Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bird Magnet

There's a volunteer mulberry tree growing near the house that in just a few years has reached over 15 feet high. From my second floor office window, I have the perfect vantage point to watch the many birds that are flocking to it.

The small, oval-shaped mulberries are an unripe white, not black, but the birds aren't waiting. They are stripping them off as if they just emerged from a famine. It's the same thing with my doublefile viburnum. I rarely see the red berries because they're gone long before they fully ripen.

The mulberry tree is shading out a large, spreading gooseberry which is loaded with gooseberries now. I have neither the time or energy to transplant the thorny shrub, so if it makes it, great, if not que sera, sera.

Perhaps the mulberry tree will also shade out the oats that have become invasive. I honestly don't remember if these are the wild oats known to be invasive or if these are domesticated, but after a few years of getting established, they did indeed become a problem. Sigh. I thought their seed heads would look nice in dried arrangements, and indeed they do.

A large part of my "gardening" efforts seem to be centered on controlling or attempting to get rid of a variety of invasives. Some, like the pachysandra were here when I bought my house 17 years ago. Huge swaths of pachysandra still exist, though I have gotten rid of a fair amount of it, as much for the purpose of reducing tick habitat as anything else.

The barberry is mostly gone, though I did notice several bushes in the back that should ideally be removed. Bittersweet will always be present, I'm afraid. As will the garlic mustard. This is the first year I'm seriously tackling the vinca. I'm afraid that was one of my own doing. I vaguely recall transplanting something from the front of the yard to the picket fence garden and there may have been a bit of vinca in the soil at the time. Not having experienced the horror of its spread, I didn't think much of it. Until now.

The vinca has totally engulfed 4 or 5 blueberry bushes which I mostly haven't paid attention to over the years because their berry output was negigible, and the birds got to them before me, anyway.

This year, there's one waist-high plant absolutely covered in green blueberries. So now I'm reluctant to give up on what must be 15-year old blueberry plants. It took them that long to get established. Periodically, I'd throw some white pine needles down around them, but that's about it.

I've been researching how best to eradicate the vinca, and there seems to be a limited number of options:

1. Dig and pull out manually.
2. Mow or use trimmer to cut vinca down to ground level. Cover with clear plastic and several inches of mulch, upon which you plant anew. Yes, the idea is that you plant on top of the plastic and the vinca. This might work if you have no pre-existing plants you want to save.

Roundup is said to be ineffective on vinca because of the leaves' waxy coating. I wouldn't want to spray that much Roundup 'round here anyway, as I have toads and garter snakes. I reserve it for spot treatments of poison ivy.

So I've been digging. It's back-breaking work. The roots are very strong and hard to pull out, especially around the blueberry bushes, which are said to have shallow roots themselves. I fear I will never be rid of the vinca. Because I've had Lyme Disease three times, I'm wearing my fisherman's hip boots in there.

In the past, I'd made a mistake, when seeking to clear a large area, of deciding to try to clear/weed/hack down everything all at once and only then would I decide what to plant in its place. Well, the problem with that is that clearing a large area can take weeks, and by that time, new weeds are already taking over.

So I decided to consolidate my gains with the vinca patch and, rightly or wrongly, wound up transplanting a half dozen coral bells and an astilbe in the roughly 5-foot-square plot I'd cleared. I then cut a large piece of plastic, cut holes for the plants I'd just planted and plan to get a pile of free mulch from the landfill today to apply over the plastic.

I suspect this won't be fool-proof as the vinca can come up through the openings I've made for the new plants. But what's the alternative? Look at ugly sheets of plastic all summer?

Suggestions welcome!

I would like to get this fenced garden under control. Actually, my overriding goal would be to make it as low-maintenance as possible. Each summer I'm so busy with other chores, my vegetable garden and other perennial beds, this area just gets ignored.

It's a large rectangular area close to the house on the north side; probably 12 x 25 feet long. It's surrounded by invasives right now: a huge sea of pachysandra on the one side with the vinca having spread to almost half of it and the oats on the other side making inroads.

I want to keep the 4 or 5 blueberry bushes. I have already started chopping down the three dwarf cherry trees I had in there. They grew easily but then came under attack from some disease that caused the ends of branches to dry up. I researched it at the time and know it needed spraying, but my reluctance to use toxic sprays was greater than my desire to eat cherries, so I never sprayed.

I also have some sort of willow shrub in there and because part of it is shady, I have some nice shade-loving perennials including hosta, Jacob's ladder, astilbe and bleeding heart. There's also a lot of spiderwort (invasive in its own right, I find) and who knows what else.

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