Best and Worst Trees for Your Yard

Choosing a tree is a big decision. If you choose wisely the tree will continue to be a valued part of the landscape long after you've moved on. If you choose poorly you'll be saddled with managing the problems an ill-informed tree choice creates. With so many trees to look at in the nursery, how do you decide what the most important characteristic is: leaf color, tree shape, shade-giving, flower? Actually, it's none of these.

The best reason to choose one tree over another is by the number of native insect species it supports. Specifically, you want to attract the most varieties of butterflies and moths. That's right I'm asking you to invite more bugs into your yard. I know that many homeowners work very hard to make sure there are no bugs around but for habitat restoration it's the wrong approach. (Invasive pests like winter moth or Asian long horn beetle are a separate topic unrelated to attracting native pollinators to our landscapes.)

Creating habitats for our native pollinators is a pretty familiar topic to most gardeners by now. Let's assume you are familiar with why it is important to do this. If you aren't, I recommend you read Bringing Nature Home, by Douglas W. Tallamy. On the website,, there is a list called Best Bets: What to Plant. It is the result of a study that determined which trees support the most types of Lepidoptera, the species name for butterflies and moths. If you go to the website, click on the link that says 'the complete list of data' for some really good detail. The lists are sorted and ranked by trees, shrubs, and perennials so you can really fill your home landscape with the best host plants for our essential pollinators.

Top 5 Native Trees for Pollinator Habitat
Oak - The highest number of native Lepidoptera is supported by oak trees (Quercus) with a whopping 518. Then, Cherry (Prunus) 429; Willow (Salix) 440; Birch (Betula) 400; and, Poplar (Populus) 358.

Worst Trees for Supporting Native Pollinators
The list of trees that support no Lepidoptera species is long. Most of them, not surprisingly, are not native to this area. Gingko a popular choice for its interesting leaf --  supports only 4 types of native Lepidoptera. . Zelkova supports none. Not one. Neither does Katsura or Metasequoia (dawn redwood). Others at the bottom of the list:
Laburnum 0
Stewartia 1
Cedar 3

You certainly don't have to limit your choice of trees to the top 5. There are many trees high on the list that are widely available and have excellent ornamental value. Using Mr. Tallamys information, you can select for the characteristics you want in your new tree - leaf color, shade-giving, flowering, etc. while being sure that you are contributing to native habitat restoration. Do your research and bring informed choices to your local nursery owner. Ask them specifically for plants that will help restore the balance of native habitat.

Why I Garden

July 17, 2012

Gardening clears my head. Especially if I have a problem I can't seem to solve or I am stuck in a particular situation, pulling a weed or six always jogs stuff loose and the solution magically appears. Was the answer in there all the time and I just couldn't sense it for all the other clutter that's in there too?

At the same time, that wholesale clearance of mind space makes gobs of room for new thoughts and ideas. These usually center on what plants I am missing from my garden, what will I make for dinner, or what color I should paint the living room when I get a sec. (Right.) Working in yesterday's heat got me wondering about all you other gardeners doing the same thing as me -- pulling weeds and planning what to transplant as soon as the cooler temps of autumn arrive.

Since gardening can actually be a solitary activity (neither my kids nor my husband work with me willingly) I invite you to be my conversational partners. Tell me about your garden experience -- any aspect you'd like to share. Do you use your garden time, as I do, to solve problems or simply appreciate being outside in the beautifulness? What do you grow? What CAN'T you grow no matter how you try? (I've got a couple of these to tell you about sometime).

Mulch vs. Compost

May 8, 2014

By Guest Blogger, Laura Schmidt
Spring is usually the time when many of us mulch our gardens, but should we be using compost instead, or in addition to mulch? Here is some information about both
mulch and compost that should help you decide how to proceed.

Primary Purpose: to cover the soil around your plants. Mulch suppresses weeds and soil borne diseases, and protects the soil and your plants from temperature extremes, and helps retain moisture.

Material:  When we think of mulch, we typically think of wood chips, but it may also be composed
of shredded leaves, or straw, two organic materials that may add a little nutrient content to the soil as they eventually break down.  Mulch may also be made of inorganic material though: shredded rubber tires, for example.  Although this material never breaks down so you don’t have to replace it – it also never breaks down, so it doesn’t ever add any nutrients to the soil, and if you decide later that you don’t like the way it looks, it can be a pain to remove.

Primary Purpose: to add nutrient content to the soil.Compost acts as a soil amendment and may be substituted for fertilizer.  Depending on what plants you are looking to help, you may want to choose compost containing different materials.  For example: coffee grounds provide acidity for plants like blueberries and azaleas, while composted manure is generally enjoyed by all plants.

Material: The term compost covers all decomposed organic matter, so compost may contain anything from yard waste (twigs, lawn clippings, leaves, weeds, etc.), to kitchen/food scraps, to seaweed, to ground up bones or shells, to manure, and beyond.  If you make your own compost, you know what’s in it so you should be able to judge where to spread it.  If you are purchasing compost, check the bag for ingredients –it may even be labeled with recommendations for which plants to spread it on.

The takeaway message here is that mulch and compost have different purposes, so they aren’t really interchangeable, but they work well together – use both!