May is a planting month. May is when the vegetable garden goes in. May is when the fruit trees are flowering and the bees are hard at work exchanging pollen to help set this years fruits and vegetables. May is a welcome change of warm sunny days after a cool dry April. This May we need rain.
Now is a good time to look at our home landscape and give some thought to start a transition from a non-native garden to a landscape of native trees and shrubs that will feed and sustain our local wildlife. Choosing native plants for our home landscape is the first step to a more sustainable yard environment. These plants have adapted to our climate and soil. Once established, these local natives will require less care, less pesticides, water and pruning and will build a safer yard environment for all who enter. Recent studies are showing that over-use of pesticides is having adverse affects on us and the local wildlife. Avoid using harsh chemicals.
If you are looking to plant a tree this spring, there are a wide variety of natives to choose from. I recommend planting maples, oaks and gums as a shade tree. Maples would be my first choice. In an upland environment the sugar maple is a perfect choice. They age gracefully, are a strong wood and have a beautiful fall color. Our native red maples and silver maples would be my next choice. Red maple (Acer rubrum) can tolerate wet soils if your property is adjacent to a swamp. Stay away from Norway maple. It is a weed tree and has no ecological significance.
Oaks are also a good choice. White oak has an impressive branching structure and gets more handsome with age. Red oak has smooth bark, finer leaves and grows more erect. Chestnut oak, scarlet oak and pin oak are all superior trees to consider. Oaks have a deep red fall color, acorns that feed local wildlife and they make superior street trees. Oaks are salt tolerant. Avoid planting the non-native oak species. Once again the non-natives have no ecological significance.
Sweet gum and black gum are two additional fine shade tree choices. Sweet gum has unique star shape leaves. Also, the sweet gum produces a resin that is a favorite for nectar gathering bugs. These trees have an exceptional fall color.
Large evergreen trees are an important food source and shelter for wildlife. There are two natives I strongly recommend. The white pine is a large needle evergreen that prefers upland sites. The white pine is a soft pine with an open canopy as it matures, a native tree with very few pests and diseases. White spruce is a tightly needled evergreen native to our region. A handsome tree that looks good as a specimen or in a grove. White spruces are deer resistant and prefer full sun. White spruce cone at an early age and its seeds are eaten by birds that over winter in our region. White spruce is a preferred species over Norway spruce which has been over planted in our region.
Next month we will talk about native understory trees, shrubs and perennials that we should include in our landscape plans.