Lina’s Garden

This is the second in a series of Wildlife Garden of the Month posts.  We want to highlight the many ways in which you can transform your garden into a biodiverse sanctuary for humans and wildlife and inspire you to take action.

 

Lina’s Garden

by Lina Castaneda

Sustainability and Activism

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The beauty of a Gulf fritillary butterfly is captivating!

 

Florida has a unique climate and there is so much to learn, believe me, it begs to be acknowledged. Not just in fauna and flora but in land and the Natives that steward it, the Tequestas, Seminole, Calusas, Miamis and Miccosukee. It also begs to be inclusive with all the people that came after and it needs to be accessible to all to appreciate. I want to acknowledge first and foremost, that this piece of land was the land of the Tequesta tribe, and the story of our garden in a way is to pay respects to them and mitigate the effects of poorly used land at all scales.

 

There is a funny thing to believing in sustainability that seeps through every part of your life, from food to materials you wear on your body, to what’s inside and outside of your home. I was very aware of this for years, before and after having kids, and living in small apartments. I was conscious about waste and had a growing green thumb. I started with my tiny compost bins and tiny balcony veggie garden with tomatoes, roses, peppers and herbs. And then it finally happened, we bought our home in Little Haiti with our first kid. After a couple of years living in this house I decided that decorative grass in my front yard was the most pointless perk of owning a home. The time I spent cutting grass on the weekends is wasted because no one, and nothing in this outdoor environment benefited from it. Absolutely no bees, no butterflies or birds could possibly benefit from this- and I gained nothing but a heck of a lot of grass allergies.

 

Our lawn covered in high maintenance grass.

 

My front lawn started with a consultation from a man in native gardening that didn’t have much time to explain all my questions about what he was bringing to my yard. Looking back it couldn’t have been a better scenario because it caused me to do the research myself and learn on my own. My desire to learn about plants was amplified from container balcony plants to something short of a tiny forest. So here it began and the grass had to go. I had no patience in dealing with the removal or sheeting of the front yard so we agreed to smother it with about 6”-8” of height of mulch. There were no plants to remove except for a non-native clusia that similarly to grass, contributed absolutely nothing to its surroundings. So without much to consider, the entire front yard was covered (about 1600 sqft) with mulch. The kind of mulch we used was not the commercial one though, this one had not been sprayed with chemicals like most bags you’d find in Home Depot and the like. We got it from a local arborist that had enough chipped wood from his jobs and the consultant had it delivered to us. Now I learned that the arborists do it for free.

 

The very first of many truck-loads of chemical free mulch to cover. This one gave us 6”-8” of initial height of mulch on the front lawn.
The first few small to medium sized plants installed. This view lasted for almost a year while the plants established.

 

 

End of first year of plants installed.  Some grass attempted to grow through but was easily pulled.

 

 

Then the planting started, we got the recommended plants from the consultant in addition to some that I had found in native nurseries like Silent Nursery and Veber’s Jungle Garden. Midsize plants were put in their respective places considering height vs. position of the sun to create more shade in some places than others. Areas of desired privacy were also considered and the denser plants were placed there. There’s so much I can say in detail about each of these plants if you ask me in person I can yap about it endlessly. I will mention however, our starring plant: powderpuff, or sunshine mimosa, a creeper that was meant to cover a good 80% of the yard replacing grass, staying low, resistant to pedestrians and most importantly, never needing to be cut. It grew marvelously in direct sun and once established it grows incessantly. The overall growth of the garden until this day has taken 2 years and for some people it seems like an unbearable sight and wait time. There was only mulch and tiny plants for the majority of the first year but the second year was incredibly rewarding, everything took off and bloomed. It was recommended to us to get even bigger plants at the beginning to skip the wait time barren visual, but this incremented our budget to 5x the cost. I didn’t mind the time it took to grow because I got to know every single plant in its small stage to full growth. Plus the garden was meant to go against all conventional, out of the box and cookie-cutter aspects of what a lawn is these days. Extra time to grow didn’t hurt anything.

 

We repurposed rocks and mixed concrete slabs from an uneven backyard patio removal.

 

My children spend a lot of time discovering new things in my garden.

 

We see such amazing sights as this Long-tailed skipper butterfly, which is taking a rest after laying eggs on the butterfly pea. Their caterpillars are particularly interesting to watch.
The more we planted, the ,more dragonflies we saw zipping around the garden.

 

Mimosa creeper closes its leaves as you touch or step on them. It is an incredibly resilient groundcover.

 

Spanish needle is a wonderful native nectar plant, attracting a variety of bee and butterfly species.  Check out this honeybee’s pollen-filled saddle bags!

 

The goal of the garden was to make it as self sustainable and purposeful for the local fauna. There was to be no cutting, no irrigation, no fertilizing and no manicuring or leaf blowing of any kind. And so, it has lived to that purpose until this day! Perhaps the only thing we maintain is adding truck loads of mulch (which we get for free) every 3 to 6 months. We joined the program of Connect to Protect and hold 5 native plants from them as well as 6 Florida-friendly trees from the 1Million Trees Project in order to increase canopy in areas like where we live. An additional aspect to the front garden was always a given to us, making it a wonderful space for our kids to explore. It did not become so necessary like it did in 2020’s pandemic. With so much time staying in, we explored every nook and cranny of this yard. There were so many new bugs, more visiting birds, new growth and more flowers in plants, interesting textures and we started to explore our options beyond having a pollinator-friendly garden.

 

Including my kids and giving them responsibility to care for the garden. My son here helps me build the herb spiral.

 

I recently got certified in Permaculture with Earth Activist Training and I learned so much about soil, plant biodiversity, water harvesting, environmental impacts, social justice and more. All of which I wanted to apply to my already existing self-sustainable garden. Could I include food? The kids loved the small vegetable garden bed in the backyard but what if we could have more and include more different vegetables and even share? With more time outside I poked for spaces and found areas where a little key lime little could grow, some tomatoes could hangout near the firecracker bush and different kale varieties could snuggle in between the milkweed. And it worked! We got excited and decided to make an additional space for the kids to plant some herbs. Behold, the most permaculture thing anyone can do; an herb spiral. Here we have an eternal and massive sissoo spinach bush growing, rosemary, cilantro, parsley and different basil varieties. A few other things we incremented was the amount of rain barrels around the perimeter of the house. In one single day of steady heavy showers we collect about 250 gallons (more if we had more barrels!) of non-chlorinated water that our raised vegetable beds love. We also collect bags of leaves that people put out on their curbside to add to our compost or backyard and we also practice “chop-and drop” when a plant (specially palm trees) drop leaves or become hazardous and needs a chop, we simply cut and leave the cuttings or leaves on the ground or under a tree. “Produce No Waste” as Permaculture principle No.6 reminds us.

 

Our garden faces south allowing us to have raised beds that grow during our winter season.

 

Kale and broccoli in between the gaillardia by the entrance.

 

Key lime, tomatoes and basil in between Pineland croton and Firebush.

 

With this knowledge in my belt I have slowly begun to help our neighbors with mulch and sharing of plant cuttings from our garden.  I have hosted online talks about composting with worms, finding pollinator friendly plants and offered drop-off compost options for the community near and far. Very recently I have started a forest school coop with a few moms and their kids in order to share the space and bounty. With lots of plans crushed during this pandemic I am focusing on learning more in detail about our local ecosystems and like I mentioned at the beginning with the land acknowledgement, there is so much we ought to learn and preserve. Even if it’s water! Because this land was never really ours, it is not ours to keep but we can make it right and better for our children.  It has been nothing short of a heaven for our family to experience, learn and grow with our garden and I highly recommend anyone desiring to break out of the conventional lawn mold to do it! 

 

Our entrance holds a large Coral honeysuckle vine that brings us a wild show of butterflies and hummingbirds.

 

The morning hummingbird spectacle at the Coral honeysuckle vine.  Imagine waking up to this sight!

 

 

 

 

The Transformation of a Garden and a Gardener: the Story of Bound by Beauty

By Mary Benton, Co-Founder of Bound by Beauty

This is the first in a series of Wildlife Garden of the Month posts.  We want to highlight the many ways in which you can transform your garden into a biodiverse sanctuary for humans and wildlife and inspire you to take action.

 

It all began when I encountered a jade jewel with a gold crown in my garden. It stopped me in my tracks, literally took my breath away, and filled me with awe and wonder. What was this magical thing?  Little did I know that I had just put a foot on a very slippery slope that has led to the complete transformation of both my garden and me and to the creation of Bound by Beauty.

We had recently put down roots for the first time in several decades of moving all around the world.  The garden I inherited was filled with what I would come to learn were travelers palms and invasive ferns.  Problem was, I had no idea what to replace them with.  I was paralyzed with indecision, and completely clueless as to what plants do well in South Florida’s challenging environment, or even what kind of garden I wanted.

And then disaster struck, as the majority of our 90-year-old cast iron waste pipes collapsed and had to be replaced, so the money we had set aside for landscaping went down the drain.

But those months of dithering and indecision and lack of progress paid off when my very patient landscaper brought me some milkweed, unbidden but very welcome with its cheerful yellow flowers.  I was delighted when caterpillars appeared seemingly out of nowhere and started devouring the leaves.  But I was completely unprepared for the magic that the process of metamorphosis would bring.  The breathtaking encounter with the chrysalis convinced me then and there to turn my garden over to butterflies.  That turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.

It was as if I had found a gate into a magical realm, where beauty reigned and joy and awe and wonder prevailed.  I never knew a garden had the power to evoke such emotions.

I started with more milkweed planted next to our deck, along with a non-native firebush and some pentas — both widely available and wonderful nectar plants.  These plants attracted so many Monarchs that I could hardly keep up with demand. 

Buying Giant milkweed slowed the hungry caterpillars down a bit and took the pressure off of my other milkweed.

 

 

When I pruned back my firebush at one point I found 47 chrysalises, which I carefully hung with dental floss on a nearby garden statue. This arresting sight gave me an idea.  My father was coming to visit, and he was too unsteady to navigate my garden.  I wanted to bring the magic of metamorphosis to the deck, where he could safely sit and watch and be spellbound.  And indeed he was!

 

I had bought a cedar bird cage when living in Peru, not with the idea of caging a bird but because I thought it was beautiful. I set it out on our deck under a little awning and surrounded it with milkweed. When the caterpillars had eaten their fill and were ready to pupate, most of them climbed up the bird cage to continue the process of metamorphosis.  The idea of a Monarch tower would become an important part of Bound by Beauty.

As time passed and my Monarchs flourished, I began creating new planting beds in locations where I could sit in comfort and watch the butterfly action.  

 

This was the second bed I created. It has since tripled in size as I gradually added more and more plants.  At this time, I was planting mostly non-natives.  The native Wild lime, which hosts the Giant swallowtail caterpillars, has grown enormous and has attracted many beautiful bird species that add to the magic as well.

 

I added another bed with Jatropha and Sweet almond verbena.  The grass-like plant is African iris.

I realized as I added bed after bed, with grass pathways in between, that the pathways were like rivers winding through my garden, and the planting beds were like little islands.  This gave my garden a lovely meandering feel.  I ended up replacing some of the grass paths with mulched paths as there was too much foot traffic for the grass to survive.  The paths mulched with leaves gives the feeling of wandering through a forest which I love.  I added seating on some of the islands so I could observe my garden from various perspectives.

 

It is a good idea to add seating in shady spots so you can enjoy your garden in comfort, even during the heat of a South Florida summer. This shade is courtesy of my Wild lime, which started out as a tiny tree and has now taken over this entire corner of my garden (the perennial problem for newbie gardeners!). I love it for the wildlife it attracts.  Note the water feature and bird feeder, both of which attract lots of beautiful migratory and overwintering birds, as well as dragonflies and frogs. Given the extreme difficulty of their migratory journeys, it fills me with joy when I see a bird refreshing herself in the bird fountain, or filling her belly with seed or berries that I provided.

 

Over time, as I read more and learned more, I gradually began to plant mostly native plants for butterflies and other pollinators. Douglas Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home is a great place to begin if you want to learn more about the vital connection between native plants and native insects.  And his book Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in your Yard makes it clear how each and every one of us can play a role in saving nature if we own even a little bit of land.  

Red tropical sage is a wonderful native wildflower that can grow in sun or shade, and feeds butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Gaillardia, in the foreground, is a great plant for native bees which are so important in our ecosystem.

 

Beautiful and useful in so many ways, and to think that some people consider this to be a lawn weed and douse it in herbicide to eradicate it. Fogfruit provides nectar to native bees and other pollinators and is the host plant for four different butterfly species. It also does well as a ground cover in either sun or shade.
This pretty little planting is mostly Seashore ageratum, an endangered plant, and Beach verbena. There is also some Brazilian button flower, a non-native and aggressive plant sold to me as a native thistle by Urban Habitat, so let the buyer beware!
Shiny leaf wild coffee attracts Zebra butterflies and birds when it is in bloom. It is a great plant for partial shade.
The Wild coffee fruit is devoured by migratory birds.  I gradually became more and more interested in including plants that feed birds, and the magic in my garden increased exponentially.

One of my favorite plants of all is passion vine, as it feeds the caterpillars of three beautiful butterfly species, the most interesting being the Zebra.

 

I was very proud of my magnificent passion vine that covered an awning frame that had the remnants of a shredded fabric awning left by the previous owner.  This passion vine awning survived a hit from Irma, which a fabric awning might not have.  You can see in the foreground my vegetable garden, which our village made us remove as it was in the — gasp! — side yard, despite the fact that was the only area in my garden with sufficient sun in the winter, which is our growing season.  I turned lemons into lemonade by replacing the vegetable garden with a flower meadow, although I left the parsley for the Black swallowtail caterpillars.

  The passion vine brought in clouds of Zebras, a mesmerizing sight.  In fact, one of those clouds of Zebras is responsible in part for the creation of Bound by Beauty.    

 

What in the world, you might reasonably ask? I had no idea what I was seeing when I encountered this in my garden one day.  After looking at it carefully, I saw that it is a Zebra chrysalis in the middle, with two butterflies hanging upside down from it on either side.  Some quick googling revealed that the female is in the center, and the butterflies on either side are males, their abdomens locked and loaded and ready to mate with the female as soon as she descends from the chrysalis.  When you see a cloud of Zebras, you are likely seeing male Zebras all fluttering around together searching for females.

 

Here you can see the newly emerged female on the left, her wings still small and furled, her abdomen still filled with fluid. Mating takes time, as does allowing the wings to lengthen and harden enough to fly.  From nature’s perspective, this makes a lot of sense.  It also ensures that the males with the best sense of smell will pass that on to their offspring.  A good sense of smell is particularly important when a female is laying her eggs, to ensure she lays them on the right plant.

 

Female Zebras lay their eggs in clusters. It looks like several females laid eggs on the same frond. A number of the eggs will be eaten by ants or lizards before the caterpillars have a chance to hatch, but enough will hatch to keep the circle of life going.

 

 

Zebra caterpillars can make short work of a passion vine.  Which leads me to….

 

 

Yes, this is the same magnificent vine pictured above, the leaves having been devoured by legions of very hungry caterpillars.

An unsightly mess to be sure, but filled with transformative magic as the denuded vine was covered in chrysalises.  One morning, I saw that a young woman in a car on the swale seemed to be having some trouble.  I went up to the car and saw that she was weeping.  I gently tapped on the window which she rolled down.  I asked if there were anything I could do to help her.  After a pause, she asked, “will you give me a hug?”  I said of course, and hugged her when she got out of the car.  I explained that my garden was right next to her car, and invited her to come in where I could give her some water and we could talk.  She could hardly walk because she was crying so hard, explaining that she’d been on her way to “do something dark” after experiencing a body-blow betrayal from her boyfriend, but she had to stop the car when she could no longer see the road.  I sat her down in one of the two chairs under that caterpillar-eaten awning, and told her to look up.  I was watching her face when she looked up and saw a cloud of 20-30 Zebra butterflies fluttering overhead.  Her expression went from grief stricken to awestruck in the blink of an eye.  It was a remarkable paradigm shift in emotions. 

What else can you think of that can transform grief to awe in an instant?  It was witnessing this paradigm shift, along with other remarkable paradigm shifts in visitors to my garden who witnessed the process of metamorphosis, or the sight of clouds of butterflies.  I realized that the need for a paradigm shift in thinking about climate change and sea level rise could perhaps be accomplished, at least in part, by the transformative power of butterflies and the process of metamorphosis, and thus did Bound by Beauty come into being.

I began this journey with zero knowledge.  Despite having lived three years in Costa Rica with all of its amazing butterflies, it had never occurred to me to plant for butterflies until that fateful day when my landscaper showed up with milkweed.  I have learned a tremendous amount in the seven years since then, mostly through trial and error, and through extensive reading and talking with those with more experience.  Many of my plants have come from seeds, seedlings, and cuttings from friends’ gardens, creating wonderful and meaningful connections between gardens and gardeners.  And, even though I have lived all over the world and have had unforgettable experiences, I can truly say that this wildlife journey is the adventure of a lifetime.

If you have a little bit of land, please join those of us at Bound by Beauty by turning it over to native plants that attract wildlife.  You will create a sanctuary filled with beauty and awe and magic and wonder, and you will inspire your neighbors to follow suit.  Imagine what we can do when we join hands with our neighbors and connect our gardens to save the precious natural world upon which we all depend.  You will be filled with joy on a daily basis. 

 

Connect, Educate, Transform, Replicate

 

 

 

 

 

The Rebel Botanist Gang and Swale Safaris

The Rebel Botanist Gang (a/k/a the RBG), under the auspices of Bound by Beauty, is developing a program called Swale Safaris to engage and teach young adults, children, and adults about the beauty and importance of the Nature that is right under our noses, i.e. the “wild plants” we view as weeds in our lawns and swales.  Most of us are unaware of the fact that these plants play an important role in our ecosystem: many of them provide nectar for butterflies and other important pollinators; and some are host plants for butterflies, meaning pregnant females lay their eggs on the leaves for their caterpillars to eat.  And many of them were around long before we wandered onto the scene.  Our first participants were a group of students from the Doctors Charter Key Club and Miami Arts Charter school.  These young people will earn community service hours by becoming team leaders who can guide others on Swale Safaris.
  

When one is outdoors amidst a sea of host and nectar plants, magic is bound to happen and the first students to arrive were treated to the breathtaking sight of a Giant swallowtail butterfly floating around and drinking nectar.  Most of them had never seen this gorgeous creature.  What a perfect way to launch our new program!

 

The masked and socially distanced students got a little history lesson about the early days of Miami Shores, which is closely tied to nature: The Shoreland Company that began to develop the area went bankrupt in large part due to the Hurricane of 1926, a good reminder that nature bats last.

The first thing we handed the students were magnifying glasses to remind them of the importance of examining closely the natural world that surrounds us, and upon which we depend for our own survival.  We put the magnifying glasses to good use during a tour of the wildlife garden, prior to heading out on safari.

 

Newly hatched Atala butterfly caterpillars are so tiny that they are difficult to see with the naked eye.

After we finished the garden tour, we ventured out into the swale, armed with knowledge and magnifying glasses!

 

Fogfruit (or Frogfruit or Creeping Charlie or Turkey tangle) is found in most of our swales if we don’t use herbicides. Fogfruit is an important nectar plant for native and honeybees as well as small butterflies. It also is the host plant for four butterfly species.
 

 

Beggartick resides in most swales. It feeds the caterpillars of three butterfly species.  

 

The green shrimp plant is invasive, but it feeds the caterpillars of three butterfly species.

 

This corkystem passionvine, whose leaves feed the caterpillars of four butterfly species, and whose tiny flower provides nectar for bees, was found in the swale under a tree. That makes sense, given that birds love to eat the berries.

By opening our eyes and minds to the wonderful roles these plants have in nature, we hope to open our hearts to the fact that we need to coexist with them rather than drenching our swales with herbicides.  After all, when the swale is mowed, you can hardly tell the difference between sod and wild plants.  Why don’t you head out into your own swale to see what you can find?

 

A Few of Our Favorite Natives

 

 

Would you like to transform your garden into a place of beauty where migrating birds find sanctuary and sustenance and butterflies and bees find their fill of nectar, but you don’t know where to start?  We’ve got you covered: read on to learn about some of our favorite native plants that will make birds, butterflies, bees — and you — happy.  There is a whole world of native plants to discover, but there is nothing wrong starting out with baby steps and planting one or two to start with.  You can read more about these plants by clicking on their names.  And you can find many more recommended plants by reading our other posts, which are listed below.

 

Blue porterweed has such pretty flowers.

The native Blue porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) is a perennial classic that is drought-tolerant and thrives in full sun to partial shade. The small delicate blue/purple flowers are the perfect calling card for Gulf fritillary, Julia, Monarch, and Sulphur butterflies. This plant does well in pots or planted in the ground, and will grow to about 2 ½ to 3’ tall.  The possibilities of use in a landscape are endless. They can be used as a mid-size mixed low hedge, along a walkway, grouped as ground cover shrubs, or even an accent to a garden entrance or a mailbox post.      

 

Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees sip nectar from the flowers, and birds eat the delectable fruit of the Little strongback.

Pineland or Little strongback/strongbark (Bourreria cassinifolia) is a wonderful small tree growing to about 7 feet tall and 4-5 feet wide, with gracefully cascading branches covered with delicate leaves that allow the sun to shine under the plant, making it a perfect choice for the center of a grouping as well as a stand-alone tree.  All year round, the Little strongback’s sweet little white flowers offer nectar to a variety of butterflies and bees, and orange berries that provide food for birds, making it a perfect plant for wildlife.  It is endangered in the wild which makes us want to protect it in our gardens.

 

The flowers of the native Lantana involucrata attract Zebra butterflies and other pollinators. The berries delight birds.

Known as Button sage or Wild sage (Lantana Involucrata), this shrub typically grows to about 5 feet tall and about as wide (although in the right conditions it can grow as tall as 8 feet).  It gets its name from the lovely smell of the leaves, and the beautiful little white or pale pink multi-clustered flowers that look like old-fashioned buttons.  The flowers attract butterflies like the Atala and the Zebra, and bees as well.  If that isn’t enough to convince you to plant one in your garden, how about the fact that its beautiful purple berries attract all manner of birds, including Mockingbirds and migrating warblers.  This is another winner for wildlife.

 

A beautiful Atala butterfly sips the nectar from a Pineland croton.

Pineland croton (Croton linearis) is a smallish shrub growing to about 5 feet high and 6 feet wide, if left unpruned.  Its little white flowers look insignificant to the human eye, but you should see the video we have of Atala butterflies brawling over the nectar, which bees love as well.  Its leaves are long and graceful and a lovely sage green.  This plant is also the host plant to two critically imperiled pine rockland species of butterflies, which is a good enough reason to plant it in your garden as a symbol of hope for all endangered creatures.  This shrub tends to fall forward while growing but can easily be propped up with a small stake or that frame for a campaign poster that you’ve been keeping around, hoping to find the perfect way to upcycle it.

 

 

Fogfruit is beautiful and useful in so many ways. And to think that some people consider this to be a lawn weed and douse it in herbicide to eradicate it.

 

 Phyla nodiflora is so amazing that it has four common names: fogfruit or frogfruit or turkey tangle or creeping Charlie.  It is a wonderful little versatile plant that grows to about 3 inches in the sun (taller in the shade) and spreads through runners, so it also makes a wonderful ground cover in low traffic areas.  The pretty little flowers are white and purple, bloom all year round, and attract all sorts of pollinators, including native bees (native bees do not look like honeybees and are typically smaller or larger) and small butterfly species.  In addition to being a wonderful nectar plant, it is a host plant for four — yes four! — species of butterflies, who lay their eggs on the leaves for their caterpillars to eat. 

 

We find yellow flowers add such a cheerful presence in the garden.

Privet Senna (Senna ligustrina), also known as privet wild sensitive plant, privet senna is a perennial shrub with stunning, showy butter yellow blooms. Sulphur butterflies, including the stunning orange barred sulphur (Phoebis philea), lay their eggs on this plant so their caterpillars can eat the leaves. Solitary native bees also love the beautiful blooms and help pollinate the plant, and we love any plant that feeds native bees.  This plant loves full sun, however it is a short day plant, so a sunny spot that gets shade during part of the day is just perfect! It is a fast grower and will be reach 4-8 feet in height and approx 4 feet wide within 1-2 seasons. It graciously produces seed pods with seeds that germinate easily so it is a wonderful choice for propagation and sharing with friends and neighbors.

 

We love the color of the flowers!

Teabush, aka Woolly Teabush/Woolly Pyramid Flower/ or Broomwood (Melochia Tomentosa) is a tall flowering shrub that enjoys full sun. It can grow to a height of 12-14 feet and 4-6 feet wide but can be maintained at a smaller profile with regular pruning if so desired.  This shrub has lovely abundant small purple flowers that lean toward a light magenta. It’s leaves are a soft greyish green. The Teabush is a bee magnet and is also frequented by a variety of butterflies who sip its nectar. Ladybugs and dragonflies also visit this garden beauty. 

These are just a few of the plants that delight us.  You can find them in native nurseries, or take advantage of Steve Woodmansee’s deliveries to our area.  His next delivery is this coming Saturday, November 14.  The deadline for placing an order is tomorrow, November 10.  You can email him at steve@pronative.com to get on his mailing list and to place an order.  To read about more plants we recommend, check out these posts: Create a Nursery Filled with Bugs for Baby BirdsAttract Butterflies, Birds, and Bees to your Garden with a Hedgepodge; and Saving Birds with a Butterfly Garden.

What the Fish Happened….?

By Liangy Fernandez-Calli and Mary Benton

What a horrifying sight and smell to wake up to.

In recent days, our beautiful Biscayne Bay has been marred by scenes straight out of an apocalyptic movie with thousands of dead fish washing ashore from North Miami to Virginia Key. After multiple water samples and abiotic samples were collected and independently examined by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Miami Department of Environmental Resources Management, Florida International University, and Miami Waterkeeper, it was determined that the cause lies in a lack of dissolved oxygen (DO) due in part to warm temperatures, coupled with sewage leaks, septic tanks, pet waste, stormwater runoff, pesticides and nutrients found in fertilizers which feed algae that depress oxygen levels.

Unfortunately, this is not new.  For decades, environmentalists have been sounding the alarm to deaf ears.  It is a real problem that has been worsening with time due to lack of awareness, lack of leadership and failure to actively participate in better practices. In other words, it is on us to save our beloved Biscayne Bay and the other waterways around South Florida.

All is not lost. We have an opportunity to help restore and conserve our Biscayne Bay and our surroundings altogether.  In some cases, it is a matter of simply changing our habits.  In others, we need to change our mindsets.  

Pet and Human Waste 

Cramer doesn’t want to be part of the problem.

Let’s start with the easiest habit to change: pick up after your pet.  We know most of you already do so, since you likely would be persona non grata in your neighborhood if you didn’t.  But keeping your pet waste from getting washed into the bay is an additional reason to be a good citizen not only of your neighborhood, but of this planet.

Septic systems are another source of contamination for nearby waterways.  The EPA has some good tips on how to deal with yours, from toilet to drainfield.

 

Fertilizer Use

If you must use chemical fertilizer, please be mindful and read the label, ensuring that the product is a slow release fertilizer.

Miami Waterkeeper (MWK) is an organization whose mission is to defend, protect, and preserve South Florida’s watershed through citizen engagement and community action rooted in sound science and research.  They work to ensure swimmable, drinkable, fishable water for all.  There is compelling scientific evidence for the need for ordinances governing the use of fertilizers, including the following provisions:

  • No phosphorus application
  • No fertilizer applied during the summer rainy season
  • 50% slow release Nitrogen
  • 15 ft. setback from waterways and storm drains

Miami Dade County does not have such an ordinance, but there is no reason why you can’t go ahead and follow these provisions on your own.  Learn more about the problem and what you can do to be part of the solution.

 

Composting

Composting is an easy way to add nutrient rich soil that benefits your plants and the environment.  Photo by Sipakorn Yamkasikorn from Pexels.

You can make your very own environmentally-friendly fertilizer for free by composting your kitchen and garden scraps.  Why is this important?  When you toss your kitchen waste in the trash can, it ends up in a plastic bag that will never decompose that gets trucked to a landfill where the kitchen scraps will create methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is contributing to climate change and the global warming that is sickening bodies of water like Biscayne Bay.  The same thing happens if your municipality requires you to bag your leaves, which make wonderful mulch that enriches your soil, conserves moisture, and suppresses weeds.  By composting, you become part of the solution rather than contributing to the problem.  You will be amazed at the rich soil that will result, that you can spread around on plants that can use a little fertilizer.  Here is a link for more information on how to start composting from the EPA and information that runs the gamut from closed bins to pit composting to open bins, tumblers, piling, and vermicomposting from Fine Gardening.  

 

Plant Native and Florida-Friendly

This is a called a lawn, but it is really a dead zone that requires herbicides to kill weeds, insecticides to kill lawn pests, and chemical fertilizers to give it that nice green color.  It also requires lots of irrigation in the form of our drinking water.  And let’s not forget the polluting power of lawn equipment required to keep this dead zone tidy looking.  This no longer makes sense in a world where fish are dying by the thousands. 

 

This lovely native groundcover is known variously as Fogfruit, or Frogfruit, or Turkey tangle or Creeping Charlie. It doesn’t require any chemicals to maintain it, it provides nectar for hungry bees and butterflies, and it feeds the caterpillars of several butterfly species.  For ideas about other native plants you can use in place of sod, you can search the Florida Native Plant Society website or that of the Institute for Regional Conservation’s Natives for your Neighborhood, narrowing your search down by site conditions and other considerations.  You will lower your carbon footprint and reduce the amount of chemical contamination in our aquifer and Biscayne Bay.

 

Marjory Stoneman Douglas was ahead of her time. Let’s not be behind ours. Photo taken at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Nature Center on Key Biscayne.
We determine the world our children inherit with the actions we take today.