What the heck is Vineyard scaping?

How to landscape using native plants, and make the birds and the bees (but not the ticks) happy.

Lawns have historically been a big part of American landscape plans. But native grasses and wildflowers can provide just as much beauty, but a lot less mowing, and are ultimately better for the environment.– Photos courtesy of Environmental Landscape Consultants LLC

Recently, MVTimes correspondent Rich Saltzberg attended a Vineyard-Scaping lecture at Polly Hill Arboretum, then followed up with a Q & A with conservation consultant and landscape architect Michael Talbot.

MVT: So, what’s Vineyard-scaping? How does your business differ from a more traditional landscaping company?

MT: We mostly differ in our philosophy of landscape design, restoration and management. We strive to create not only beautiful landscapes, but landscapes that are more natural and low maintenance. We then seek to care for them in ways that protect people, pets and the environment.

MVT: What are some of the fundamental flaws with suburban-style landscaping?

MT: People tend to plant more lawn than needed. In addition, the use of mostly exotic, non-native species and the planting of monocultures of just a few species reduces the attraction to wildlife and increases the need for maintenance.

MVT: What native perennials or shrubs could Islanders safely plant at this time of year?

MT: Right now you can plant most any native plant. By October I would not recommend planting warm season grasses, such as switchgrass or little bluestem. Sometimes when bayberries and summersweet are planted too late, they do not survive the winter well. Otherwise, most plants can be planted well into November, as plants continue to put on root growth until soils get quite cold (about 35 degrees F.)

MVT: How can a homeowner utilize plants over say, a French drain, to mitigate water issues?

MT: A French drain is generally an open, lined trough with stone up to grade; so plants would not be planted on them. By installing a rain garden instead, plants are integral to the design.  Soils are amended to both drain well and to sustain strong root growth, so rain gardens are a good environment for appropriate plants. The fact that they are also designed to capture stormwater means that they can sustain plants that prefer more moisture.

MVT: During your presentation, you spoke of fostering insect habitats and reaping the benefits. Could you describe what you meant?

MT: That’s a huge question. In short, by planting a wide array of species, including many flowering plants, insects are attracted that naturally control pests and that provide food for many bird and wildlife species.

MVT: What are some good shrub choices to feed migratory birds?

MT: Native viburnums, especially arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) and witherod or wild raisin (Viburnum cassinoides), are very good choices. Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) is another very important species. Sassafras and tupelo trees (Nyssa sylvatica) are also very good plants for migrating songbirds.

MVT: How would you counsel Islanders who consider Russian and autumn olives to be desirable bird magnets in addition good sources for jams and jellies?

MT: These are invasive species that are no longer permitted to be propagated, distributed or sold in Massachusetts because they crowd out native species. There are many native species that also provide fruit for birds and for jams and jellies — and some non-invasive, non-native species that are excellent fruiting plants, as well.

MVT: To what extent, if any, should Islanders be fertilizing their lawn?

MT: Most home lawns only need one to two pounds of nitrogen (N) per 1,000 square feet of turf, which is just one to two full applications of fertilizer. By using organic fertilizers you can apply an application now and, perhaps, again in late May; this will supply a steady supply of nutrients during the entire growing season. The typical four-step fertilizer program applies four pounds of N per 1,000 square feet. Many professional programs apply even more.

MVT: Could you describe the type of oil you’ve used to deter ticks?

MT: We use a cedarwood oil mixed with water to provide a good knock-down treatment of black-legged (deer) ticks around the perimeter of the landscape and the edges of shrub/tree clusters.

MVT: During your presentation, you mentioned a UMass tick program that you utilized. Could you share that experience?

MT: The Laboratory of Medical Zoology at UMass-Amherst now offers a program to easily and quickly test an attached tick that anyone removes and saves. They have created a program that offers this service for a low price, or even for free for residents of certain Massachusetts towns. To learn more go to tickreport.com.

MVT: Why do cities and towns seem so impotent in the regulation of pesticides and fertilizers?

MT: The regulation of pesticide use — and now fertilizer use — cannot be done by cities and towns, because that power is reserved by statute for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts alone. The only exceptions are Cape Cod towns until the end of this year, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard — both of which already have regulation of fertilizer use.

MVT: Poison ivy, bittersweet, trumpet vine, bind weed, and wisteria are locked in a room. Who makes it out?

MT: Very likely they all do, although I think the poison ivy is likely to have trouble competing against the others over time. Not likely to die out completely, however, as it tolerates light shade well. These are all aggressive, fast growing species, with bittersweet the worst because its very fast growth rate and twining habit literally kills other plants over time.