Wildlife Gardening

xentar_gwFebruary 12, 2010

About five years ago, I started working on landscaping my new place, around two acres of land, and I really wanted to create a place for both wildlife food and people food could be grown, as well as some wildlife habitat.

For wildlife habitat, what started as a compost pile, trying to make leaf mold for my container plants became a wildlife habitat, where all of the extra limbs, branches, nuisance/cut-down trees, limbs etc are piled up. You'd think that two acres of land wouldn't be that difficult to maintain, but we have falling branches from maples, pines, camphor, sweet gum, oaks, etc all of the time. I also put up a bunch of plastic gourd birdhouses and a small wooden birdhouse I built.

In this habitat, skinks, snakes, birds, and toads can nest, lay eggs, or hibernate. Occasionally, leopard frogs will use an area like this too. A lot of rabbits try to use it as well, but my dogs keep them out, probably a good thing though, because I don't want them chewing up and killing all of my apple trees!

Before the land was fenced in, we also had deer that came on our property almost every night. I've seen them a few times but more often seen their tracks, but also due to the dogs, it was fenced in.

What was (and still is) here when I moved in were two camphor really nice trees, too many sweet gums, several oaks, a few southern magnolias, a few types of muscadines, Japanese honeysuckle, dandelions, red maples, a sycamore, white mulberry, dogwoods, wax myrtles, and chinese tallows. I know that camphor trees and tallows are highly invasive, but the wildlife really love them. Right now, there are at least three kinds of birds feasting on the tallow seeds. I'll soon be taking out one of the last tallow trees though, to make a slightly different access road to the property. I may end up taking out one of the large camphor trees as well.

There were also elderberries, which grew in the dense shade and never really grew very tall or produced berries because of it. Then, there are the various pecan trees that squirrels have planted. I pluck most of them out of the ground as soon as I see them, but a few were too large to get out easily, and eventually, they will provide some type of wildlife food and shelter, if not people food as well.

A few wild blueberries also grew on the border of the property line, although too far away from each other to pollinate. So, I dug most of them up and planted them closer together.

Two types of wild blackberries and one type of hybrid/tame dewberry was already here as well. I don't know the name of this dewberry, but one of the neighbors was said to grow it about 40 years ago, and it spread via self layering into this property, while they eventually cleared their land of it to make garden space for other stuff, like muscadines.

I'm not sure what wildlife would eat the dandelion greens in Florida, but the leaves and flowers can be fed to tortoises, some turtles, and various herbivorous and omnivorous lizards like iguanas, uromastix, maybe chuckwallas and bearded dragons as well. I use the leaves and roots for teas, but it can also be used to make wines, or even fried up with bacon they say. Some people roast and grind up the roots to make an herbal coffee. Lots of uses for what most consider a weed!

One of the first things I did when starting to work on this land was to get rid of the diseased red maples. There were two or three of them like this, but considering that there are a lot more on the property, it isn't that big of a deal.

Next, I added citrus in some of the higher areas, as well as several varieties of apple trees and a few quince trees. I read awhile back that the Russian quince varieties liked wet feet. So, this is one of the reasons I chose that in a low area.

I've also planted several varieties of named thorny and thornless blackberries on a trellis. Some of them should start producing their first fruits this year. Originally, I picked about nine varieties to try in the area, and only around four of those varieties seemed to survive. The surviving trailing or semi-erect blackberry plants actually have created several plants via tip layering themselves. Within the next couple of years, I'll probably have more blackberries than I know what to do with.

Along one of the fence lines, we also have two varieties of wild blackberries growing, especially under some of the pine trees. These pines are not in my property, but they do hover over it lol. For several years, I'd fought with the wild blackberries, but last year, I got a huge bunch of berries and used them in fruit drinks, mixed with blueberries, mango, peach, banana, etc. I've also made some muffins with them, and they were great, very earthy, sweet, fruity!

This year, I decided to train the wild blackberries on the fence, instead of just cutting as many out as possible. Hopefully, this years crop will be even more than last!

I've also gathered a few of the "tame" dewberry vines and put up a trellis for them and two of the wild blackberry types. In this area, they have full sun, as opposed to part shade, and they will be fertilized and fed, and we'll see if they produce more (and better) blackberries than the ones that have little or no attention. This is mainly just an experiment.

There are now four mayhaw trees planted on the property, one of them which I rooted myself. These are kind of like little crab apples, and some people say that they make the world's best jelly. I've eaten mayhaw jelly several times. It is good, but I don't know if I'd say it was the best!

I've also decided to pamper some elderberry plants, putting them in full sun, giving them proper aeration and food and fertilizer. So far, there have been four native elderberries planted, and I've ordered several other named varieties. Elderberries are such an overlooked plant, but they are really great for jam and even wines. I use to make elderberry and muscadine wine, using only about 25% elderberry wine and 75% grape, and it was really good.

Elderberry flowers are also said to be good battered and fried like a fritter. There are also health stores selling elderberry juice. You can also make elderberry syrup with them, not to mention they do have some wildlife benefits as well. I'm waiting on these varieties: two blue seedlings, black beauty, thundercloud, john, and adams.

There were bronze muscadines already on the property when I started working on it, but last year, I went out and ordered several other varieties, all black and red ones.

Paw paws are another plant I've been trying to get going here for a few years. I've got two small plants growing and have 15 more on the way. They are attractors for the zebra swallowtail butterfly!

Aronia berries are also another thing I'm waiting on, for low areas and such. Aronia berries are becoming like a super fruit, high in antioxidants and such and is now being marketed in health food and fruit juice sections of grocery stores, usually mixed with blueberry and/or pomegranate juice. Birds apparently like these berries too.

As for other types of berries, I've got 12 named blueberry trees coming soon in the mail, and I'm probably going to try a few autumn olive bushes. I planted a sweet scarlet goumi a year or so back and really like it and hope to get some cuttings rooted from it.

For now, I've also got one pindo/jelly palm planted but may plant a few more.

One of the plants I can't wait for (to fruit) are the Pakistan mulberries I've planted. The white mulberries already here are really sweet, kind of like sugar, but they don't have much flavor. The birds really love them though! Mulberries can be used for wines and jams, probably in drinks, muffins, cakes, etc as well. The leaves can be used to feed herbivorous and omnivorous reptiles. Another plant with many uses and wildlife benefits! I plan to get a black beauty mulberry one day too.

I've planted a few passion flower vines as well as butterfly weed, for butterfly attractors and larvae food. Two varieties of fig trees have been planted, one a black mission, and I'll probably put one or two more varieties in the future.

For nut trees, I've got two dunstan chestnuts planted in the ground and have a few other blight-resistant varieties on the way. I've also planted a Giant fuyu persimmon tree and plan on planting several other varieties of asian and asian/american hybrids. Last, I'm considering putting some american plums in the low areas of the property.

Well, that's the plan so far, for my wildlife and people food plantings! I'll have coons, squirrels, birds, lizards, snakes, frogs & toads, and oppossums for neighbors for life now :/

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pondwelr(z5 WI)

How amazing that you are able to grow all that on two acres.
You certainly should have enough to feed the animals listed by you. What a great idea. Pondy

    Bookmark   February 14, 2010 at 10:10AM
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Thanks! Yesterday, I ended up planting a couple more small pindo palms and another windmill palm and placed an order for 2x brazos blackberries (blackberry x raspberry x dewberry hybrid), 2x 'austin' dewberries, 2x black beauty mulberries, 1x methley plum, and 1x conadroia fig.

I've been wanting a black mulberry for some time, but I didn't want want that got as big as a tree. These black beauty mulberries are said to be semi-dwarfing, getting a maximum of about 15'. Only one of them will be planted on my property. I bought two because I heard they were hard to propagate and wanted to give it to someone as a gift.

As far as whether or not I'll be able to grow all of this stuff in this area, the jury is still out. Aronia and autumn olives are things I haven't really heard anyone ever growing in Florida before, and the pacific northwest blue elderberries probably won't do well here because of the huge climate difference between Florida and Washington, but I'm going to try anyway.

Some of the things may live but not fruit due to not enough chill hours or even having too much shade in certain areas. A good example of something going wrong in the shade was when our family use to have a large persimmon tree, a tanenashi I believe, and when it got to around 20', its limbs started growing toward the sun, and one day, it had so much weight all on one side of the tree that the roots came out of the ground. It did fruit before that but somewhat sparsely.

Just another note about getting lots of plants in two acres. I wasn't totally in to all of the small plants and flowers when we started landscaping this place, and I even chose a few wrong trees initially to plant and ended up pulling them up before they got too big. When I say I chose the wrong plants, I mean I realized that there was very limited prime (somewhat higher and better draining - clear from driveways, access, lawn mowers, - full-sun) space and wanted that space for "better" things.

Ever since then, I've tried to figure out what would work best at all of the "other" spaces in the property. There are plants that may like low land with full sun, and then there are plants that like shade but don't like wet feet. Finding plants that would work in a low/shady area that I actually liked have been a challenge. Local nurseries generally haven't been much help either. They just say plant some bald cypress, red maples, or river birch and be done with it!

The size plants grow have also been an issue even in the better areas of the yard. Thankfully, almost all of my fruit trees are semi-dwarf, and a few are real dwarfs, and they can be pruned down to a manageable size.

I'd be lying if I said I always put plants in the perfect location though. It's part of having a limited space and trying to experiment and make use out of every part of it, see what will happen. It makes things interesting. It's disappointing when it doesn't work out, but it's great when it does!

    Bookmark   February 14, 2010 at 3:54PM
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I've just placed one of my final large plant orders for the year, with:

1x Autumn Olive 'Ruby'
1x Persimmon 'Nikita's Gift'
1x Sochi Tea
1x Strawberry Tree (arbutus unedo)
Chestnuts: 2x Connecticut Early, 1x Yoo Ma
Elderberries: 2x blue seedlings, 1x thundercloud, 1x york, 1x nova, 1x black beauty, 1x john, 1x adams, 1x korso, 1x variegated

I don't know how well these varieties of chestnuts will do in Florida, but the Yoo Ma is said to be blight resistant, and the Connecticut Early is said to be a cross between a Chinese chestnut and a chinkapin. Chinese chestnuts are generally blight resistant, but from what I've read, each seedling with have variable resistance. A small few may be susceptible, many will be resistant, and some be be completely immune. Mix that with a chinkapin, which occurs in probably 70% of the eastern United States, and the hybrid should be blight resistant.

Well, I've ordered around 70 plants total for 2010, and my pockets are empty again! Maybe a few more things this spring, and that'll be it for the year!

    Bookmark   February 15, 2010 at 8:44AM
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Xentar - Are you able to post some photos of your property? I'm curious how you're arranging everything because my yard is about the same size. Do you have shrub groupings? Have you left parts of your yard open?

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 10:51AM
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Sorry I don't have a pic, but I have kind of a mockup of the largest land area, although it's connected to one area that is about half its size and another access road which isn't even been started on yet, as far as planting goes.

One of the things I would have done differently is that I wouldn't have planted the 1st chestnut tree so close to the house and walkway. I probably would have double planted both in the same hole, with a slightly different trunk angle further away.

I'm sure I missed a few things, and some of the stuff may not be aligned perfectly, but I'm not an artist lol. The sweet gum and "Bare shaded" areas marked on the upper left side of the photo are my lowest areas, where it's moist almost year round. That side would be my south-east side, just to give you an idea.

A lot of people may say that I'm crazy to put citrus trees so near to the edge of the leech field, but I had nowhere else to put them. Anywhere else would have been too low and would have killed the trees. I found out the hard way with one of my meyer's lemons that got wet feet.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 1:17PM
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I knew I forgot something! There's also a bottlebrush on the left side of the grape trellises and a white mulberry on the right side of them!

Today, I also planted a small black beauty mulberry near the white mulberry as well as 1x brazos blackberry and 1x austin dewberry on each of the two blackberry trellises (4 total planted.) Before planting them, I took some root cuttings from all of them, because they had plenty, and I got about three medium sized pots of roots potted, to create more plants!

I've had pretty good luck with getting blackberry root cuttings rooted, probably around 80-90%.

There are only two more types of rubus plants I need to try here: tayberries and mysore black raspberries.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 3:46PM
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Thank you! It's wonderful that you're growing so many edibles and sharing with the wildlife. With our economy the way it is, there seems to be a renewed interest in planting vegetable gardens and fruits. The wildlife benefits too in many cases.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 5:04PM
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I bought a mysore raspberry today at lowes and planted it under one of the blackberry trellises. They had about ten in stock, along with a lot of other things I wished I could have brought home lol.

It'll be interesting to see how well these do here, because some sites claim they can only take somewhere between 20 and 30 degrees, while others claim they are hardy to zone 7. Only time will tell.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 3:48PM
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I ended up buying a pair of arctic kiwis and a 'lake emerald' bunch grape from Lowes as well, and maybe I'll get an 'emerald' blueberry before they're gone later.

I'm still waiting on several varieties of elderberries, autumn olive, 'nikata's gift' persimmon, and various blight-resistant chestnuts. Also, I'm waiting on several figs and fig cuttings, 'triple crown' blackberry, 'blanc du bois' bunch grape, 'white' pomegranate, 'vista white' loquat, persian mulberry, 'sierra beauty' apple, and 'honeycrisp' apple.

Since the last update, I've received and planted many blueberries (o'neal I think) and paw paw seedlings.

When all is said and done, I'll have at least sixteen varieties of apples planted, 11 which are all experimental here. There are many other relatively unknown apples that are reported to grow here, but I can't find any nurseries that sell them, and when I have made special requests to nuseries, they seem to not want to deal with finding the scions or their growers don't deal with those varieties.

Most of this year's planting and ordering is done, but I've been trying to build up a definitive list of everything I want to try in the area possibly for next year, and some of those things are:

Asian pears: shinko, korean giant, shinseiki

Mulberry: Oscar, Black noir?

Figs: Magnolia, Alma, Black Ischia

Aronia: nero, viking, iriquos beauty, seedlings? - depending on how well the plants I already have do in this area.

Elderberry: allesso, black lace, goldbeere, haschberg, samdal, emerald lace, guincho purple - a lot of this depends on how well the ones I'm getting do in the area.

Grapes: southern home, more black spanish?

Persimmon: meader, yates, saijo, hachiya, coffee cake

Blackberry/crosses: 'Cherokee', 'darrow', 'chester', wyeberry, tayberry

Other: Chinese Haw, Various Autumn Olives, self-fertile Olive Tree (in raised bed), honey berry, maybe 1 each of ivan's beauty and ivan's belle ash crosses, mayberry, more named pomegranates, more named loquats, 'emerald' blueberry, and 'Karp's Sweet' quince.

The chances of getting all of those next year are slim to none, because all of them would cost a fortune. Hopefully, I can get pomegranate and fig cuttings through trades and may eventually start trading scion wood for persimmons, apples, pears, loquats, and quince.

Anyway, that'll probably about wrap this thread up. Hopefully by this time next year, I can start a new thread with (hopefully) some good news!

    Bookmark   February 22, 2010 at 12:32PM
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