Foundation Shrubs that Feed Nature, not Fight it

Say No to Nandina: Choose NATIVE

If your exotic evergreens are “ever-brown” from the recent freeze, now is an ideal time to upgrade to natives.


It doesn’t make sense to simply plant more of the same: the same non-native foundation shrubs that are anything but foundational to our ecosystem. Schip laurel, boxwood, nandina, Chinese holly, euonymus, false cypress, red-tips, cryptomeria, and so forth: all are plants that evolved with creatures and conditions on different continents.

[Mockingbird on Black Chokeberry, Photo by Richard Hitt]

What we need in Tennessee are more shrubs that evolved nearby.
Native shrubs can be more likely to survive extreme weather, year-round. And most importantly, natives are the only sustainable choice: they contribute to local foodwebs in countless, critical ways that non-native plants cannot. 

But, which native shrubs give us the color, texture, and size we want, while giving birds, bees, and butterflies what they need?

Continue reading “Foundation Shrubs that Feed Nature, not Fight it”

Free the Trees

“But it’s pretty!” is how some gardeners defend the English ivy and Wintercreeper climbing (and killing) trees.
“Pretty” = evergreen, even in winter.

But it’s not pretty THIS winter, thanks to the deep freeze that browned even these invasive vines. 

So, now is the perfect time to kill these killers.

As a friend noticed last month, the vines “already look like sh*t,” so people “have nothing to lose by cutting the stems.” 

Cutting the stems can save our trees,
and save our neighborhoods from millions of new invasive seeds each year.

Cutting is fast, easy, and cheap.

Why cut? and How to cut?

Let Margie Hunter tell you, step by step.
Margie is on the board of the Tennessee Invasive Plant Council, is the author of Gardening with the Native Plants of Tennessee, is a founder of the Tennessee Naturalist Program (where she creates curriculum and teaches), and is a Conservation Communicator of the Year. And, she’s a neighbor!

(For a printable PDF version of Margie’s article, scroll to the end.)


Now is the Time to Free the Trees!  

by Margie Hunter, for the HWEN newsletter

Hillsboro-West End Neighborhood received a wonderful holiday gift in December — frigid temperatures killed the foliage of the English Ivy and Wintercreeper vines climbing our trees — presenting a unique opportunity to cast off their arboreal tyranny without suffering the sad sight of slowly wilting leaves. 

Why should we remove these vines from our trees? 

Continue reading “Free the Trees”

Classroom Butterflies

“Butterflies for Science?” was the invitation I emailed my friend.
“YES!” she answered, “I want butterflies for my classroom. How do we do it?”

Here’s how we DON’T do it:
No kits of generic caterpillars mailed 2nd Day Air with tubs of larval food paste (a “proprietary mixture of vitamins, proteins, and fats”).
No butterflies released into the wild without regard to the calendar or what plants are outside.*

Our butterflies are a name brand! The Gulf Fritillary.
Our caterpillar food is the real thing, the ONLY thing: this butterfly’s particular larval host plant. There would be no new Gulf Fritillaries without it.

Continue reading “Classroom Butterflies”

Don’t forget the stick (Bucket of Doom)

Don’t forget the stick! It’s the escape ramp for thirsty and clumsy critters.
The goal of a Mosquito Bucket of Doom is to kill mosquito larvae.
The goal is NOT to kill bees or ants or birds or fireflies or skinks or chipmunks, or anyone else who falls into the bucket.

Lately, I’ve heard from three friends that they’ve pulled dead squirrels and birds out of their buckets.
I asked if they used sticks in the bucket. No.

A stick is essential in every Bucket of Doom.
It’s an escape ramp for creatures to climb up to safety.

Continue reading “Don’t forget the stick (Bucket of Doom)”

(Doom-it-Yourself) Mosquito Bucket Styles

After I posted the Do-It-Yourself Mosquito Bucket of Doom (link), I realized two things:
1) I should have called the project a “Doom-It-Yourself,” and
2) Not everyone is excited about displaying an ugly bucket in their yard.

But, now I know that a Mosquito Bucket of Doom need not be ugly. Or even be a bucket.
Nearly any water-tight, wide-mouthed container will do.

Personally, I’m fine sharing my yard with an ugly bucket that still advertises the 30 pounds of kitty litter it once contained:

Continue reading “(Doom-it-Yourself) Mosquito Bucket Styles”

Mosquito Bucket of Doom

Mosquito season is here! Instead of spraying pesticides onto our entire yards—and onto fireflies, ladybugs, bumblebees, and butterflies—why not just kill mosquitoes?

But wait, first: let’s PREVENT mosquitos from breeding in our yards. Here’s an infographic (link) from the CDC to remind us of the free and easy common-sense ways to do this, like removing standing water in toys, saucers and gutters.

And then, why not try a Mosquito Bucket of Doom?
It’s cheap, it’s safe, it works.

Continue reading “Mosquito Bucket of Doom”

Swarm Weather

“Are you home now??” texted my neighbor. ”I think there’s hundreds or thousands of bees making a nest in our pine tree as we speak. It’s crazy!!”

To me, it wasn’t crazy: it was perfect. Two friends had already witnessed this very thing in their yards recently, and I was jealous.
So I texted back: “It’s swarm time!”

By the time I got to my neighbor’s yard, all the bees had gathered in one spot, AS one spot: one big blob of buzzing, crawling, and flying creatures, at about 30 feet up the tree. They looked like a giant dollop of bubbling goo about to drip from a branch. 

A honeybee swarm!

I am grateful my neighbor knew what to do: call me,
and I am grateful I knew what to tell her: call a swarm-catcher.

Continue reading “Swarm Weather”

Black Cherry Inchworm

Today’s Front Yard Nature: an inchworm on a Black Cherry seedling.
This is how nature is supposed to work: native plants = caterpillar food.
No one was eating the equally tiny seedlings of exotic bush honeysuckle in the same porch crack.

My nearest mature Black Cherry tree is blocks away, but every summer, birds poop the purple-painted seeds onto the driveway, the yard and the cracks in the porch. This too, is how nature is supposed to work.
I toss the exotic weeds to shrivel in the sun, but I plant some of the natives in cups to grow, or to give away, or to plant somewhere else when nobody’s watching.

Black Cherry / Prunus serotina is one of the Prunus species on the National Wildlife Federation’s native plant finder for my zipcode. The list states that it can feed 320 species of caterpillar, but right now, this particular Black Cherry is only big enough to support *one.*


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Bio:
Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist and writer in Nashville, the hackberry-tree capital of the world.
She writes about everyday marvels amid everyday habitat loss, and her essays have appeared in Creative NonfictionBrevity, Fourth Genre, Hippocampus, The Hopper, Flyway, The Common, Stonecrop Review, The Fourth River and other journals. Her forthcoming book is Paradise in a Parking Lot: Unlikely Stories from Urban Nature.

The Sycamore Squeeze

To squeeze a Sycamore ball is a seasonal pleasure, and the season is now.
Now is when last year’s clusters of Sycamore seeds start to fall and to fall apart.
For the next few weeks, they’ll disintegrate into drifting piles of loose, fluffy achenes: Sycamore “snow.”

To squeeze a Sycamore seed-ball is oddly satisfying.
Call it a Contemplative Practice.
Call it fun or sick or weird, but try it.

The Sycamore Squeeze is one way to get to know Where—and When—you are.

Continue reading “The Sycamore Squeeze”