Extension Center's Fall Garden Day focuses on benefits of native plants
By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Mon., Sep. 9, 2013
That burning bush that makes the landscape so spectacular in the fall may be pretty, but it harbors a sinister secret. The birds that eat its vivid red berries spread the non-native bush far and wide, allowing it to crowd out struggling native plants.
The advantage of planting native landscape species was only one factor in the approach to gardening offered at the New London County Extension Service’s Fall Garden Day on Sept. 8. The annual event, now in its third year, drew a record crowd of avid gardeners for tours, talks and exhibits aimed at creating a beautiful and productive landscape.
Master Gardeners Robin Franklin and Charlie Ross led visitors through the native and wildflower gardens, explaining the subtle difference between “native” and “weed.”
“Most of the weeds we pull out of here are from Europe,” Franklin explained. The garden slope was covered with “attractive natives, we think” - indigenous plants that provide food, shelter and cover for birds, insects and animals, as well as “a lot of the benefits you get from landscape plants, like flowers or multi-season color.”
Ross yanked out a dried-up Queen Ann’s lace plant as an example of a non-native weed. As weeds go, he said, “it’s not terrible. It does feed butterflies. Even with a big infestation of Queen Ann’s lace, it never forms a monoculture.” But, he noted, a native oak tree can provide food for 400 species of local butterflies and moths, while an English oak will only support two or three native insects.
Some of the imports turn into invasive species, said Alexandra French, a master gardener candidate set to graduate later this month. The burning bush is among the most difficult to eradicate, as she can attest from personal experience. Many invasive plants, once cut down, go into “survival mode,” sending out dozens of shoots, she said.
“Typically these guys are prolific seed producers,” French said, indicating her exhibit of invasive plants accompanied by actual cuttings of the plants. Among the “bad boys” are oriental bittersweet, multiflora rose, and mile-a-minute plant, which has distinctive triangular leaves. “What we need to do is get out there and propagate native plants,” she said.
“People don’t realize that this is a very good time of year to plant trees, shrubs and perennials,” said Susan Munger, master gardener coordinator for the extension center. “It’s cooler, there’s more rain, and the roots will keep growing until the soil freezes.” That could be as late as January for shoreline gardens, she said.
Munger said that the master gardener certification course will start up again this January, and this year will be offered at the County Extension Center on Norwich-New London Turnpike, next door to Three Rivers Community College. The 9-month-long program includes 16 full classroom days, one day a week, followed by a 60-hour volunteer service commitment. Candidates must also successfully pass an exam to be certified.
For more information about the Master Gardener program, contact Munger at 860-885-2823 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.