Saturday, February 27, 2016

LIFE ON THE EDGE - A guest post by Brigitte Hartke

Today we welcome a wonderful post by Brigitte Hartke, a passionate conservationist, native plant enthusiast  and a very business garden club member - enjoy! - t

 As you might imagine, life on the edge is an interesting and bustling place. Biologically speaking, edges -- also known as ecotones -- are the transitional areas of vegetation between two different plant communities.  They are rich, productive, and full of wildlife ~ there’s a lot going on there.

Most of us have edges in our own gardens, where the woods end and the garden begins. The influence of the two bordering communities on each other is known as the edge effect. These edges consisting of native plants provide some of the richest habitat for birds, insects and other species. It is understood that far more birds live in these edges than in the middle of a forest.

 In fact, the ecotone areas often have a higher density of organisms of one species and also a great number of species than are found in the communities living on either side of them.

 Many bird species, for example, prefer to nest at the edge of the woods that faces an open area.

In a forested edge you will have all the vertical layers of a forest, but you will also have more sunlight; plants growing in the sunlight will provide nitrogen to the plants in the edge, and so those areas are often the most nutritious, and generate more food which is taken advantage of by birds and other species.

Some good choices for edge planting are redbud (Cercis), shadbush (Amelanchier) and spicebush (Lindera).
Redbud (Cersis canadensis)

Professor Douglas W. Tallamy says that Cercis is a good fit because “it is a great plant for early spring pollinators.  It blooms right when the first species of bees are coming out.”

Also important to think about when starting or redoing your garden edges is establishing a sequence of blooming plants so that something is coming to fruition or bloom from spring until fall. “Native bees depend on a constant source of nectar and pollen, not just one week of bloom.”

Look at your garden from week to week to be sure that there’s something blooming throughout the growing season.

black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) among Dicentra near Waterford VA

The edges are also ideal places for opportunistic invasive or ‘exotic’ plant species to spring up. Poison ivy can be found growing everywhere along roadside borders, but not nearly as much farther into the forest.

Luminiscent at night, these fungi can be found at the base of rotted oak roots

You may also notice invasive kudzu, Japanese honeysuckle and multiflora rose growing along the edges.  When possible these should be removed and replaced with a native plant; the native honeysuckle may be ideal.

Brigitte Hartke is a writer, gardener, photographer, amateur genealogist
and a very active member of Five Hills Garden Club in Vienna, Virginia.  

Brigitte Hartke surrounded by native bluebells at Riverbend
She enjoys learning and writing about the scientific concepts relating to environment and conservation, and the interconnectedness, evolving over long evolutionary periods, of all the many species coexisting within a healthy biome.

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