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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Another plant that just keeps showing up!

I was sitting on the beach this Memorial Day weekend enjoying the ocean breeze and watching the Osprey fish out of the Delaware Bay when a tall grass caught my eye on the nearby dune.  I tried to resist looking at what it was, after all it was a long weekend AWAY from work, and I'd already bored anyone on the beach that would listen talking about the Brown Pelicans, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Cormorants, ducks, and of course the GULLS (I think they were ready to hit me when I got into the definition of why they aren't actually "sea" gulls...) at any rate I digress.  So of course, I couldn't help myself and got up to take a closer look at this grass blowing in the breeze.  Much to my dismay my hunch was correct and I had just found myself the newest infestation of Phragmites australis, or common reed!

It seems that this invasive wetland plant is spreading more and more rapidly and I keep noticing it in new places.  We just worked on  some phragmites over at Stateline Woods last week, and I discovered a new patch while I was there that we are hoping to put on the to-do list for this week.  Last summer, I spent an afternoon in a boat with some friends through the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge on the Indian River. The area was thick with Phragmites and you could see the line of it marching along. I guess before I wax too poetic about the plant, it would be helpful for those of you who are not already familiar with it to learn a few tips about identification.  

 Introduced Phragmites forms dense stands which include both live stems and standing dead stems from previous year’s growth. Leaves are elongate and typically 1-1.5 inches wide at their widest point. Flowers form bushy branched cluster of flowers (otherwise known as panicles) in late July and August and are usually purple or golden in color. As the seeds mature, the panicles take on a fluffy appearance. Below ground, Phragmites spreads horizontally by sending out a dense network of rhizomes.  Phragmites also spreads by seed, but is mostly spread through the rhizomes.  You may notice I specified INTRODUCED Phragmites, that is because there is also a native phragmites, which is fairly difficult to differentiate from the invasive Phragmites.  Some of the best ways to tell:

Introduced Phragmites forms a monoculture, where the native Phragmites will not.  New populations of the introduced Phragmites will be quite sparse, but will rapidly increase.  

Introduced Phragmites can grow on fairly dry sites as well as areas where the rhizomes are continuously inundated with water.  The native Phragmites can only grow in tidal sites where the rhizomes will not be continuously inundated with water.  

Most people who mention Phragmites are speaking about the invasive plant, and most populations that I have come across are the invasive type, however it is worth noting that the native plant does exist!
 
So now that you can identify it, how do you control it?  Repeated mowing will slow the spread of the plant, but will not completely eliminate it from an area.  Prescribed fire AFTER the plant flowers has been shown to be very successful, however, if the prescribed fire takes place in the spring or early summer, it can actually stimulate growth.  Chemical controls can also be used with care.  My personal favorite method for the control of this plant is to place a rubber glove on your hand, and then put a cotton glove on top of the rubber glove.  Spray the cotton glove with a solution of a glyphosate based herbicide, and then using your gloved hand rub the plant with the herbicide.  This gives control of the plant, but allows you to be very exact with the placement of the herbicide which is non-selective.  This method works quite well, and I have had great success!  


The one good thing about Phragmites? You can use the hollow stems from last year's growth to make bee nesting habitat.  The stems are very hollow, and great for the creation of wood bees nests!! 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Second Thistle To Control

Bull Thistle or Cirsium vulgare is the other thistle that may be taking over your hay fields.  This plant is easier to control than Canada Thistle as it is a biennial plant. This means that it will not set seed until the second year of growth and then it will die.  The bad news is that if you allow it to set seed, the seeds can remain active in the soil for up to five years.  

 

Bull Thistle can be controlled mechanically by mowing it, or cutting off the heads so that it can not set seed, or chemically.  You can use the clopyralid based herbicide to gain control of the plant.  The best chemical control can be obtained by spraying the first year rosettes. 



The best way to control this plant is to make sure that it does not set seed.  If you have sprayed it and this does not work, I would either mow it, or spend some time cutting the heads off of the plant.  Again, this is something that has become quite timely, so if you notice this plant in  your fields, you should think about controlling it in the next few weeks. 


Again this is another plant that should definitely be controlled! The good news is that this plant will be easier to control than it's very closely related cousin, Canada Thistle.  

Take care to make sure you are feeding bird seed that does not contain thistle that may germinate.  STERILE THISTLE SEED is important to use at your feeders.  You can also purchase Nyjer seed which has been heat treated and sterilized to remove any noxious weeds from the seed mix.  

Personally, I feed my birds some sunflower seeds in the feeder and then plant plants throughout my property that will attract them to my house without the dangers of perhaps using seed that may actually not have been sterilized. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Controlling Thistle in your Meadows

A predominant pest to agricultural farmers, gentleman farmers, or naturalist is thistle.  There are two types that could be invading a meadow, hay field, edge, or natural area near you.  Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense) or Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare) are the two types of thistle most apt to be taking over your meadows.  The two plants perform differently, so we will give you tips on how to control both plants.  Today's lesson will be on Canada Thistle, and tomorrow will be on Bull Thistle.  Both are considered noxious weeds!


Canada Thistle spreads easily by seed and rhizomes (basically it's root system).  Canada Thistle is a perennial plant that will easily grow in disturbed sites, but also out compete grasses in your hay fields.  This is one reason that I typically recommend someone interested in planting a native wildflower/grass meadow to let the meadow establish before installing the wildflowers. This allows you to gain complete control of the thistle without harming the broad leaf flowers planted in the meadow.  

It can be very difficult to control, and a variety of methods are needed to completely control the plant.  If you keep your meadow regularly mowed, it will not set seed, so it will not be able to spread past your field, but the repeated mowing does not kill the root system. You can mow it early in the year to set it back, and then again while flowering but before seed when most of the plant's nutrients are in the shoots and not the roots.  This method will keep the plant under control, but it will never completely eradicate it from the property. It will just not set seed and spread beyond your property.  After great persistence with mowing, you should be able to obtain adequate control. 

There are fairly effective chemical methods. If you have a large infestation you will need repeated applications throughout the year.  I would recommend using a clopyralid based herbicide to control the plant.  This active ingredient is specific to broad leaves so it will not harm the grasses in a meadow like a non-selective glyphosate based herbicide.    You have a few options for chemical control.  The first few years of controlling the plant you should either control it with chemicals to keep it from setting seed in the spring, and then repeating the process on any last hurrah's from the roots in the fall. The other option would be to should mow it early in the year to keep it from setting seed and then spray in the fall to kill the plant in it's entirety.   If you have decided to spray the thistle, you should do this sooner than later as it will be setting seed before mid-June. 
Unhappy Thistle at Stateline Woods

If you only have the Canada Thistle in a small section, or in your flower beds, there is a third option which only has to be repeated once, and will certainly eradicate the plant.  It is not cost nor time effective for a large patch.  I would cut the budding head off of the plant and paint it with a straight glyphosate solution using my trusty mustard bottle. This will kill the plant, and not allow any re-sprouts, but is very time intensive.  




Persistence is the main key in controlling Canada Thistle, but it should be controlled to the best of your ability.  If you do not have the capability to either spray or mow, you should consider hiring a contractor for the job.  I would be happy to pass along recommendations if you are interested. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fruit Eaters

Today while at Stateline Woods we came across about six Cedar Waxwings hanging out in a puddle along the main drive.  They flew off when we got close, but seeing them reminded me of how pretty they are. The Cedar Waxwings are one of the only "fruit" specialists birds in the area.  They primarily eat fruit and little else, in late summer when the berries become overripe, you may come across a waxwing that has intoxicated himself on a fermented berry! 



They are typically very social birds who like to congregate in large flocks and they have thin high whistles.  It is typically easy to recognize a flock of waxwings flying overhead by these sounds. If you go on any berry picking expeditions with your family this weekend, keep your eyes open for any Cedar Waxwings to be in the vicinity!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

In My Garden....

I finally got to spend some time wandering around my flower beds over the past couple of days, and I was pleasantly surprised to see some various plants blooming (or starting to vigorously grow) so I thought I would share them with you.  A great early favorite in my garden is a plant that I have mentioned quite a bit in recent posts: Aquilegia canadensis or American Columbine.  


 

The next of my plants that typically blooms is Tradescantia virginiana or Spiderwort, not entirely sure of the species as I rescued it from a trail that got repeatedly mowed so it would have died anyway (and I had permission from the landowner).






I was very excited to see that my Andropogon gerardii, Big Bluestem is starting to sprout for the summer. By the fall, this grass is typically 4-6' in height and makes an excellent backdrop/cover for sitting on my front porch.  


As the growing season wears on, I'll continue to give you updates from my garden as well as from the field.  I am never completely happy with the plant arrangement in my garden so I'm always, adding, subtracting or moving plants though I have a few favorites that I will not part with.  Some of them continue to get bigger throughout the year. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Attracting Orioles to your Backyard

I know I promised this post a week ago, and I apologize, but it is better late than never.  So by now you may have spotted the beautiful orange birds flitting around the country side, so I thought i would give you some tips on how to attract them to your yard.

Orioles especially love sweet juices and nectar.  They love fruiting bushes with ripe berries, so planting any of your native shrubs: Viburnum sp., Amelanchier sp., Vaccinimum sp., or Cornus sp. is a great start to attracting the orioles to your yard. The shrubs offer food and shelter in the same boat.  You can also create a "plate" of various fruits that will certainly attract orioles.  Halved oranges and other citrus fruits, or bowls of jelly are sure to bring orioles to your yard. You may however also bring unwanted pests so monitor your fruit offerings closely.  


It is also important to have a shallow water source for the birds. Some people also like to leave out nesting material, yarn or old animal hair are two types of material that orioles will use in their nests.  If your animals are shedding like mine currently are you should have plenty of hair to go around!


I have found oriole nest in predominantly willow, oak, or sycamore trees.  They will not use nesting boxes but they are not that specific to the type of tree. However, planting a few of one of the aforementioned species is a great way to attract orioles to nest in your yard.  Orioles have a very unique nest as shown in the below photograph.  


 They build one of the most complicated nests in the bird world.  The nests are typically very high up in the tree and hang below the branch to create a cradle effect for their young when the wind blows.  They will return to a similar location from year to year, and use the favorite parts of their old nest to build a new nest.  The nests are typically out on the limb fairly far from the main trunk of the tree, except in places of high wind where they seem to have adapted their nest site selection to closer to the tree.  


The Orioles both have very pretty and recognizable songs.  The bird in both photographs is the male.   Notice the coloration difference between the two orioles most commonly found in SE PA for the males.  The females are more difficult to tell apart as you can see from the photographs below.

Click HERE for a great link to a video of a Baltimore Oriole singing
Click HERE for a great link to a video of an Orchard Oriole singing. 

Orchard Oriole Female

Baltimore Oriole Female
 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Spotted in the woods

I spent this past Sunday at the Iron Hill Park cheering on my friends as they rode in the various bike races throughout the day.  It was also the venue of the first race in the Trail Creek Outfitters Trail Race Series.  Race number two will be taking place at The Land Conservancy's Stateline Woods Preserve on Saturday, May 14.  If you haven't yet signed up for the race, there is still time!

While we were trekking through the woods to reach the "Mega-Dip" to watch the bikers agony as they came up the VERY STEEP hill, I got distracted by some plants.  My friends who are used to me, were not very shocked by this, but I think the avid mountain bike racers that were there for the days events were surprised to see some person getting so excited about a little purple flower on the ground.  Well, it was the first native orchid of the year for me, and I was very excited.   I think you would have been too, if you happened to spot this on your trek through the woods.  

Galeorchis spectabilis or Showy Orchid is a native woodland perrennial plant which is a typically overlooked plant by those chasing the showy and elusive pink lady slipper, however, I think this plant is a beauty in it's own right.  As I keep reminding you, it is very important to watch where you step, you never know what you may come across.  Here is the G. spectabilis that was spotted this weekend.



Sunday, May 6, 2012

The bird at Stateline Woods

I spotted and heard my first oriole of the season at Stateline Woods yesterday evening.  The male Baltimore Oriole perched in a tree right by me and serenaded me with his beautiful song.  Enjoy the beautiful sounds and colors of the orioles this spring.  You can lure them to your yard as they have a very soft spot for fruit and nectar. 

Check back to the blog on Monday to learn about ways to lure the orioles to your yard, the very unique nests that are made by the females, hear their beautiful song and a few photographs to make the identification of the two orioles typically found around us: Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, a little bit easier.  I'll leave you with the stunning photo of the male Baltimore Oriole.   

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