Good Oak News

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Brush Clearing Before & After at Speckled Hen Inn

This past week we did some brush clearing for the folks at the Speckled Hen Inn, just north of Madison. This will be the first step in restoring this open oak woodland back to health. On my initial site visit I notice a lot of conservative woodland and savanna species including: doll's eyes, red baneberry, blue cohosh, horse gentian, yellow honeysuckle, yellow giant hyssop and purple joe-pye weed. So there's a great chance for recovery of the woodland flora once brush clearing and hopefully a prescribed burn are completed. We will be working with Robert and Patricia on reintroducing more native wildflowers, grasses and sedges and probably plantings a few bur oaks in the areas where we end up with a good gap in the canopy.

So below are a couple of "before and after" photos from our first day of work on the site. Most of the brush we removed were large buckthorns, but we also cleared a handful of honeysuckle, privet, mulberry and boxelder trees. Bob will be harvesting many of the hackberries (skinny tall trees in the photo) for firewood to further open the woodland canopy.

This is the area we cleared in the morning of our first day working there. There were four of us working on site that day. Click on either image to see them in full-size, and see switch between them to see the dramatic difference!





Here is the area we cleared the afternoon of our first day on site:


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Honeysuckle: Really Quite Terrible for Wildlife

Clearing invasive brush is a big part of Good Oak's business. After all, most midwestern woodlands suffer from the negative effects of honeysuckle, buckthorn, multiflora rose, Japanese barberry... and others.

People always want to know why these plants are so bad for our local ecosystems. First and foremost they simply displace native plants. Either buckthorn or honeysuckle can effectively take up all of the growing space on the ground layer in a woodland, leaving nothing but bare dirt on the ground below them. They're also bad for our birds, especially migrating birds. I usually explain that both honeysuckle and buckthorn produced berries, but these berries are not nutritious for our birds and other wildlife. Honeysuckle berries for example are the nutritional equivalent of cola. Berries from native plants are more like a glass of milk or orange juice, with protein, fat, vitamins and minerals and more complex carbohydrates.

But some new studies have found that honeysuckle harms wildlife in ways I could never imagine. A study titled Invasive shrub alters native forest amphibian communities recently published in Biological Conservation found that honeysuckle can change the "forest understory microclimate", reducing the habitat quality for native frogs and salamanders. Essentially, I think what is happening is the honeysuckle kills off all the other plants so there are no ground layer plants, and very little leaf litter or duff layer either, meaning the soil and air near the ground dry out faster, which is not good for animals who need to stay a little moist all the time. The abstract of this article concludes "invasive [organisms] may affect native organisms with which it shares no trophic connection, and suggests that changes in microclimate may be one mechanism by which alien plants affect communities where they invade.

It has been known for a while that the red berries of honeysuckle (which, now that fall has come are quite visible on these shrubs in our region) can change the color of bird's plumage. Specifically a study has been done exploring the effects of eating honeysuckle berries on cedar waxwings, with an unknown effect on the mating success of the affected birds.

Now, an new study has found that honeysuckles have created an "evolutionary trap" for cardinals. In essence, consuming honeysuckle berries artificially enhances the plumage of a cardinal, making it look brighter. A bright red cardinal is more likely to attract a mate that a duller one, usually because a brighter bird is stronger and healthier. In this case however, the opposite may be true, since these birds eat more "junk food" honeysuckle berries and have territory in poor quality habitat (infested with honeysuckle)... thus tricking birds into choosing a poor quality mate!

Add to that the fact that not one but two recent studies have found that birds nesting in honeysuckle and buckthorn have less success rearing young than birds nesting in native trees. Suddenly you can what broad ranging effects just a couple species of invasive plants can have on ground layer plants, amphibians and locally nesting and migratory birds.... Basically these plants are causing damage on all levels of the ecosystem and altering natural communities in many profound ways that.

So that is why we work so hard clearing invasive brush from our midwestern woodland and grasslands. Honeysuckle flowers may be pretty in the spring, but we shouldn't trade this fleeting beauty for the long term stability of our ecosystem.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fall Inventory Reduction Sale: Just Got HUGE-ER!

NOTE: As of 10/17 our Fall Plant Sale is now over, we donated our last 243 plants to the Goodman Community Center and Atwood Prairie. We are still planting trees and shrubs if you're interested in some, but we're done with native perennials and grasses for 2011.

We've got a lot of plants left over this year that ABSOLUTELY MUST GO in our HUGE fall INVENTORY REDUCTION SALE!!!

UPDATE: As of 9/29 we just got another 250 plants left over from a project.  Lots of great new plants, prairie grasses and enough woodland species for a fine, fine planting!

We have a lot of plants that we'd like to see people put in the ground, since we don't have much room to overwinter plants, so we're selling them all off at... HUGE SAVINGS, ALL ITEMS ARE 50% OFF OR MORE!!!

Sorry, couldn't help myself.  Seriously though, everything is on sale for half their normal retail price (or better).  Below is a regularly updated list of what we have left in our inventory, please email me at frank at goodoakllc dot com, to call "dibs" on some plants.

*Price does not include sales tax. All plants are to be picked up at Good Oak World Headquarters at 205 Walter St, Madison.  Delivery and installation are available for additional charges.

Common Name

Scientific Name

Size

Qty

Price

Perennial Forbs

    

Jack-in-the-pulpit

Arisaeama triphyllum

quart

11

$3

Marsh Milkweed

Asclepias incarnata

2.5"

1

$2

butterfly milkweed

Asclepias tuberosa

2.5"

1

$2

Sky Blue Aster

Aster azureus

quart

4

$3

Downy Wood Mint

Blephilia ciliata

2.5"

34

$2

Turtlehead

Chelone glabra

2.5"

4

$2

False Sunflower

Heliopsis helianthoides

2.5"

26

$2

Kalm's St. John's Wort

Hypericum kalmanium

quart

19

$2

rough blazing star

Liatris aspera

2.5"

17

$2

interrupted fern

Osmunda claytoniana

quart

27

$3

Virginia Creeper

Parthenocissus quinquefolia

quart

3

$3

Fox Glove Beard Tongue

Penstemon digitalis

2.5"

13

$2

Yellow Coneflower

Ratibida pinnata

2.5"

41

$2

Old-field goldenrod

Solidago nemoralis

2.5”

14

$3

Elm-leaved goldenrod

Solidago ulmifolia

2.5"

12

$2

Grasses

    

side oats gramma

Bouteloua curtipendula

2.5"

23

$2

kalm's brome

Bromus kalmii

2.5"

20

$2

Springell's Sedge

Carex springellii

2.5"

1

$2

bottle brush grass

Elymus hystrix

quart

41

$3

Virginia Wild Rye

Elymus virginicus

2.5"

42

$2

Dudley's Rush?

Juncus dudleyi

quart

1

$3

Little Bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparius

2.5"

38

$2

Little Bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparius

quart

7

$3

indian grass

Sorghastrum nutans

2.5"

10

$2

prairie dropseed

Sporabolus heterolepis

2.5"

13

$2

prairie dropseed

Sporabolus heterolepis

quart

17

$3

Trees & Shrubs

    

Arborvitae

Thuja occidentalis

6 ft

1

$90

black oak

Quercus velutina

quart

12

$3

Pagoda Dogwood

Cornus alterniflolia

quart

19

$3

dwarf bush honeysuckle

Diervella lonicera

2-gallon

2

$12

 
 
Last updated: 11:00pm, Oct. 13th, 2011.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Prairie Tours at Heritage Farm Fest

We've been pretty busy this year so I haven't had much time for the wildflower walks we used to do. But I will be leading one tour this year, this Sunday at the Heritage Farm Fest in Waunakee

I'll be leading prairie tours as part of this family fun event at 2pm and 3pm. FOr more information about the Heritage Farm Fest, check out:

http://www.schumacherfarmpark.org/Default.aspx?pageId=1081685

-- Frank



-- Posted from the trail

Prairie Tours at Heritage Farm Fest, Sunday Sept. 18th

We've been pretty busy this year so I haven't had much time for the wildflower walks we used to do. But I will be leading one tour this year, this Sunday at the Heritage Farm Fest in Waunakee

I'll be leading prairie tours as part of this family fun event at 2pm and 3pm. FOr more information about the Heritage Farm Fest, check out:

http://www.schumacherfarmpark.org/Default.aspx?pageId=1081685

-- Frank

Monday, September 12, 2011

Good Oak's Gentian Guide

Just in time for the fall flower season, I've put together a guide to all of the gentians of Wisconsin and Illinois.  This project is in many ways a prototype, just one example of the kind of information we can relay by means of the plant database we are developing.  Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

Good Oak's Gentian Guide
Downy gentian, and the bee-mimicing fly that has come to pollinate it.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

American alternatives to European lawn grasses

A few years ago I was helping a friend down in Urbana get her yard going with native landscaping.  While clearing out some weeds, I noticed something odd about her lawn grass in the small strip of lawn between her and her neighbors house.  It was in fact not grass at all, but was a sedge!  It seemed quite happy there mixed with the Kentucky bluegrass and was surviving mowing just fine.  Since she is a botanist, I asked her to bring it to work and have the sedge experts there tell us what it was.  Jamie Ellis from the Illinois Natural History Survey identified it for us as Carex jamsii... or lawn sedge.  At first I thought he was pulling my leg, since his name is James and we found it in a lawn, but sure enough, that's what it was.

Most people don't realize that the most common landcover in our urban areas, lawn, is composed entirely of non-native plants.  Kentucky blue grass (Poa pratensis) is not from Kentucky but is instead from England.  The other major component of lawns, cultivars of meadow fescue (Festuca elatior) is also from Europe, as are most of our major lawn weeds such as dandelions, common plantain and creeping charlie.  What a shame that so much of Americas landscape is covered with these non-native plants that offer almost no value for wildlife and very little of interest for people!

And indeed lawns themselves are often pretty pointless and wasteful landscape features.  Many people have a lot of lawn that is never used for anything but to dull the blade of their lawnmower.  I have blogged about this before, and so have others, so I won't go into this rant today.  However, I will admit that there is some use for some lawn in a landscape.  As Allison our landscape designer says, it makes for good "negative space".

So I started thinking about using sedges as an alternative to lawn grass.  Lawn sedge is an obvious good place to start, and it seems to grow well in Illinois and can also be found in southern Wisconsin, though I've had trouble finding a population local to Madison that I might harvest seed from.  Another one that might work in Illinois is Caitlin sedge (Carex texensis) which Dick Young notes as "a lawn weed at Fabyan Forest Preserve surviving the mowing nicely and is more graceful, soft and interesting in the moist deep shady spots than Kentucky Blue Grass."  Another closely related sedge that might work for lawn is Carex radiata, star sedge, but I don't know much about this plant yet, and finding live plants of this species for sale at a nursery is almost impossible.

Here at Good Oak World Headquarters we've been experimenting with some more common woodland sedges that tend to form "lawns".  Take a look at this lawn-like groundcover in a Wisconsin black oak woodland:
Acres and acres of Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica)!  A consistant, attractive ground cover.  So I have started testing out Pennsylvania sedge and another common woodland sedge as lawn alternatives in a few small areas at HQ.  The results, so far are admittedly inconsistant:

Pennsylvania sedge is slow to establish.  It may take years to get a consistent carpet like the photo above.  The first patch below looks pretty good, but does need some weeding at this point to keep various things such as tree seedlings and dandilions out.  The second patch looks a bit more ratty, I did get a little overambitious with herbicide in this patch earlier this summer and its been dry here so I think these guys are starting to go dormant.  Still, I think if I am patient they will be just fine.



Rosy sedge (Carex rosea) on the other hand has taken off so well, and so quickly, that we're almost not sure what to do with it.  Even though we planted it in late June, it filled in the growing space by the end of the year by growing out and just covering the ground with its leaves.  This year it was growing up as well as out,  it completely hid our stepping stone path through this lawn patch.  It also started to develop a bumper crop of seeds.  At that point we weren't sure if we should mow it (and lose the seeds), and if so, how high.  My instincts are to mow it at about 6" so as to keep the bulk of the vegetation intact while making it look a little more tidy, but my little reel mower only goes up to 2.5" and is definitely NOT up to the task of cutting long sturdy sedge blades.  So we just left it alone for now and hand-trimmed around the stepping stones and edge of the patio.

So I think rosy sedge has a great potential as a lawn replacement.  Unfortunately the patch you see below gets trampled a lot and I think has also been effected since we mix herbicide nearby.  Also, being the end of August, its not the best time for a cool-season plant like sedges.



Another sedge that's closely related to rosey and caitlin sedge is Carex radiata, star sedge, but I don't yet know enough about it to know if it might be a good lawn replacement.  A local nursery manager recently suggested path rush (Juncus tenuis) for higher-travel areas and the largely overlooked sweet grass (Hierochloe odorata).  Of course, many people have heard of buffalo grass, but it is native a bit west of here and needs very well drained soil to thrive in our area.  Still, we have one client we planted buffalo grass (Bouteloua dactyloides) for and its doing quite well in his sandy soils.

We honestly don't know yet how these plants will handle the stresses often put on lawns such as high foot traffic and low mowing.  It seems that lawn sedges does fine with the mowing, and path rush even seems to prefer compacted soil, but the rest are thoroughly untested.  Still I have a lot of confidence that we can find acceptable native alternatives to European grasses for use as lawn areas.  The challenges are getting sources of seed or plants, learning the most efficient way to propagate and plant them, and getting people used to a slightly different, softer and more natural aesthetic for their lawn. 

It took the lawn industry 30-40 years of propagation and propaganda to cement low-cut monocultures of Kentucky blue grass and fescue as the "standard" landscape across America.  It may take us a while to change the tide so that homeowners choose something more sustainable and more... well, American.

What we need now are volunteers!  We'd love to help set up some native lawn test patches with some of our friends down in central Illinois testing James's sedge and Caitlin's sedge.  And we'd love some Madison area folks to volunteer some space trying out Rosy sedge, path rush, James's vanilla grass and more.  Interested in trying a "greener" lawn.  Give us a call!

Monday, August 8, 2011

entertaining way of saying lawns are stupid

This fella has an entertaining way of saying, what I have been saying for a while, "lawns are stupid":


Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Battle to Preserve Global Biodiversity Starts Here

We'll, its been a long time since I have posted!  We've just finished our busy season so we have some time to breath, reflect, and share some ideas. I'm on a hard-earned vacation at the moment, and just today I read an article in Science Daily who's title could have been taken right out of some of Good Oak's marketing material: "Ongoing Global Biodiversity Loss Unstoppable With Protected Areas Alone".
This article goes into some pretty grim statistics and projections, that seem quite overwhelming.  But I urge readers to not look at this dire forecast and be disheartened.  Instead, consider it a battle cry!  There may not be a lot you can do about Africa, the Amazon or coral reefs, but this biodiversity crisis is a global issue, and it is happening right here in the Midwest.  In the words of Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has".
So lets start by restoring all of our woodlands, grasslands and wetlands to a more natural state that can harbor the biodiversity of our regions.  At the moment, most of our "natural" areas (on both private and public land) hold only a fraction of the native species that belong there.  We can't rely on state parks and natural areas to be the only places where we conserve our local biodiversity.
And really, there's a lot we can do in our back yards, front yards, school yards, city parks, roadsides and field edges.  Our fine natural areas will need the support of a larger network of corridors and patches of native wildlife in order to preserve our unique and fascinating local biota for future generations.  Every little bit you can do will make a difference!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Its Garlic Mustard Pulling Season!

Perhaps May should be Garlic Mustard Awareness Month? With this agressive invasive species just beginning to flower in southern Wisconsin, its clear to see that it is taking over large parts of our landscape. This biennial weed has two unfair advantages over native plants First, it stays green all winter, so in the absence of prescribed fire it can gather resources in late fall and early spring and get a head start on native plants. Its others secret weapon is chemical warfare: garlic mustard releases chemicals into the soil that kill soil fungus. Our native plants rely upon these fungi in a symbiotic relationship in which the fungus help the plants extract nutrients from the soil and the plants provide the fungus with energy in the form of sugars. Without these fungus native plants are weakened and unable to compete with the invading garlic mustard.

We can turn this first advantage into a disadvantage by herbiciding them in late fall and early spring when native plants are dormant, and by applying prescribed fire which kills seedlings and weakens (and sometimes kills) overwintering rosettes. But by mid-May when the garlic mustard begin to flower, the best advice for most people is to PULL! Take a look at the video below and learn more about identifying and controlling this invasive plant.

Wisconsin Family Forests' Garlic Mustard Video

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Madison Conservation Park Tours begin this Wednesday!

Over the past couple years I led semi-regular "Wildflower Walks" throughout the growing season at great natural areas in the greater Madison region.  Due to an increasing work load as Grand Pooh-Bah of Good Oak, I've had to put the wildflower walk series on hold for this year.

But if you still want to get out and see some great natural areas, never fear!  Madison Parks is kicking off their "Wild Side Tours" Starting this Wednesday at 6:30pm at Turville Park and continuing with tours through spring, summer and into fall.  Check out their official announcement below for more information:

Hike Madison’s Wild Side
Conservation Park Tours begin this Wednesday, April 27 at 6:30p.m.

Hike Madison’s Wild Side web: http://www.cityofmadison.com/parks/parks/conservation/tours.cfm

Madison Parks is hosting free monthly tours of Madison Conservation Parks.  The tours are led by a Madison Parks staff member and co-sponsored by the Madison Audubon Society.  Each tour will focus on a different park and unique natural feature of that park.  Madison Parks has 14 conservation parks comprising over 1600 acres.  Each conservation park focuses on the restoration of native plant and animal communities while providing educational areas and opportunities for all.

April 27, 6:30p.m.
Turville Point Park, 1156 Olin-Turville Ct.
Explore this beautiful downtown park and its spring ephemerals

May 4, 6:30p.m.
Heritage Sanctuary, 600 Meadowlark Drive
At peak trillium bloom in mid-May, Heritage Sanctuary is unequaled.

June 9, 6:30p.m.
Kettle Pond, 5808 Old Middleton Road
Explore the restoration progress around this glacial kettle pond.

July 13, 6:30p.m.
Owen Park, 6021 Old Sauk Road
Explore the summer wild flowers and the ponds and their wildlife.

August 6, 8:00a.m.
Cherokee Marsh, Upper Yahara River Tour
Bring your own canoe or kayak and meet at the School Road boat landing
Partnering with the Friends of Cherokee Marsh, the tour will focus on the restoration work on Cherokee Marsh

September 7, 6:30p.m.
Strickers Pond, 7214 Longmeadow Road
Explore another glacial kettle pond and the lessons learned from this restoration project

October 12, 5:30p.m.
Knollwood Conservation Park, 3334 Westview Lane
Enjoy the fall colors, hike on the new “Cannonball Trail” and see the only sand prairie in the Madison Park system.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Just wrote an angry letter to the Arbor Day Foundation:

Dear Arbor Day Foundation,

I recently received a mailer from your organization promising 10 free Colorado blue spruce along with membership. I live in Wisconsin, not Colorado, and blue spruce are not native here as they are in the Rocky Mountains.

Your organization claims to promote conservation and wildlife preservation, yet continues to push non-native trees for landscaping and "conservation" projects.  Your distribution of non-native trees ignores the critical need local wildlife have for native plants to provide the resources they need for survival.  For example native trees not only provide cover, they also provide fruit, seeds, and host to the local insect species which are the foundation of the diet of songbirds and other wildlife.

For example, you have a picture of an eastern bluebird on your mailer.  Eastern bluebirds favored habitat is oak savanna and open oak woodland.  How will Colorado blue spruce trees help reestablish this habitat type for the bluebirds?  In fact, the bird is landing at its nest hole, in what appears to be a bur oak, bringing to its young a caterpillar that was undoubtedly plucked off of an oak or other native tree.  Certainly ANY tree can provide SOME resources for wildlife, but native trees provide a considerably wider range of resources for our local wildlife.

Please do not contact me again until you can offer me hardy Wisconsin oaks, or other appropriate trees native to my region.

Sincerely,
Frank Hassler
Owner/Ecologist
Good Oak Ecological Services

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Garden Expo Hand-Outs

For those of you who were not able to get a hand-out at my talk today, or want to share the information with a friend, the links below will take you to PDF files that you can download.

Native Plants for Any Garden Plant List

Native Plants for Any Garden Slide Hand-Out (10.1 MB)

Gardening for Life by Doug Tallamy

Native Plant Sources for Southern Wisconsin

Native Landscaping Resources: Books and Websites

We are continuing to have technical difficulties with the Native Plants for Any Garden presentation, but as soon as they are rectified we will post them up here so that you can see images of the plants along with the listing.

Enjoy,

Friday, February 4, 2011

Come See us at the Garden Expo

We will once again have a booth at the Wisconsin Garden Expo coming up February 11th, 12th and 13th. We'll be at booth number 231 so stop by to say "Hi" to Frank, Allison and Andrew.

Frank and Allison will be giving four talks during the Expo, including:
  • Weeds and Invasive Plants in Our Landscape at 9am on Saturday
  • Benefits of Landscaping with Native Plants at 2pm on Saturday
  • Native Plants for any Garden at Noon on Sunday
  • Benefits of Landscaping with Native Plants at 2pm on Saturday
See here for the full schedule of presentations.   There are LOTS of other great presentations as well, this may be the best Garden Expo yet for the environmentally-minded gardener.  So come on out for a day (or two) and enjoy the Expo.

Think Spring!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Brush clearing time lapse video

This is just one day worth of work clearing brush on a client's property.  2 people.  7 hours.


video

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