhile. We love to offer an ever-widening selection of hard-to-find natives to plant enthusiasts in our area!

Rosa blanda

Rosa blanda illustration by Mary Lawrence, 1799, from World History Encyclopedia

Smooth rose is an easy-care native rose found in pastures from Canada to Maine and as far southwest as Kansas. Grows in clay, loam or sandy soils and likes full to part sun. Nearly thornless, this rose is much friendlier than other roses with just a few prickles at the base of older stems. Light pink blooms are visited by bees, and the rose hips of fall are eaten by various forms of wildlife.

Photo public domain from Wikimedia Commons

Scrophularia marilandica

Since its blooms are small and unassuming, you may have never noticed S. marilandica. I hope that changes! Figwort is tall with a many-branched flower spike. It is a boon for pollinators, and though it may seem spindly and weak its impact for bees is anything but. Native to the eastern third of the state and throughout the eastern US, it likes part sun to shade and a medium to moist soil.

S. marilandica, also known as figwort from Wikimedia Commons

Euonymus atropurpurecens and Sassafras albidum

These two trees have a lot in common: they have vibrant red fall color, they thrive in partial shade and moist soil, and are native to the eastern US. As we are on the edge of their native range, they need extra watering through the Kansas summer.

There are lots of nasty invasives with the name ‘Euonymus’, but described here is the native North American species. Also known as Eastern Wahoo this small tree grows 8-10′ tall in our area, sporting burgundy spring blooms and lantern-like fruits in fall.

Sassafras fits into similar landscaping situations, though it can get a bit larger. In ideal conditions it can be 60 feet tall, but on dry upland sites here in Kansas it will commonly grow to 15-25 ft. There is simply no match for its fall color and lovely variable leaf shapes. Both of these woody species form suckers if happily situated. Be prepared to mow around them or let them spread into a grove.

Fruits of a Wahoo tree, from Wikipedia
Range map of E. atropurpureus available through BoNAp.org

At our fall FloraKansas event next week we will also have Bladdernut trees (Staphylea trifolia), Chickasaw plums (Prunus angustifolia) and Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia macrorhiza). I am excited to add these species to our growing list of natives for the plant lovers of central Kansas.

Are there plants you wish you could purchase but can’t find them anywhere? Please send us your requests and we will seek them out for future years of FloraKansas.

Summer Garden Checklist

Kansas summers can discourage even the hardiest gardeners. However, taking time to manage your garden now will help your garden later. Here’s my Summer Garden Checklist for the Kansas gardener.

Control Warm Season Weeds

Summer brings with it a new set of weeds to control. Hot weather germinates summer annuals like crabgrass, foxtail. Nutsedge and other weeds invade your lawn and landscape as well. Manage weeds using nonchemical methods such as cultivation, hand weeding, or mowing; use toxic chemicals as a last resort. 

Mowing regularly and occasionally edging along sidewalks and walkways is needed to ensure your lawn is not overrun with weeds. In a landscaped bed, hand pull any of these weeds, especially if they have seed heads.  It is so important to not let these weeds go to seed. Stay vigilant even though the summer heat tries to squash your enthusiasm. A little extra effort now will make your garden better this fall and into next year. 

Crabgrass in tree mulch ring controlled with roundup: one treatment should clean up the mulched area and keep it weed free the rest of the season.

Be Water Wise

To reduce evaporation, water when temperatures are cooler and air is still, usually in the early morning. Water deeply to moisten the root zone, but infrequently. About an inch of water each week is a good rule of thumb!  If you have invested in container plants, they will need daily watering, as soil in pots can dry out quickly and damage plant roots on hot summer days.  Each of our gardens have indicator plants that show stress first, let these plants be your guide as when to water.  For new planting started this spring, water when the top one to two inches of soil is dry.  Remember it takes three to five years for sustaining roots systems to develop for most native plants.  Supplemental watering is necessary to encourage growth and root development in these young plants. 

We use pressure compensating 1/2 inch soaker hoses to efficiently water trees, shrubs and a few flower beds. Each emitter puts out 1 gallon of water per hour.

Prepare for seeding

If you are wanting to establish native prairie plants from seed, now is a great time to prepare your area.  Mow your area short (1-2 inches). Control perennial weeds such as bindweed or Bermuda grass by carefully spraying the area with Roundup. It will take several applications to get these problematic weeds under control. If you can see soil, tillage is not necessary. If you can’t see soil, till lightly to expose some bare soil. Remember, each time you till, you bring up more weed seeds, so tread lightly. 

Measure your area and order a seed mixture that matches your site. A good seed mix ratio of wildflower to grass is 70% wildflowers to 30% grasses. Grasses tend to dominate over time, so this ratio will give the wildflowers a good start. We typically spread seed in November and December after the soil temperature has dropped enough to discourage germination. The natural freeze/thaw of the ground will work the seeds down into the soil to the proper depth for germination next spring. 

This is the seed mix we established along our newly renovated path.
Sidewalk edge planting: We mixed some sand with the seed mix to make it easier to distribute. We then let the natural freeze/thaw of the soil plant the seed for us through the winter. Germination occurred the following spring when soil temperatures rose above 60 degrees.

Trim

Now is a great time to trim back perennials that have become unruly. Perennial and grasses that are encroaching sidewalks, paths, and structures can be sheared back to size. If this is a problem every year, you may consider moving the taller plants to another spot. Plants can be divided next February or March before they start to actively grow. 

Low hanging branches from trees can also be pruned. It is getting late in the season to do much pruning on shrubs. New growth may not have enough time to get hardened off before cooler/colder weather.  If a branch or shoot is in the way, then prune it, but prune sooner rather than later. If you can wait until the shrub goes dormant this fall, then wait. 

As a general rule, early spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, lilac and spirea should be pruned right after they are done blooming since they bloom on the previous year’s growth. Pruning right after blooming will allow the shrub to grow and develop a new set of buds for the next spring. 

A large compass plant that needs to be trimmed away from the path.

Finally, remember “WHY” you are gardening; creating habitat, conserving water, aesthetics, attracting pollinators, attracting birds and other wildlife or curb appeal. Let your “WHY” reinvigorate you to take care of a few extra tasks that will give your landscape a boost. Don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t forget to step back to enjoy what you are trying to create. If it is all work and no enjoyment, then what is the point.

Pale purple coneflower with a common buckeye butterfly. Fun to watch!

Know Your Garden Priorities and Purpose

Portions of this article can also be found in our Summer 2023 issue of the Prairie Window Newsletter.

Having a summer intern here at the Arboretum is a lot of fun. Not only because I have someone to commiserate with when the temperatures are unbearable, or someone to laugh with when everything goes wrong, but also because they always ask “why?”

The island garden here at the Arboretum features an evolving prairie planting from seed. We manage this area with annual prescribed burns.

Why did we cut it by hand instead of mowing? Why did we move those leaves or add mulch? Why do we maintain this garden different from the next one?

The answers to these questions almost always center around priorities and purpose. To curate an Arboretum, we manipulate our natural environment in different ways, with goals in mind for each specific area.

  • Is the purpose of this garden to attract butterflies? Then we don’t do any trimming during peak caterpillar hatching time.
  • Are we hoping to encourage lightning bugs to nest here? Don’t rake away the leaf litter.
  • Is the goal of this space to be symmetrical, patterned, or have a certain color palette? Then we weed more frequently and stick closely to the original design.

Knowing your priorities and the purpose of a space easily guides your decisions.

Plantings at our neighboring retirement community make use of drought tolerant plants with a more traditional approach to design.

Evolving Priorities

Traditional landscaping has one job: to look pretty. We started creating ornamental gardens at castles and estates to signify wealth and create beauty. Several hundred years of horticulture practice have passed with little change. These human-centric values still have a stronghold on the landscaping industry. The typical shrubs, trees, and perennials installed around a newly built home in an American suburb are purely ornamental, with no relation to wildlife, climate, or geographic region.

Their purpose? Purely aesthetic. And so all the future decisions must serve that goal. Heavy chemical use to maintain the green lawn? Yes, to preserve the aesthetic. Constant trimming and shaping of shrubs? Yes, to make them look different from their natural shape. Overuse of water to keep non-native species green in a climate they did not evolve in? Of course. This is not a sustainable option, and at its worst is an outdated practice steeped in vanity and classism. Thankfully these priorities are beginning to shift to a more sustainable model of landscaping.

Find Your Purpose

Everybody has to decide for themselves, and for each unique space, what the purpose and priorities are. If the goal is to teach students about native plants, then we should prioritize plant labels. spacing, and good organization in the garden. If the purpose is to increase habitat, then prioritize ecosystem function — high plant diversity, dense, layered planting, less structure.

This sign garden at Schowalter Villa’s Prairie Lakes begins to move in the direction of building plant communities by planting more densely, but still prioritizes traditional aesthetics over ecological function.

There is no “one way” to successfully use native plants. Some of our members are looking to decrease water usage, but keep their landscaping looking traditional and tidy. In this case, we might suggest using some cultivated varieties of natives that don’t spread or seed out much, but are very drought tolerant. For folks hoping to restore a prairie plot for conservation purposes, we would recommend straight species only and help them find an appropriate ratio of grasses and flower species native to their region, or even their county.

Liatris pycnostachya, or prairie blazing star

The plants chosen for each new project should be chosen with clear purpose in mind. A few years in, when you are adding new plants to the garden or making tough decisions, remembering your purpose and priorities will help keep you on track!

A big thanks to our grounds interns present and past, who have all asked excellent questions and contributed their talents to the Arboretum. You challenge us to always think critically about our priorities and purpose!

Butterfly weed: Fun Facts

One of the most iconic prairie wildflowers is Asclepias tuberosa, commonly referred to as butterfly weed or butterfly milkweed.  From May to July, its bright orange flowers dot the prairie landscape. These attractive flowers are a magnet for many different pollinators, including the monarch butterfly.

Butterfly weed can be found in dry fields, meadows, prairies, open woodlands, canyons and on hillsides. It grows on loamy and sandy, well-drained soils, in areas that provide plenty of sun. It is consistently the most sought after prairie wildflower for a garden and the flowers work well in bouquets.

Darker orange blooms with red pigment in the flower

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa): Did You Know…?

  • The flower color in Asclepias tuberosa ranges from deep red-orange to a rich yellow, depending on the amount of red pigment which is superimposed over the yellow carotenoid background pigments. The flower color has nothing to do with the soil type.
  • This species can be found in the eastern two-thirds of the state of Kansas.
  • Butterfly weed is also known as “butterfly milkweed”, even though it produces translucent (instead of milky) sap.
  • The scientific name Asclepias comes from Asklepios, the Greek god of medicine. tuberosa refers to thick tuberous roots which make it very difficult to transplant from the wild.  Please don’t dig mature plants from the prairie. 
  • Root of butterfly weed was used in treatment of pleurisy, bronchitis and other pulmonary disorders in the past. Don’t try this at home. 
  • Butterfly weed can be also used in treatment of diarrhea, snow blindness, snakebites, sore throat, colic and to stimulate production of milk in breastfeeding women. Again, don’t try this at home. 
  • The small individual flowers consist of 5 petals. Each milkweed blossom is equipped with a trap door, called a stigmatic slit. When insects land on their pendulous flowers, they must cling to the petals as they feed on nectar. As they forage on the flower for nectar, their foot slips into the stigmatic slit and comes in contact with a sticky ball of pollen, called a pollinium. When the insect pulls its foot out of the trap door, it brings the pollinium with it. Eventually, the insect will move on to the next flower. Should that same foot slip back into another milkweed flower’s stigmatic slit, the pollen can be transferred and pollination is completed.  This process is quite amazing to watch. 
  • Typically, it takes three years for a butterfly weed to start producing flowers.
  • The long narrow fruit pods develop later in summer. These hairy green pods ripen and ultimately turn a tannish-brown in the fall. Each pod contains hundreds of seed equipped with silky, white tufts of hair. As the pod dries and splits in the fall, the seeds are carried away by the breeze. Those white tufts of hair act as tiny parachute-like structures that disperse the seeds. 
  • As with other milkweeds, butterfly weed will attract aphids; you can leave them for ladybugs to eat or spray the insects and foliage with soapy water.
Gorgone Checkerspot

Butterfly weed is a garden worthy wildflower. It doesn’t spread aggressively like other milkweeds, but rather stays as a nice upright clump. Its many ornamental and functional assets, plus its rugged character will make it a focal point in the summer garden for years to come. You will be rewarded as pollinators seek out the beautiful iconic flowers of this native wildflower. Give it a try!

Orange and yellow butterfly weed blooming in the same flower bed
“Hello Yellow” butterfly weed

A review of “Bicycling with Butterflies”

I’m a part of the Nature Book Club through the Dyck Arboretum. One of the books we read this last month was Bicycling with Butterflies: My 10,201 mile journey following the Monarch Migration by Sara Dykman.

I loved this book and we had a great discussion on it. A young woman rides her bike from the monarch refuges in Mexico, up through the United States and into Canada, and back to Mexico again. She follows the same path as the monarchs, gives school programs and talks to anyone who will listen about the importance of the Monarch, the importance of growing milkweed as their food, and supporting them any way that we can.

I’d like to share a few of the most poignant excerpts from this wonderful book.

Dykman writes about the value in riding a bike rather than driving because… “blurred by the pace of human velocity is a whole world crunching, crawling, wriggling, slithering, budding, branching, mating, living, dying, and migrating through a realm most of us look at but rarely see…Milkweed is the sole food source of the monarch caterpillar. There are more than 100 species of milkweed, seventy native to the U.S.”

Monarch caterpillar on common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca. Photo by Brad Guhr.

“Most of us learn the basics of this transformation of the caterpillar into a butterfly in grade school, but as adults, we stop truly looking, assuming there is nothing new to see. It is when I really look, with all my senses, at the feat of an egg becoming a butterfly that I find God”…“I can’t imagine the amount of ice cream I would need to eat to grow from 150 pounds to 300,000 pounds in just two weeks. We often overlook the grandness of small things.”

She also talks about being a native Kansan.

In my home state, once a galaxy of grass, the tallgrass prairie now barely clings to its soil. Once present from Canada through Texas, now just 1 percent of the historic tallgrass prairie remains, making it one of the most rare and endangered ecosystems in the world…

Sara Dykman

She discusses the interconnectedness of all life forms and the impact of our actions.

“Each of the 2 million tagged monarchs forms a connection to humanity. Every milkweed planted in the 28,210 way stations connects a gardener to the earth. With action comes solution. With action comes connections – connections to a team that is growing bigger every year, and to a migration that is growing smaller but that we will not give up on… You can’t protect just one aspect of a traveler’s journey; to protect the traveler, you must protect their every step, every wing beat. Migrating animals need safe habitat from here to there, in the summer, spring, winter, and fall…

Monarch butterfly on swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, at Dyck Arboretum of the Plains in late August. Photo by Janelle Flory Schrock.

“Current farming practices don’t leave room for native plants like they once did…Monarchs require milkweed. Without milkweed, there can be no monarchs. We have to change how we farm…There were once billions of monarchs.. now there are millions. There had been millions of Eskimo curlews, billions of passenger pigeons, and trillions of Rocky Mountain locusts–now there are zero…

I began to see the monarch as a symbol of compassion…we recognize the monarch’s struggle. We rally, fight, cry, get angry, and do something.

Sara Dykman

“We are told that manicured lawns are beautiful, that we must control nature in order to live with it, but that is a lie. Beauty is the give and take between plants and animals. Beauty is milkweed ripe with exploding purple blooms, feeding the shaggy maned tussock moths and bees and monarchs. How can we possibly judge so much life as unworthy?”

Do You Have Nutsedge?

This time of year, yellow nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus) and purple nutsedge (Cyperus rotundus) become problematic in the landscape. These problem weeds have triangular grass-like leaves and form colonies if left unchecked. It is not a grass, but rather a sedge. The key identifying feature is the triangular stem in cross section, as opposed to a round cross section in grasses. 

In Lawns

Nutsedge is a common weed in lawns with waterlogged soil, and its presence often indicates that drainage is poor, irrigation is too frequent, or sprinklers are leaky. Once established, however, it will tolerate normal irrigation conditions or drought.  Established nutsedge plants grow faster than many lawn grasses, so it is often noticed when it outgrows the surrounding grass. The leaves are bright green and have a waxy appearance in summer when surrounding lawn grass may be a lighter green.

Management in Lawns

As with most weeds in lawns, the best defense is to maintain a healthy, dense turf that can compete and prevent weed establishment.  Water lawns on an as-needed basis, not on a regular schedule. Overwatering increases disease and provides a better environment for nutsedge to grow. 

For larger infestations in lawns, spot spray with a liquid, selective herbicide that contains the active ingredient: Common Name: Halosulfuron; Trade Name: Manage, or Sedgehammer and others or Common Name: Sulfentrazone.  Mixing these herbicides with a non-ionic surfactant that breaks down the waxy leaf coating to the chemical is more effective. 

In Mulch

Nutsedges thrive in areas with little or no competition.  In mulch rings around trees and between flowers offer ideal conditions for large colonies to form. Actively growing stands of nutsedge have extensive root systems that can reach as deep as four feet. Nutsedges produce underground tubers and runners that make it difficult to pull out of the ground. Each of these can produce another plant if not completely removed.

Mechanical management

Digging out or using an appropriate weeding tool to remove the underground ‘nutlets’ is the primary means of mechanical control of nutsedge. This is a viable option at the beginning of an infestation and on young weeds.  If you want to avoid spraying chemicals for control of nutsedge, you need to relentlessly pull the plants every time a new plant emerges.  It is most active in May through October.  We have also smothered nutsedge with cardboard and two to four inches of mulch. Nutsedge may emerge again next year after the cardboard has decomposed.

 

Spraying

We have had success spraying nutsedge.  We use Manage™ (Sledgehammer) herbicide. It is a selective herbicide that only kills nutsedge and can be sprayed in close proximity to other perennials, shrubs and trees. It takes a few weeks for the plants to show decline, but Manage™ kills the whole plant including the runners and tubers. I have used Roundup as a control, but it is a non-selective contact herbicide that kills the weeds it contacts.   

Nutsedges are often unwelcome competition for our more desirable plants. These “weeds” can be controlled by a healthy, actively growing landscape. Competition and vigorous plantings will push these plants aside. If you do find it in your landscape, remove it immediately. If you have larger areas, be persistent, over time, you will get the upper hand.  Be as unrelenting as the weeds.  As they say on the Red Green Show, “We are all in this together. I am pulling for you.”