Smell Like Dirt

In Spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” Margaret Atwood

Archive for native plants

Attracting wildlife with Native Plants

I know, I know….its been a long time since we’ve posted a video but we’ve had a busy summer! The problem with writing a blog about nature is that you have to spend too much time in front of the computer instead of out in nature, so we have been doing less blogging and spending more time outside lately. BUT, we managed to put together this video about gardening with plants native to your area in order to attract wildlife to your yard. I read a book earlier this summer called <a href=”Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens“>by Douglas Tallamy and although I knew how important it was to use native plants, Dr. T seemed to explain it better than I have heard before and I’ve been trying to spread the word (another great book, although a bit older is <a href=”Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyards“>by Sarah Stein. I was even on the radio with the good Dr in early July talking about natives for an hour (click here to listen to the show). So this video is another attempt to get the word out on how important it is that we plant with natives. If we want birds and other wildlife, we can’t omit this very important part of the eco-system.

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The Top Five


The pain at the pump right now is being felt by everyone. And although, high gas prices are probably going to be a good thing for the environment in the long term, its hard right now as we adjust to these new prices. So, we’re offering additional things we can all do to save money and save the environment at the same time. These are relatively easy and relatively cheap, especially when you consider the return on your investment. So try some of these hints and let me know if you have any suggestions for other quick and easy ideas.

Change your five most used light bulbs from incandescents to compact fluorescent lights (CLFs). They use less energy, last ten years or longer (the ones in our garage will be 11 in August), and burn cooler. If everyone did just the top 5 bulbs in our homes, it would be the equivalent of taking one million cars off our roads. Want to save more energy and pollution? Change all your light bulbs.

Use Dryer Balls. For about $10, you can by these balls to use when you dry your cloths. The balls help break apart the wet clothing so they dry faster using less energy!

Use reusable bags when you shop. And NOT just for groceries! Going to your favorite drug store, office supply store, vitamin shop, or hardware store? Don’t forget your bags! If you make it a hard and fast rule, it will only take two times of forgetting your bags and having to walk back out to your car to get them, to remember to take them the first time. And it makes it so handy to throw a couple over your shoulder, walk through the store filling them up and then emptying them to pay and then filling them back up again. Unless you are doing a big shopping trip, an added bonus is that you don’t have to touch those germ laden shopping carts or baskets!

Unplug appliances when not in use. Appliances burn up to 40% of their electricity even when they are in the off mode. Our TV, DVD, stereo, etc are all plugged in to a surge protector. At night, once we are done with those components, we simply switch off the surge protector. There’s no need for them to burn 40% of their electricity 22 hours a day for the two hours they are in use. We also unplugged the alarm clock and the TV in the guest room. And why should the microwave be burning electricity all day just to use it for 10 minutes (if that!) around dinner time?

Now, this next one is a little more effort, but has a big impact so its worth it: Reduce the size of your lawn! If you reduce, or better yet, eliminate the amount of grass you have, you will cut down on the chemicals (weed killers, fertilizers) you pour on the grass, you cut down on the water you use, you decrease the mowing you need to do. Consider replacing the grass with a natural area. A few native shrubs surrounded by mulch. The native plantings will not need as much care and the benefits native plant provide to wildlife is critical for a healthy ecosystem.

Ok, that last one was a little harder, but you have to admit, going green can be pretty easy and you’ll save money in the long run. And sure, there’s more you can do: install a rain barrel, buy a hybrid, start riding the bike that’s collecting dust in the garage, buy local food, etc. But even if you just do those top five things, it will make a big difference. I’d love to hear how you’re going green and saving money!

Smell Like Dirt on the Radio!

WFAE 90.7 FM Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins

WFAE 90.7 FM Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins

Smell Like Dirt was on our local NPR Station, WFAE (90.7) on the program Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins talking about native plants! In case you missed it, here’s a link to the archive edition.  And here are some of the resources we discussed on the show. Click here for the SNAKE video that Mike talked about. Here’s Ernie’s site at CPCC. Click here to order Dr. Tallamy’s book from Amazon; Go to Mecklenburg’s Solid Waste Authority to get more information about the PLANT program or the list of native plants and invasive plants. And if you want to send me an email to ask a question or get more information, my address is smelllikedirt@gmail.com. Thanks for listening! (Photo Credit: Ernie McLaney)

Are you Certifiable?

Monarch Butterfly

Ok, so most of us know about getting our backyards (or schoolyards, or businesses, etc) certified as a Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation, right? It’s a fun thing to do and gives you great bragging rights and a wonderful opportunity to educate friends and neighbors on providing the four elements of a habitat (food, water, shelter and places to raise young) while reducing (eliminating!) chemical usage and practicing other eco-friendly gardening methods. But why stop there? Look into getting your yard certified as a Monarch Waystation. Like a lot of wildlife, Monarchs are struggling due to loss of habitat, pesticide usage, loss of wintering grounds, etc, and need all the help we can give them. Monarchs are particularly needy because in their caterpillar stage they are incredibly picky about what kind of plant they will eat and only have one host plant—Milkweed (Asclepias)— and milkweed is becoming increasingly rare. And as with all butterflies, if you want butterflies, you have to provide the host plant for the caterpillar.

Monarch Caterpillar

Fortunately, there are over 100 species of milkweed, so no matter where you are in the country, chances are there’s a milkweed native to your area. You’ll also need to provide nectar providing plants for the migrating, so make sure you research what’s native to your area and plant nectar sources that will be blooming when the Monarchs migrate through your area, especially fall blooming Asters

Monarch on Aster

And while you are learning what you need to provide to become a Certified Waystation, go ahead and see what other certifications might be available to you. Here in North Carolina, those of us trying to incorporate as many native plants into the garden can be certified as a Native Plant Habitat by the NC Native Plant Society. In Colorado you can even take classes to become a Native Plant Master, which I think would go nicely with my Master Composter certification!

You’re doing all the hard work to provide for wildlife anyway, and your friends and neighbors already think you’re certifiable, so prove them right!

Gardening for bugs

Louise, a friend of Smell Like Dirt, alerted us to this recent article in the NY Times about the importance of gardening with native plants that will feed the native insects, who will then attract the native birds. Doug Tallamy has written Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens which does a great job of explaining the importance of gardening with the entire food chain in mind. And, planting with native plants is a great way to cut down on the amount of water, chemicals and maintenance that a garden full of non-native species requires. Read the article and get inspired to attract more bugs!

Composting Class on Sat 11/10 at Reedy Creek. Call now to reserve your seat in the class

I am teaching a PLANT (Piedmont Landscaping and Naturescaping Training) on Saturday at Reedy Creek Nature Preserve from 9a-1p for Mecklenburg County Solid Waste Authority. The class is $10 (Reedy Creek receives the money for hosting the class) and we will make a hot batch compost pile, talk about soil stewardship, planting with native plants and creating backyard wildlife habitats. You will receive the wire for a compost bin (like the one shown in the video) and a PLANT book with lots of information about composting and a comprehensive listing of native plants for your landscape. If you want to attend, you must call Lenny at Reedy Creek by 5pm on Friday 11/9. 704 598 8857. Its a fun class! Dress for the weather and bring a lunch!