The Native Yard: Leaving The Native Leaves
I have come to a decision regarding our native yard: This year we are ‘leaving the leaves.’ More than that, we will be leaving native leaves in our native yard, and right where they fell, beneath the plants they are from. That way the plants benefit from the nutrients found in their own leaves, and the native insects then have true native habitat within which to overwinter in our native yard.
We first started planting our native yard back June 21st, 2020. It was the longest day of the year, the solstice. It was the first day that we could schedule the delivery and the planting of the some 36 varieties of native plants — grasses, flowers, shrubs and trees — around the house I grew up in, on less than half an acre. A large truck full of native plants was parked in front and we were unloading and then distributing them all about the .44 acres to their designated zones — bioswale, meadow, rain garden, oak stand, willow stand, pollinator garden, front garden, native forest. There were about 3000 native plants in all.
The Native Yard: Addition By Subtraction
We had first cleared the property of three mature Norway Maples, a row of non-native yew 15 foot high and 150 feet long, and 150 foot of privet.
Here is a film of that effort:
The yard was practically a blank slate, except of course the non-native lawn, which is and was more a collection of weeds than anything else. That is an ongoing project.
The Native Yard: Stormwater Resilience
Because stormwater runoff is a big problem where I live, we planted a bioswale to redirect water away from the driveway.
We then planted a native forest of oak, pitch pine, beech, sassafras and maple.
Nature did not wait long. Here is the bioswale September 5th 2020:
And so it’s been with every planting on the property: Nature took hold fast! Plant what should be there, what belongs there, and Nature will take care of the rest. Here is the bioswale August 30th, 2021. New York Ironweed, Joe Pye, Seaside Goldenrod, and they are absorbing a lot of the rainwater!
Two years in, the bioswale has grown quite lush:
The Native Yard: Transformations
The transformation throughout our native yard has been quite dramatic. What was for at least 60 years a blacktop driveway was transformed in less than a year into a vibrant dynamic meadow:
This is the meadow March of 2021. The blacktop has been scraped off, and some soil with with native wildflowers planted:
This is the same area Sept 7th 2021. There is a lot of butterfly milkweed here.
Here is video from four days later. The butterflies noticed! Again, this was blacktop less than a year earlier!
Now by contrast, here was the meadow in March 2022:
So it is with native plants. So many recede into the earth during winter. Having them in numbers in your yard is a good way to reconnect yourself with nature’s rhythms, it’s ebbs and flows. Here is the bioswale last December after a significant rain:
The Native Yard — Forever Changes
Each year, the yard has been different. It has certainly grown out, but the plants are also replanting themselves around the property, and have been joined in by various ‘volunteers’ — groundsel bush, cherry, dogwood, pin oak. Invasive plants are also a constant issue since the yard, with all its native plants, attracts a lot of birds who often enough have been dining on berries from invasive plants nearby — Porcelian Berry, Oriental Bittersweet, mostly.
Here are some of the best shots of the native yard from 2022 in full bloom:
The Long Island Conservancy these last several years has offered tours of the yard to various civic groups. Here is a link to a post on our tours.
The Native Yard: A Soggy November
Here is the yard in it’s current soggy November state. This year, we are leaving the leaves. Most importantly, we are leaving the leaves of native plants. The whole point of leaving the leaves is to provide habitat for native insects. Native insects, however, thrive on native plants, and presumably native leaves. Yes, any leaf will provide water and warmth, but will there be native habitat where the insect is overwintering? Will there be the right kind of food, or enough of it?
Leave native leaves then. And I would say, leave them right beneath the tree, bush, shrub, or wildflower they fell from. Plants feed themselves off their dead leaves. They build habitat around them to support them as they establish themselves — and compete with other plants for space, for water, light, and nutrients.
Going native will change how you look at nature. You may even end up meeting it for the first time, and in your own native yard!