A little maintenance goes a long way. Just by cleaning up an area, removing competing vegetation, and adding water, you're contributing to the greening of Canada — and you're helping wildlife! Keep in mind that tending what you plant is an ongoing project. Follow-up care after planting ensures success, but it has to be done on a long-term basis. Establish a year-round maintenance schedule that includes pruning, replacing dead plants, fertilizing, removing competing vegetation, and checking for insect infestations each season.
Make a Comfort Zone
The key to observing wildlife is to keep still and be quiet so animals won't notice you. Find a part of your project site that will not be easily trampled. Then set aside this area as a comfort zone where you can watch for wildlife. It's a great place to sharpen your observational skills.
If you want to stop foot traffic on your site, try planting a ring of shrubs and flowers around a group of trees. Not only will you be protecting the soil, but you'll be adding food for butterflies and bees. You can even put up a small fence if necessary.
Soil compaction around trees is a serious and persistent problem. It can happen when the soil is compressed by vehicle treads, foot traffic, or over-grazing by livestock in pastures. Find out if your soil is compacted by digging a hole about one metre deep. Fill it with water and see how long it takes for the water to drain. If it takes 12 hours or more, it probably means that the soil is compacted or contains a lot of clay. Well-drained soil holds little water, even after a heavy rainstorm.
Break up the upper layer of the soil with a hoe or pick, then lay a thick bed of mulch over it. Mulch is a mixture of things like leaves and straw (see "Marvellous Mulches" below) that can be spread around or over a plant to enrich or insulate the soil. Lay mulch on tenderly. Rather than working it into the soil, let it sit and rot.
You might also want to add some earthworms, although they'll probably arrive anyway. The mulch will rot from above, the tree's roots will break up the earth, and the earthworms will mix it all together. Mulch prevents soil erosion and often prevents the growth of unwanted vegetation.
In seasons when you aren't planning or planting, there's other work to do. You can do a general cleanup before planting. If you planted in the spring, you might think about protecting some of your plants in the fall against the rigors of winter.
Here's a list of the more commonly available mulches:
• Hay (the best type is spoiled hay — that is, hay that has been ruined by rain and is no longer good for animal feed).
• Leaves (you can compress them with sheets of plywood and a few stones).
• Lawn clippings (don't lay them on much thicker than 15 centimetres).
• Deciduous wood chips and dry weed stalks.
Attach a Label
It's easy to forget what you've planted where, so label everything. It will prevent headaches later if you write down the name of each plant and the date it was planted. An even better idea is to keep a planting diary. It could include a map of where you planted things as well as care instructions. The diary will help you track your plants' growth as well as your green plan's success in attracting wildlife.
Eliminate the Competition
By removing competing vegetation, you can ensure that your plantings get enough moisture, food, and light. If these basic needs aren't fulfilled, fruit production could be delayed. For best results, keep a one-metre radius from the base of the plant free from competing vegetation.
Draw up a schedule for when you'll check your site for competing vegetation. If you've planted tree seedlings, the surrounding vegetation should be removed two to three times a year for a period of three to five years (the longer the better!). The work doesn't end when a tree is planted — that's when it begins! Never plant more trees than you can care for.
Protect a Snag
A snag is a dying or dead tree. To many people, it's just firewood waiting to be cut. But a snag is a bird's version of a fast food restaurant — a valuable habitat filled with nutrients. Snags are also used as nesting and perching sites.
If you've found a snag that you want to protect, start by getting permission from the landowner. Prepare a report for the owner on the importance of snags. Explain your objectives and offer to erect a sign stating the name of your school and the purpose of your project. You could also establish a comfort zone for viewing the wildlife that will be attracted to the snag.
Practise Natural Insect Control
Sometimes trees and plants need a little protection from natural elements. For instance, they may be prone to insect damage. You can lend a helping hand by using a natural form of insect control.
How about building a bat house? Bats happen to be incredible bug zappers. (Some can gobble up 600 mosquitoes in just one hour!) If you provide the accommodations, bats will move in and take care of some insects that might cause problems for your plants.
Another option is to put up a bird house. Birds such as house wrens consume an enormous number of insects.
Damage and Disease Patrol
Every year, we lose millions of hectares of forests to insects, disease, and fire. The loss of green spaces means loss of wildlife habitat.
Appoint yourself a guardian of all the trees on your block. Make a map, marking in each tree. Enlist the help of a local forester and draw up an inspection schedule. You could start a monitoring program for insect infestations or disease to alert forestry and wildlife authorities to potential problems. Is there a wood lot or park nearby that you could monitor? Remember to get permission first.
You could focus on any of these common insect infestations: spruce budworm, jack-pine budworm, gypsy moth, mountain pine beetle, or tent caterpillar.
Here are a few symptoms to look for as you conduct your monitoring program:
- Yellowing and browning of needles and leaves.
- Reduction in size of leaves or needles.
- Spotting of leaves.
- Premature death of older needles.
- Production of lichens and mosses on affected trees.
- Altered shape of leaves.
- Abnormal branching patterns.
Make a Monitoring Schedule
Planning is vital to a forest problem monitoring program. Start by drawing up a monitoring schedule. Consider the following:
- What kind of forest problem will you be monitoring?
- How often are you planning to monitor it?
- What procedure will you follow?
- Have you designated feasible times?
- When should you conduct your monitoring?
Ask your local forester when is the best time and what is the best way to investigate various problems.
Print the Forest Problem Survey Form and take it with you. If you are working with local forestry and wildlife officials, pass your findings along to them.
A tree goes through five stages as a young tree, a mature tree, an old tree, a dead standing tree, and a dead rotting tree on the ground. See if you can find an example of each stage and note the differences. What are the different things they offer to wildlife?
In mature forests, both live and dead trees are important. Animals perch, eat, hide, and nest in dead trees or dead parts of live trees. Woodpeckers dig for ants or gouge out cavities for nests. Trees blow down and become habitat for mosses, lichens, ferns, and other plants.
Reforest a Site
When trees are harvested or destroyed by fire or disease, they need to be replaced. This is called "reforestation" or "renewing the forest," and it can be done either naturally or artificially.
Look for an area nearby that needs to be reforested. Find out who owns it and approach the owner for permission to do some planting. Explain your purpose and see if there are any animals the owner would particularly like to attract. Private landowners might be pleased to have some new trees and shrubs on their property. Consider making your project into a community effort.
Revitalize Your Schoolyard!
Use the Green Planning Chart to do an inventory of your schoolyard. Maybe there are already some trees and shrubs that provide cover for animals. But do they offer any food? For example, cedar waxwings love the berries of red cedars; chickadees, blue jays, nuthatches, and grosbeaks enjoy sunflower seeds; and butterflies are partial to milkweed, nettles, clovers, vetches, and violets. A few plantings here and there will provide habitat for wildlife and enhance the look of your school. If you decide to make a flower garden, consider making raised beds. That way, soil compaction problems will be reduced.
Where There's Smoke
Fire can be bad and good for wildlife. It can wipe out thousands of hectares of valuable forest, threatening communities and destroying habitat for many animals and plants. But by destroying dense old growth, it also makes way for grasses and woody plants to grow, which in turn increases the food supply for deer, beavers, and hares. Ash from burnt-out areas also returns nutrients to the soil and promotes new growth.
Lightning is the only natural cause of fire. All the other causes are manmade. How about starting a forest fire awareness campaign? You could direct it at the general public or specific audiences, such as campers, cottagers, picnickers, or motorists.
Develop a fire prevention tip sheet. It could include the following suggestions:
- Don't smoke when you're walking through a forest or field.
- Don't throw matches, ashes, or burning material into the woods.
- Before leaving a campfire, make sure that the ashes are cold.
Don't be shy about asking for advice. Librarians love to help and have all sorts of books on planting. So do officials from conservation organizations and wildlife, forestry, and parks departments, as well as representatives from municipal governments. Is there a local horticultural or agricultural organization you could contact? (A horticulturist is someone who cultivates a garden; an arboriculturist is someone who cultivates trees and shrubs.)
Consider visiting a nursery. Some nurseries might sell planting stock at a modest price for educational purposes. They should also be able to help you determine the variety, size, and number of plants you will need.
Pop Goes the Pine Cone!
Although forest fires are destructive, they can be beneficial to jack-pines, which require heat to reproduce. When the gum of the jack-pine cone melts, the cone opens and releases its seeds. Why not lend a helping hand? Collect some jack-pine cones and put them in the oven at low heat (between 100 and 120 C) until they pop. This should take about 11/2 hours. Then mix equal amounts of potting soil and peat in some small plant pots and place four seeds in each pot. Keep the soil moist at all times and make sure it's out of direct sunlight. You can add a little plant food if you like. In a year or should be ready for plant
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