I had the opportunity to prepare and plant a small native garden with my four-year-old daughter this Labor Day. It was the most fun that I had in a long time and I hope she had fun too. Hopefully not too much child labor on this day of days for the laborers of the US :-) Shed did play quite a bit and found a new pet, a roly poly bug.
We first picked out some plants, I let her pick the flower color, obviously purple was the choice! We could have gone with Geranium maculatum (Wild Geranium) or Polemonium reptans (Jacob's Ladder) or multiple other short native landscape plants for part shade, but we went with Phlox divaricata (Wild Blue Phlox). Why? I just like the texture of the leaves, its ability to establish another plant when it touches the ground, and the extended bloom of this forb. Phlox divaricata (Wild Blue Phlox) can perform as an excellent ground cover. Plus, it was appropriate as a replacement for the existing ground cover Vinca minor.
Preparation is probably the single most important step particularly with hard to remove plants like the Vinca. You need to create the best possible planting area, just like a vegetable garden. Bare dirt that is fully weed free is key. You must kill or remove the roots of the whatever you are trying to remove. In this case we first hand pulled as much as we could. We then hand “fluffed” or tilled the soil to loosen the remaining Vinca roots. Then to remove the roots we lightly raked the soil, gathered the roots, dried them on the driveway to kill them, and then composted. If you compost weeds, make sure they dye or you will have another problem on your hands. Hand pulling is one of the greenest most sustainable ways to remove weeds, a little elbow grease will do the trick with most plants. In some cases, you may need to resolve to chemical means of the scale is too large. There are natural and synthetic chemical methods, your choice, but make sure whatever methods you use, follow the label and make sure it is fully effective. If you don’t you will be kicking yourself next season with perennial and perpetual weed problems.
While we were hand pulling my daughter found her pet roly poly bug. She gets so attached to theses little pets, its cute!! It stayed with her all day practically. Good for her rolling up here sleeves and getting a little dirty and enjoying it!!! Really kids need to play in the dirt a bit these days like we used to. Get off of that phone and explore, explore the dirt, your neighborhood, natural areas, or that woods behind your house.
After prepping the site, we determined the number of plants we needed based on the square footage. Here we planted them densely at about 1 plant per square foot. This is not dense for all plants, but is for Phlox divaricata (Wild Blue Phlox) because it roots in well from those tips that touch the ground. We went dense here because we wanted it to fill in fast. This area is a very focal point near our back door so we want it to look pretty fast!!!
After planting we placed the much (your choice) at about 2-3 inches thick to retain water while establishment and keep the weeds at bay while the native plants fill in. It is not my intention to maintain a mulched look here. It is my intention for the Phlox to fill in densely over time so that I will not need to mulch or weed extensively.
Come to find out mulch also works well as a dog bed. I walked out and shortly after planting found my dog laying in his freshly made bed. Well my daughter and I could not have this, so we put in stakes though the planting as a temporary k-9 deterrent mechanism to allow the plants to establish. Hopefully this is not his bed of choice in the future :-)
As we planted the plants and while watering them in I talked to her about how these native plants in our landscape. Letting here know that insects eat them and that is a good thing, butterflies and bees nectar from the flowers, the deep roots air rate the soil allowing rain water to penetrate and filter, the deep roots also store carbon in the soil mitigating climate change. I also explained that we would not need to fertilize them or mow saving on air and water pollution. As the plants grow I will reinforce these teachings pointing out the insects eating and pollinating and all the good things.
Well, we had an excellent day planting. Hopefully my daughter leaned a thing or too, but I think more importantly she taught me something. Be Mindful and present….. If she can have that much fun for a whole day with a roly poly bug, I need to take time out and enjoy the small things like planting a native garden with my daughter.