Seattle Life in the Yard

Sustain biodiversity: garden with native plants.

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Why Do This?

I have been doing battle with Scot’s/Scotch Broom in my Forest Steward assignment park the past few weeks, with this plant, as with almost all noxious weeds, it is a long, and possibly endless, war with strategies and plans of attack. This first effort is simply to stop the blooming shrubs from providing additional mature seeds to the already existing seed bank in the soil, the seed of this plant can stay viable in the soil for 5-60 years (one source said 80 years!). I have been able to devote a few hours a couple times a week and I think I made progress in my first engagement with the enemy. I read through the King County document on-line for Scotch-Broom-Control and modified my plan so that rather than cutting it close to the ground, I left enough to use a Weed Wrench in the future on the remaining trunk to remove the roots if possible. Some of the Scot’s/Scotch Broom shrubs are old with trunks 3 and 4 inches in diameter so I am not sure how these will respond to being cut down and they are too big for wrenching the roots out, but there are lots of trunks that are the right size for the Weed Wrench so I will have plenty on which to practice my technique. The next plants scheduled for my first attempt at removal are European Bittersweet, Holly, non-native thistles, Ivy, Laurel, Spurge Laurel, Yellow Flag Iris and so many others. The Knot Weed is too wide spread in the Meadowbrook area for volunteers to do the work and will need professionals with special equipment to do the work required to control it; very costly, I guess that is why the “NOX WEED” charge is on our Real Estate Tax bill.

The bird song that I hear during my hours in the park is very pleasant sound to hear while working and I have seen small muted colored female hummingbirds darting about after being alerted to their presence by the buzz-y snapping of their tail. I couldn’t tell what they were doing while I was busy with weed cutting, but I also saw the same type of hummer in the SPU retention pond area. Since our little Meadowbrook Pond was scheduled to be fenced off this week (and now is) I made a point to take a few extra walks through the paths around the pond to identify which native plants were blooming, getting ready to bloom and setting seed. I was excited to see the native Orange Honeysuckle Vine (Lonicera ciliosa) was threading its way through several plants in different areas and had healthy sturdy orange blooms pushed up above the support plant to wave in light breezes for the hummingbirds to find them. I was also excited to see another native honeysuckle plant blooming and setting seed in its little fruit and this was the Twinberry (Lonicera involucrata). This shrub has lovely small yellow bell shaped flowers in pairs along the underside of its branches. These turn into pairs of black round berries and then the bracts behind the berries turn dark red and are a very striking contrast to the surrounding greenery. The hummingbirds I saw were getting nectar from the flowers of both plants which provides both water and quick calories for these hot little birds; body temperature about 107 degrees F. They will eat the little soft bodied insects that are also attracted to the vegetation of these native plants and feed the insect slurry to their tiny chicks that need lots and lots of this insect soup to grow so fast that they fledge in about 19/20 days after hatching. The plants continue to pull up water and refill the flowers so the female hummingbird can return again and again for a drink of stock to make insect soup for their babies. That’s why.

Cool Site – The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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Never Ending Quest

I got to go to two classes last week. I attended a little four hour training class put on by Sasha Shaw and other King County Noxious Weed Control Program Folks. The class was in Kenmore and supplied the experts in the field with four hours of CEU Credits, but I attended for my never ending quest for knowledge. The website for the hard working and ever helpful Sasha Shaw troops is . You can look up some invasive alien plants there and get information on the best ways to get rid of them. The website also has a very good Native Plant section and it is well worth poking around and finding ways that it could be useful to you.

Scot’s Broom is making itself visible right now and it is a great time to lop it off close to the ground before it sets seed. This is a monoculture plant that crowds out all natives, and other plants, because it binds nitrogen to its roots and then the nitrogen is not available to other plants. It has no wildlife value because, like almost all alien plants, does not have insects, native insect herbivores, that eat it. So it does not contribute to the transfer of energy from the sun, to plant, to insect biomass, to baby birds and other critters; it is not part of our local ecosystem trophic energy transfer. You can web search trophic levels and get some great places to learn about trophic levels and ecological food web stuff.

The lack of tropic function in an ecosystem is why alien plants reduce wildlife, cause habitat destruction and eventual species extinctions. The wonderful book “Bringing Nature Home” by Professor Douglas Tallamy does an excellent job of explaining the process in a very readable style. You can web search his name or book to find him, plus his book is available at Seattle Public Library. If you have ever walked through a neighborhood that has lots of bird sounds and then noticed another neighborhood that has few bird sounds, that is very likely due to an absence of native insects due to an absence of native plants. I especially notice lots of birds in areas that have big native trees and that is because the big native trees support a huge amount of native insect biomass which is good food for healthy strong baby birds.

Sasha’s class was also useful to me because I attended an eight hour Forest Steward Class to help me get started in the Green Seattle Partnership Seattle Forest Steward Program. Yeah! The instructors packed lots of information into the day and I now have to really learn it all and use it for practical application to improve and maintain a little chunk of Seattle’s lovely green. Part of the training was a brief field trip to Seward Park where I saw a small Brown Creeper searching for insects on several Western Red-cedars; very fun to watch it walk up the trees trunks. Then the crowning delight of the day, was a Bald Eagle sitting in a nest with just its head visible above a jumble of twigs. Wow.

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Life in the Yard

Life in the Yard is the lity at the end of Seattle hence seattlelity. I really love this yard I get to live in; it is as though we live in a tiny piece of Northwest forest. I can look out any window and see big red-cedars or native shrubs or both.
Each morning when I fetch the newspaper and breath in the fresh smells of this tiny forest, I hear birds of different species in addition to our resident family of crows – robins, flickers, song sparrows, chickadees and many I am unable to identify. The resident Eastern gray squirrels make little chirpy sounds too and they are really busy this time of year with chasing and mating and nesting; they are quite the entertainment for me and our adopted dog, Cody.
This wasn’t really a tiny forest when we bought this property and moved here in the summer of 1992. I have developed my knowledge about managing this yard and the things that grow here by submitting to the overwhelming presence of these amazing red-cedar trees. The things that were planted here were the standard popular alien landscaping plants and invasive alien volunteers, some of which had formed impenetrable thickets. There was a lawn here when we moved here but over time I realized how pointless it was to maintain a garden style so alien to our climate, ecology and the gifts that these trees give to this tiny footprint of forest floor. The added plus was that we got rid of the lawn mower and the annoying chore of weekly lawn mowing – ugh!
I have found amazing, delightful native plants that simply love to share this tiny forest with these big trees and the work required to maintain the yard is minimal and simple compared to what we used to do. I have gotten many wonderful plants from the excellent annual Snohomish Conservation District bare root native plant sale and from, my favorite native plant nursery, Tadpole Haven, which has occasional open house days to sell to the public. Tadpole Haven, recently got a big media plug from Cisco Morris and I was so thrilled to see them get that special attention because they provide such an important service of making good quality native plants available for ecosystem gardeners. The Washington Native Plant Society should be having their spring sale fund raiser soon, in early May, with details on their website.
The transition of this yard to a tiny piece of Northwest forest has given so much to the life in this yard.

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Invasive New Bug

Sharon J. Collman (WSU Snohomish County Extension) has posted information about a little red invasive beetle and I thought some of you might be interested in keeping a look out for it. It was found & identified last spring and now is about the time it could start to show up if you are going to see it. The wordpress link below has a good picture.
I asked permission to pass on her information and she said yes, so here is what she had posted to an email group I subscribe to: >>>>>

Last spring, a lovely red but devastating, new leaf beetle invaded Bellevue.
This invasive species was reported to the WSU Plant Diagnostic Laboratory and sent to the Washington State Department of Agriculture by an alert citizen. This beetle is known from Europe and Turkey and may be Mediterranean in origin. It has been restricted to seven northeast coastal states since the early 1990s, but until last spring was not recorded anywhere west of those states. It has overwintered successfully at both locations in Bellevue. The two reporting households are two miles apart and neighbors in the north location also have seen the beetles on their plants.

The beetles are reported to be strong fliers so they could spread quickly. On the upside of this insect, they emit amusing little squeaks, or perhaps a chorus of protest, when handled. Photos and more information can be found at . From there click the link to a more comprehensive fact sheet with more photos by Eric LaGasa, WSDA, and WSU faculty Todd Murray and Jenny Glass.

This beetle represents no threat to most landscape plants as it specifically feeds on lilies (not daylilies) fritillaries and some native species of lily relatives, and less frequently, members of the nightshade family (e.g. potatoes). They will likely have the most impact on the cut flower industry, lily growers, lily exporters, lily hobbyists and possibly some of our related native plants such as Solomon’s seal. Also, the damage from beetles may trigger an increase in pesticide use.

One of our two alert citizens said that the beetles began crawling around his lilies on May 18th, and were already mating and laying eggs; the other citizen says she’s also seen them mating and laying eggs. Both are collecting samples so we can determine what their life cycle will be in our area. In the east, they are reported to have 2 generations per year.

The collected beetles also will be sent to Canadian scientists who are studying the genetics of this beetle to determine if they came from separate populations (and thus different origins), or if they came from the eastern states. They are trying to trace the route of movement of this invasive species.

WSDA is trying to determine just how far this beetle has spread in the Bellevue area. Homeowners or growers should inspect their plants for the beautiful bright red little beetles, or their red eggs. Soon their larvae, which cover themselves with their frass (bug poo) and look like little bags of slime, should also be visible. Feeding damage to lilies includes scraping off the leafy surface or chewing from the edges of leaves. The scraped leaves then wilt or “melt” away.

It may be that this population of the red lily beetle is small enough that with some vigilance the population can be eradicated. It will take the efforts of everyone to delineate this population and stop the spread of this beetle. There is no funding for government intervention.

To help us determine the extent that this beetle has spread, anyone finding the red lily leaf beetle is requested to report it to Eric LaGasa (, phone: 360-902-2063), or Chris Looney, (, phone: 360.902.2042)Washington Department of Agriculture (email:, phone: 360-902-2063), or Sharon J. Collman, WSU Snohomish County Extension (email:, phone:
425-357-6025). Be reassured that this is a safe action with no negative consequences and no blame will be assigned. <<<<<

Wow. Keep your eyes open for these little buggers and we can be good citizen scientists if we find and report.
All the best.

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Green and Yummy

Dust and grime accumulates on the plants’ leaves during our dry season,
coating trees, shrubs and little plants, making them look dull by the end of
summer. Our first serious rain and wind of the fall does a little clean-up; the
combination of rain and wind scour the leaves to reveal amazing variations of
the color green. The wet leaves make all the plants look shiny so that the
greens and plant textures are accentuated for awhile until the wet evaporates
and the brightness of the next sunny break washes out the color. I like to
think the scrubbing improves plants’ photosynthesis and that in addition to
knocking down the dust, the plants get a boost in oxygen production making the
air in the yard, after a windy rainy cleaning, fresh and yummy. Ahhh, deep

This was written in October 2011.

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Soft Air

Here in the Northwest, I think that October is the time when the fall season commitment is clearly expressed. We have such long transitions between seasons it is sometimes hard to tell when the season really has changed to the next predominant weather pattern. Yesterday I couldn’t help but think of how “soft” and gray the air had become and how this is the feeling I experience when I am in places like the Olympic Forest. I think the “soft” feeling comes from the sun being filtered through thick clouds or thick trees, from rain fall trajectory being interrupted by numerous leaf surfaces and from the quieting effect of leaves coated with wet. I like how the moss “greens-up” this time of year and how the promise of our rainy season allows my native plants to grow abundant roots for their best establishment over the winter. The “soft” feels like the transition to the quiet season of winter preparation when the native plants ready themselves to provide food abundance for all the little native critters.

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Robin Crowd

Yesterday afternoon a little crowd of robins made one of their regular foraging visits to our front yard and bird baths; they usually come through to feed and squabble in the baths in the afternoon. I have been building the “forest floor” of our yard for years and now it is thick, soft and healthy with lots of little bugs that break down the debris. The robins send hours bouncing forward, tossing the duff and gobbling down the insects they find. Then they take turns bathing in the bird baths. Some of them can be such little hogs about staying in a bath and chasing away any challengers. There were two that would stand face to face with their beaks open in threat toward each other, but neither would budge. Flickers and chickadees always come along with the robin crowd so it is interesting to watch what they do on the edges of the robin activity.