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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Thursday - September 23, 2010

From: Berkeley Heights, NJ
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Wildflowers
Title: Planting for wildlife in Union County, New Jersey.
Answered by: Leslie Uppinghouse, Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I would like to get rid of my front lawn, which is small, and replace with wildflowers or something that bees, birds, butterflies would like. Live in Union County, New Jersey, which is central-north. Is there a seed mix that would be good? Thanks

ANSWER:

There are four basics you will need to attract wildlife: food, water, shelter and places to raise young. A good planting design for your space along with plants and water can transform any yard into a much needed retreat for wildlife.

Take a look at our How to Article titled Wildlife Gardening.

The toughest part of the job ahead of you is digging out the lawn. If you don't know already, find out what type of grass the lawn is made of. You might want to consider leaving some of it in place. Grasses are a good addition to wildflower and meadow gardens. They provide foraging and hiding places for birds and other wildlife. Bunch grasses are best. They have good color in the winter when wildflowers are typically done. They allow other plants to grow between them and are good support for delicate wildflowers. Thatch grasses are less attractive to frogs and most birds, they don't allow flowers to share their soil, leaving flowers to border rather than blend. Most lawns are made of a thatch type of grass.

Check in with your Rutgers University County Extension Office  for Union County, Lawn and Garden, to make sure that there are no neighborhood restrictions on lawn removal or mowing heights. For good wildlife planning you want to create a safe and stable habitat. Mowing bunch grasses would be disruptive to the habitat you have worked hard to create.

Wildflower mixes are not generally a bad idea but too often people will purchase mixes without reading what is in the package. It is important to make sure that the flower seeds in the pack are native to your area and do well in the soil and conditions that you have. Generally the best way to find seeds to fit your needs is to talk to the local nurseries in your area that specialize in natives. Utilize the suppliers list, that we provide in the Native Plant Information Network to find a good local nursery. Type your town and state in the "Enter Search Location" box, and you will get a list of suppliers in your general area. Our suppliers list has a map and easy instruction on how to find what you are looking for, with contact information for those businesses.

A combination of attractive grasses, wildflowers, native perennials that provide nectar and larva food for butterflies, bees and birds mixed with berry producing shrubs, should provide you with good habitat for your new guests. As well as add color and visual interest to your yard all year round. Here is another How to Article titled Meadow Gardening.

Our Native Plant Database has grasses,wildflowers, perennials and shrubs recommended for your area. Play around with the searches for recommended species. When you find a plant you like, read the full description to find the bloom information, telling you when the flower would be in bloom and any benefits the plant offers to birds, butterflies and critters.

Once you have completed your transformation, start documenting the activity you encourage. Consider applying for Wildlife Garden Habitat certification. This is a fun program designed by the National Wildlife Organization to help raise awareness through communities to showcase viable landscape habitat solutions. It has useful tools and tips and ways to document on line the wild visitors you encounter. If you qualify you will have a neat sign to hang in your yard drawing your neighbors into a conversation about conservation.

 


Asclepias amplexicaulis

Ceanothus americanus

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

 

 

 

 


 

 

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