How does your garden grow? Chemical-free tips and a request

While millions participated in Earth Day activities and The March for Science last Saturday, the march I did involved no signs or throngs of people. Rather, I loaded a few items into a knapsack then headed to Kopf Family Reservation. More specifically, I headed to the large enclosed area near the intersection of Armour and Gable paths at the south end of the park.

The Kopf Wildflower Garden is a project I proposed to Lorain County Metro Parks Director Jim Ziemnik five years ago. My interest in creating such a space was two-fold: I like working in a garden and I also wanted to test just how much deer were actually responsible for the destruction of the woods.

For its part, the Metro Parks had previously erected two enclosures in different sections of the park. Their goal was to see what might grow when everything was kept out. One area did reconstitute, although there has been debate about whether all the green stuff inside the enclosure is desirable. The second area was, and remains, fallow.

My proposal was different. I suggested volunteers be recruited to transplant native plants from other nearby woods or yards into a space at Kopf to see how they might grow, and hopefully, spread.

It took a year to move the plan from paper to field work. Local Eagle Scouts, led by then-Avon Lake High School, now-Ohio State student Brett Litzler, built a fence with a gate around an area 100 feet by 100 feet. Small groups of volunteers then spent the next several months combing nearby wooded areas, owned by Bucky Kopf who had given us permission to work on those properties. We found fern, violets and jack-in-the-pulpit, among others. Then we quickly and carefully transplanted them inside the space at Kopf.

I wrote in this column asking local residents to donate items from their wooded areas and yards. I would be remiss if I did not mention just how generous folks have been. As a result, we added Solomon’s seal, Mayapples, blue violets, varieties of fern, wild ginger, green dragon and wild geranium.

This week I will visit with the amazing Armgard Hartitz, who is donating sweet cicely to the Kopf project. Meeting Armgard is one of those unanticipated rewards of having done this project. I think she is a genius when it comes to identifying and caring for native plants and the proof is her garden.

As there have been highs for the project, there have been lows. Every gardener goes through this. Recent summers have been very dry, and at times, very hot. Transplanted plants suffered and died, despite fighting for and eventually getting permission to run hoses through the wildflower garden. Honestly, some things would not have survived transplantation anyway, in my view.

Last fall, my brother and I spent a day clearing, preparing soil by turning it up, then planting seeds I purchased from a native plant nursery. Each area was staked off. When I was up there over the weekend, two of the three areas were still underwater from last week’s monsoon-like rain. I’m still hopeful to see baby plants come up, especially since one of those varieties actually grows well in wet conditions.

Jack-in-the-pulpit pods I seeded last fall are coming up, as are transplanted Solomon’s seal and Virginia bluebells, originally transplanted two years ago. Fern is just starting to make an appearance, but it looks to me like maidenhair and Christmas fern have fared far better than ostrich fern.

The next few weeks will tell how the garden is growing overall, but there are still some spots where plants could be installed. Below is a list of plants we are looking for. If you have any of these items in your woods or yard, and are willing to share them, please get in touch with me. Volunteers will dig them up if you do not want to or do not have the time.

One more thing. It is fun to find myself at local nurseries or home improvement stores literally wedged between others who are excited to get into their own yards. While some are just looking to get their yards in shape quickly, please keep in mind some of the products you use are killing good green stuff, bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and more. These products are highly toxic and include Roundup, as well as fertilizers and pesticides.

You think it is accidental that all those lawn companies plant little warning flags whenever they apply something to lawns or shrubbery signaling we should keep kids, ourselves and animals alike away?

The toxic algae bloom that can potentially kill our lake and fish – and fishing industry jobs – is caused, in part, by runoff into streams and lakes of toxins contained in fertilizers and Roundup.

I appreciate that you might be bugged by weeds in your gardens or moss on your brick or pavered patios and walkways. One of the most effective ways to kill weeds and moss is – are you ready for this? It is so incredibly accessible and inexpensive – boiling water! Granted, you have to be careful not to burn yourself and to control the stream of water so you don’t accidentally injure something you want to keep, but the same precautions must be taken when you use chemicals! Plus, water will not leach into the soil or harm birds or “good” bugs like bees or butterflies. I pour hot water into a watering can and go from there.

Vinegar and baking soda can also kill weeds and moss, but be careful to not overapply because it can run off into the rest of a garden or lawn during a rain. I have a friend who adds just a few drops of Dawn dishwashing liquid to provide an extra boost to her homemade weed-killing remedies. Again, I use a watering can for this application. Others use salt, but I would urge great caution. We all know what road salt does to concrete much less bricks, pavers or plants.

If ants are bugging you, try shaking cinnamon in the areas where you see them or plant some mint. I have used both with great success, including inside where I use mint oil or soap. I understand baking soda works, but haven’t tried it myself. Some say mint can also ward off mice. Just be careful because mint plants spread like crazy. My suggestion is to plant it in a container in the ground to keep roots from spreading beyond the container. You will have to watch to make sure they do not attempt an escape!

Of course, there is one other surefire way to rid your lawns and gardens of those pesky weeds. Pull them out. Do yourself a favor and use a tool to get the full root out. This is the only method we use at the Wildflower Garden.

If you have any weed control formulas that are nonchemical, please send them to me. Same with insect control, which I barely was able to touch on this time. I may well include your tips and give you credit in a future column. After all, we will be spending lots of time outside in the coming months and I am always happy to learn more about gardening and share what I learn – or have tried – with you. I hope you will share, too.

To donate to the Kopf Wildflower Garden or share tips for chemical-free weed prevention and insect control, email me at avonlakemurphy@gmail.com. Happy gardening!

Kopf Family Reservation Wildflower Project

If you have any of the following flowers or fern on your property, and wish to share them with the Kopf Family Reservation Wildflower Project, please contact Michele Murphy at avonlakemurphy@gmail.com to make arrangements. Volunteers will remove plants for you if you wish.

Arum

Canada anemone

Cardinal flower

Fern, Christmas

Fern, lady

Fern, maidenhair

Fern, ostrich

Fern, cinnamon

Foxglove beardtongue

Green dragon

Jack-in-the-pulpit

Jacob’s ladder

Jewelweed

Marsh marigold

Mayapple

Sharp-lobed Hepatica

Solomon’s seal

Spring beauty

Sweet cicely/sweetroot

Thimbleweed

Toothwort

Trillium grandiflorum

Trout lily

Virginia bluebell

Virginia waterleaf

Violet, common blue

Violet, yellow

Violet, striped

Wild geranium

Wild ginger


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