Transition in the Heat: Reclaiming a Corner for the Birds & Butterflies

This past weekend I completed my first native plant installation in the Urban Lawn Reduction Project. After preparing and planting vegetable beds this spring I decided to tackle the most needy area first, and convert it to native plants. There wasn’t any lawn in the approximately 20 x 20 foot Northeast corner, just a garden disaster in need of attention.

Originally, a Boxelder tree occupied the far reaches of this area — down by the alley. Distorted by repeated pruning around electric utililty wires, it hung threateningly over the neighbors garage. Last fall I had it removed. This spring I moved back to Milwaukee to find a humongous pile of wood chips left from the stump grinding. The noxious Bishops Weed had invaded the area, and the tree removal exposed about 35 very large Hostas to the crazy hot June sun.

I won’t go into painful detail, but I do want to say that after clearing and preparing this area I fervently hope and believe that replacing the ‘lawn’ areas will be easier than digging out and repairing this area was.

The large old Barberry was removed to help open the flow of the yard, and to better included the back area into the overall landscape.

Friends and neighbors were the Hosta beneficiaries.

Hosta removal underway.

Native Garden Design and Plant Selection
This area receives full sun for most of the day. Early morning is shaded by the neighbors garage along the East side. Next to the garage the soil is often moist, while a few feet away the soil is medium-dry. One design objective was to minimize the view of the neighbors garage and the trash cans in the alley, with tall plants. Another objective: to use the space for both fruit and native plants.

I consulted with a friend who has extensive experience designing and installing native landscapes. She recommended using Sweet Joe Pye Weed as the backbone to a garden that would be a flowering highlight. Keeping the soil’s high clay content in mind we chose a group of plants that would rise up and have a strong visual presence in the back corner of the yard, as well as provide food for birds and pollinators.

Another main factor in plant choices was simply adaptability –  plants that are sure to grow easily in clay, without any soil amending or extra watering. (Of course I will water them while they are getting established, but that’s about it!)

Here’s the plant list and planting design:

Heatwave: Plant now, or wait?
I decided to go ahead and plant during a lull in the heatwave. With three trays full of beautiful plants from Prairie Nursery on hand I figured they’d be better off in the ground, getting watered everyday, than in their small plastic containers. Last Saturday we had a slight break in the weather and into the ground they went:

My sister helped with the planting. Here she is adding cocoa hull mulch after watering this morning.

It’s so good to see a bed of native plants in the yard! And the birds are thrilled with all of the watering that is taking place between this and the vegetable garden.

What’s next? Selecting the areas to start “smothering” process for next years plantings. Also coming up: A patio plan for the backyard. Eco Harmony, ecological landscaping will design and install an artistic stone and gravel patio later this year.  I can’t wait to replace all of that lawn, which, incidentally has been mowed only once this summer, due to the drought.




5 thoughts on “Transition in the Heat: Reclaiming a Corner for the Birds & Butterflies

  1. Fun! I can’t wait to see it all in bloom. Are you using the native strawberries and raspberries, too? We’ve had a lot of success with the black raspberries, but I’ve yet to see a wild strawberry on our plants.

    I just spent the evening clearing out a spot I’ve been trying to gradually convert from a patch of invasive goldenrod and thistles into a little pocket of prairie. (I misplaced my diagram so I have to wait until things are in bloom before I know what’s a weed and what’s not, LOL!) I’ve been toying with the idea of putting in some big bluestem in the area I haven’t planted yet, but have wondered if the bluestem would be too big for the space and take it completely over. I may have to give it a try.

    • Hi Ramona — I did not plant native berries… Just used what friends gave me. I know that some wild strawberries grow in woodland areas and like moist shady conditions… is that what you have?

      Good luck with the pocket prairie. Yes, try the Big Bluestem! Hope to see photos on your blog.

      • hmmmm…. maybe that’s the problem with the strawberries — too much sun! I’ve just been growing them in a raised bed out in the open! I’ll have to look around for a place to relocate some of them to see if that helps. They flower but never set fruit.

        I took some pictures and will be updating my blog sometime soon.

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