Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pycnanthemum muticum

Pycnanthemum muticum, Short-toothed Mountain Mint

Mountain Mint is a terrific, multi-tasking native perennial.  It attracts beneficial pollinators to the garden like a magnet.  It is incredibly aromatic and makes a wonderful tea or addition to herbal lotions.  It is not a true mint like peppermint or spearmint (Mentha spp.), so it doesn't behave like those notorious garden mints that spread everywhere.  Because of the strong fragrance it tends to keep deer away when planted among other garden plants.

This is a hardy native plant.  Individual plants get to be 2-3 feet tall and spread about 2 feet.  They tolerate full to partial sun and a medium moisture level (however I've known it to grow in some fairly dry conditions).

In any garden a critical part of growing your food is attracting bees and other insects to do the actual work of pollination.  They move from flower to flower, bringing the fertile pollen down into the flower where it can begin growing into the tomatoes, apples, zucchini, etc. that we eat.  To ensure that the pollinators visit your yard, it's wise to plant things that will really draw them in.  For anyone considering keeping bees, this plant is among my top recommendations.

I like to harvest mountain mint in the spring while the leaves are tender and the scent is strongest.  You can harvest while it's blooming, if you're nervous about bees I recommend doing this in the early morning, the bees are typically still waking up and haven't clocked in to work yet.  You can use the plant fresh in tea or you can dry it for later use.  To dry it, hang bunches from the stems indoors for a few days until it is bone dry.  If you'd like to expedite the process, leave it in a hot car on a sunny day with the windows cracked.  I've done this in the morning before work and had the mint be bone dry by the end of the day.  Pycnanthemum tea is really tasty and very refreshing.  In the spring its very nice combined with some spicebush (Lindera benzoin) twigs added to the mix.  

Wether you grow fruit and vegetables, make your own tea, keep bees or not, Mountain Mint is a fascinating plant simply due to the number and diversity of insects it brings in.  Don't be too concerned about getting stung, as the insects are so engrossed in collecting the nectar that they don't seem to notice you watching.  All of the activity on the flowers is also sure to attract the interest of some other beneficial insects to the garden.  Plant some Pycnanthemum muticum and watch the garden come alive.  

Praying Mantis waiting for lunch on some Mountain Mint.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Preparation for Fall meadow installation in Hopewell, New Jersey

Working on a 1/4 acre meadow project developed by  Weatherwood Design in Hunterdon County, we used a new technique for us to treat existing vegetation due to the sensitive nature of the site and its' proximity to a first order stream.  As with any meadow seeding, pre-existing vegetation has to be accounted for, identifying and protecting patches of desired species while eliminating undesirable ones.  That can be achieved in many ways, most commonly and especially with larger projects, by using the most benign yet effective herbicide in a very controlled manner.  Anticipating a fall seeding, efforts were taken to eradicate existing vegetation, which included stiltgrass, multiflora rose and cool season grasses.  After mechanical removal of roses and other unwanted woodys, the entire project area was scalped and covered with black plastic.  It's the first time we've employed this particular method and we do have some reservations about using such a large amount of plastic.  For one, it's still an oil-based product so we're certainly not utilizing an environmentally friendly product. Secondly, we'll have to dispose of it in a landfill as UV degradation will most likely not allow us to reuse it.  Thirdly, with limited to no gas exchange (perhaps only at some of the seams where overlap occurs) and no water infiltration, we're concerned with the overall biological health of the soil during the period of coverage.  Keep in mind that the plastic was used in this instance as an alternative to herbicide use as the project site possesses wetlands and serves as sensitive habitat to which we definitely wanted to  minimize our impact.

The black plastic in action...

Other viable alternatives to using the plastic are desodding the turf with spades - no fun,
or burning it with a torch - maybe too much fun (?)

Before the initial preliminary mowing of the intended meadow area, we like to flush out the existing wildlife, walking back and forth across the field to send the more mobile wildlife scurrying to safety.  The slower guys, like toads and box turtles, are assisted out beyond the perimeter.  Some really neat critters call these woods home, including a species of Gray Treefrog, Hyla chrysoscelis, which we encountered in the back woods.  We also encountered a few little Wood Frogs, Rana sylvatica, hopping about the site.  The amphibians in particular are a good indicator of the health of the ecosystem.  A conventional herbicide preparation for this meadow would probably not have fared well for these guys.  We are hoping the solarizing technique will prove to be a minimal impact in exchange for increased long term species diversity and overall system health.

In addition to prepping for the meadow, additional multiflora rose was mechanically removed in hopes of allowing continued establishment and proliferation of our native spicebush, Lindera benzoin, as the dominant understory.

Wood Frog, Rana sylvatica.

 More to come as the meadow progresses!