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Nature Watch: Give the Yard a Post-Storm Facelift

What a weekend. One minute we were planning the family hike, the next we were shoveling snow and clearing downed trees from the yard. Nature played havoc with our landscaping.

If you lost trees and shrubs in the nor’easter , this is an opportunity to find native shrubs and trees that attract butterflies and birds and are sturdier than what you had before. Maybe the weather will warm up enough to plant replacements now, but if not, think about what you’ll want next spring.

Take privet hedges. Normally, they’re okay in storms but last weekend’s snow broke some of them down. There are many nicer-looking shrubs to replace them with. Inkberry is a good one. This very sturdy evergreen can grow to between 6 and 10 feet. It is a slow grower, though, so you may want to buy it at something close to the size you want. Inkberry prefers full sun. Its fruit attracts many species of birds such as robins, catbirds, towhees and mockingbirds. Several species nest in it as well.

Did you lose a fence this weekend, or are planning on planting a privacy screen in your back yard? Gray dogwood shrubs grow up to 6 feet tall and take care of themselves. In late summer, the fruit ripens to a beautiful white color and the leaves turn burgundy red. Gray dogwood provides nesting and food for various birds, from blue-winged warblers to more common yard birds such as robins and catbirds. They’re sturdy too – by Sunday afternoon the snow had melted off of my gray dogwoods and they were standing upright and providing privacy in my yard again.

If you are looking for bushes to plant along driveways, paths and roads, try bayberry. It can withstand salt and other snow-melting chemical irritants. Its fruit attracts fall migrating species such as yellow-rumped and palm warblers. Intersperse your bayberry with a beautiful spring bloomer like serviceberry and you will have birds singing in your yard during both the spring and fall migration. These too can withstand a heavy snow. My serviceberry did not even bow over like my other shrubs this weekend because its remaining leaves are smaller and most had already dropped. Meanwhile, the bayberry is already springing back to shape and the birds were all over the bushes eating the ripened berries.

Now how about trees ? If you want to add or replace a fallen mid-sized tree, consider a flowering dogwood. Famous for its showy white flowers, the dogwood is one of the most important wildlife trees for our region. It grows to between 10 to 30 feet, so they are an excellent choice for small properties. They also enhance woodlands, borders and larger residential properties.

For small ornamentals with eye-catching color and fruit, I like flowering crabapples. There’s a native species, Malus Coronaria, but most nurseries carry cultivated varieties. Don’t stress over it, get the tree. Late summer through the winter, it will be filled with robins, grosbeaks, waxwings and other mid-sized birds feasting on the small fruit.

If you need a taller tree for the back of your property consider black cherry. It matures quickly, to high as 50 feet and can live for centuries. At least 47 species of birds are attracted to black cherries, including rose-breasted grosbeaks and white-throated sparrows. Just don’t plant the tree near walks or patios as the fruit can stain them.

For a tall evergreen, in a sunny spot, plant eastern red cedar. This slender 50-footer provides nesting and food for a multitude of birds, including cedar waxwings and brown thrashers.

So now it is up to you. Don’t think back on your losses. Look forward to your yard’s new face, rooted in tough native plants that will serve you well.

For more information, e-mail me at the address below.

John Hannan is Audubon’s Director of Development for Audubon in Connecticut [ http://ct.audubon.org/ ]. For more information, contact him at jhannan@audubon.org .

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