Filling the Gaps

Filling the Gaps

As we move into the last stretch of winter, NBN is all about planning for the coming season –planning new seeding strategies, growing techniques, design methods and so much more.

If you are doing some planning too and hoping to add impact to your garden (both environmentally and aesthetically), MAKE SURE TO FILL IN THE GAPS —in bloom time, root structure, flower shape and leaf texture for a garden that is brimming with beauty and function.

Things to consider:

Bloom time: Bees, butterflies and other insects all emerge at various times of the year –make sure to provide nectaring sources (flowers that provide high-energy nectar) all season long. A good ol’ fashioned Gantt Chart can help you see how things look month to month.

These are super easy to pull together with a quick Google search of each species- just type in the name + "bloom time". Then you can make a chart like this to get a more visual understanding of when things are blooming- and ensure you don't have any gaps!

Root structure: To build a more resilient garden that outcompetes weeds, consider how things grow and weave together below ground. Do the roots spread by rhizome, or grow a long tap root deep into the soil, are they fibrous, tuber-like or do they form a thick mat? All things to consider when creating a planting plan or matrix planting. Check out this awesome blog post on matrix planting from last spring.

Roots of Native Plants - Dyck Arboretum

Here is a really good representation of how plant roots occupy different zones and niches within the soil. Notice how some roots are really long and slender, like Compass Plant; others like June Grass are very fibrous and stay towards the soil surface. Having a variety underground in addition to above ground can truly maximize the functionality of your garden. Photo from Dyck Arboretum.

And because we couldn't help but notice...check out just how SHORT the roots of turfgrass are on the far left. When we get heavy rainfalls, turfgrass simply doesn't have the capacity to soak up excess rain, leaving you with a flooded yard and our storm systems overloaded. Native plants aren't only a solution for above ground, but below it as well!

Flower shape: Just as our favorite bee and butterfly species have various emergence periods and life cycles, so do they have varied body and mouth part shapes that allow them to feed on particular plants. Think tubular flower for long-tongued bees and hummingbirds, disc florets (flower cones) with pollen presented in full display for smaller bees and beetles, and flat topped flowers as landing pads where butterflies can spend some time drinking up nectar with their long spiraled proboscis. Insect and plant species have evolved together and so have their forms.

Having as much diversity as possible in flower shape ensures your garden is feeding all different types of pollinators, like massive Tiger Swallowtails to the tiniest sweat bee.

Leaf texture: Now we may think this one is just for us –but leaf texture is important for animal and insect species as well. A bent grass leaf may be the perfect perch for a dragonfly hunting mosquitos, a heart-shaped leaf of Cercis canadensis (redbud tree) is smooth and easy to harvest as mason bee nesting material, some leaves clasp the stem and create water reservoirs, other are big and bold and perhaps covered in hairs to hold in water, or with long petioles and bushy foliage to create the perfect shelter for a group of long-horned bees. All of these structures have their use –and, yes, the patterns that they create make us happy too.

Check out this combination above- the thin, feathery texture of Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) contrasts the bold, almost fan-like leaves of Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum). The dotting of flowers from Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa) and Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum) punctuate the palette and offer a vertical interest.

 

When sitting down to look through images and descriptions online, or to sketch out your garden’s areas of sun and shade, consider the function that is so important for a healthy habitat garden as well and remember to fill in the gaps.

Looking to have a well-woven, eye-popping beauty this year...but not sure where to start? WE ARE BOOKING FEBRUARY CONSULTATIONS NOW (in-person and virtual).

(Pictured, banner photo: Penstemon digitalis (foxglove), Asclepias sullivantii (milkweed), Tradescantia ohiensis (spiderwort), and plenty of grasses to weave it all together. A great combo for most sun gardens!)

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