I keep hearing murmurings about the ominous predictions that Farmer’s Almanac is making for this winter, but I’m trying not to think about that. Instead, I’m choosing to savor the last bit of nice weather, take in the gorgeous fall colors beginning to appear, and reflect on this season as the gardens slowly get lulled to sleep for the winter.
There was a lot of focus on trees this year at Joslyn Art Museum, which I certainly think is a good thing. Like the rest of Omaha, we felt the effects of a cold, dry, windy winter, and a few trees were lost to the elements. Although that is sad to see, planting new trees is always good medicine—and, boy, did we plant some trees! In spring we were awarded a tree-planting grant from Omaha Public Power District which enabled us to plant 3 ‘Silberlocke’ Korean fir (pictured right) and 4 ‘Satomi’ kousa dogwood trees. This fall we were also awarded a tree-planting grant from ReTree Nebraska which helped us plant 15 specimen oak trees (10 different kinds) grown by the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. That’s 22 new trees this year!
As you may have gleaned from my previous blog posts, the beginning of 2013 was when I made some pretty big changes in my lawn and landscape care program by shifting from a conventional, synthetic-based program to one that is predominantly organic. The new program involves products and practices such as using all organic lawn fertilizer, making and applying compost and compost tea, minimizing the use of pesticides, eliminating fungicides, and mowing the turf at 4.5” tall all season. Since some of what I’m doing is experimental, not only for me personally, but also in general for a larger, public, highly maintained property such as Joslyn, there’s sometimes a degree of “… I really hope this works…” (as is the case with doing anything new and unfamiliar). Fortunately, 2013 went well, and I’m pleased to say that the turf and gardens have also been vibrant this season. In August I did notice a few small turf areas that sustained some damage from white grubs, but I’m going to try an organic treatment of milky spore (Paenibacillus popilliae) and predatory nematodes (Heterorhabditis bacteriophora) to see if that has any effect before I consider a chemical treatment.
Last winter Joslyn joined the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum (NSA) as a Landscape Steward site. I was very excited about that at the time, and since then my expectations have been surpassed. This summer I attended the annual curators’ meeting in Ashland, NE, where I had a chance to learn more about what the NSA does and meet some of the amazing people that make it happen. The Nebraska Statewide Arboretum is a valuable non-profit organization that serves as a resource to the people of Nebraska through education, grant-writing, tree planting, plant sales, sustainability, water conservation, and much, much more. I love being a part of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, and I strongly encourage anyone who loves gardening, plants, the outdoors, nature (our planet, basically) to check out the NSA and see what they’re all about.
Something that I’ve recently been doing more research on and gaining more appreciation for is planting native trees and perennials. You often hear that it’s a good idea, but why? In addition to native plants just naturally being suited to our climate, native wildlife, specifically birds and butterflies, often rely on specific plants during parts of their life cycle for food, shelter, or reproduction. The monarch butterfly is a great example. The monarch lays its eggs on milkweed plants, and the caterpillars feed on the milkweed foliage as it matures (the toxic sap of the milkweed is what makes the monarch toxic to predators). Without milkweed, the monarch cannot complete its life cycle, which is why the monarch population has been declining; wild milkweed is becoming less common due to increasing use of herbicides. This season I planted a handful of swamp and butterfly milkweed (pictured below), as well as some joe-pye weed, to start intentionally adding more natives to our gardens. I also planted about 700 square feet of buffalo grass (another Nebraska prairie native, pictured right) for its personality as low-maintenance turf. Next year I definitely plan on planting even more native perennials.
In addition to planting natives, we’re always looking for other ways to be good stewards of our piece of the environment at Joslyn Art Museum. This winter I’ll be working on some ideas for reducing storm water run-off, such as creating a few small rain gardens in strategic areas that tend to collect water. There’s also a possibility for adding a large retention basin/rain garden to catch a large volume of runoff from the parking lot instead of letting it go down the drain.
One highlight for me this summer was the number of praying mantids that I saw as I worked in the gardens. Typically considered a beneficial insect, their size and alien robot-like appearance definitely grabs my attention. When I see one, I can’t help but pester it with my fascination. If my entomological identification skills (also known as Google) serve me correctly, I believe I saw 3 different kinds of praying mantids on our campus this season: Chinese and Carolina mantids, as well as little mystery one that I haven’t yet identified (i.e. Googled enough). The mantids, however, aren’t the only muscle on the scene. I also see numerous other desirable, predatory insects such as parasitic wasps, the occasional tiger beetle, plenty of dragonflies, and some lacewings. Those insects, in addition to a nice variety of bees and other pollinators, suggest we’ve got a good, natural ecological balance going in our gardens here at Joslyn. It’s extremely encouraging to see a natural system at work and doing well.
Although the 2014 season is beginning to wind down, there’s still plenty of opportunity to enjoy the color, life, and beauty in the gardens at Joslyn Art Museum. You can also check out some of the new trees that we were able to plant this year. Please feel free to poke your nose into the shrubs or flowers or grass for a closer look… You never know what you’ll find. Who knows? You might find a little someone in the flowers peeking back at you!
The organic gardening program at Joslyn Art Museum is supported in part by Omaha Organics.
Kyle Johnson, Landscape Maintenance Technician