March 18, 2021
By Angela Sisson, Wallkill Valley Pollinator Pathway committee chair
Ecoregion: EPA ecoregions have distinct ecologies which are based upon the underlying geology which in turn dictates the types of plants able to grow there. Different plant communities dominate within the different ecoregions and native plant determinations are often made according to the ecoregion. Four EPA sub-regions exist in southern Ulster County. The Ridge and Valley ecoregion has three sub-regions which include the Shawangunk ridge and the valleys on either side of the ridge identified as Northern Glaciated Ridges (67m); Northern Glaciated and Slate Valleys (67k); and Northern Glaciated Limestone Ridges, Valleys, and Terraces (67l). The fourth sub-region is identified as Hudson Valley (59i). To find out what ecoregion you live see the Map linked here. You can read about the characteristics and the natural vegetation which occurs in your ecoregion in Ecoregions-NYS-information.pdf
Wildlife: Both nuisance and desirable animals should be noted on an analysis or sketch. Deer predation is extensive in our region and a problem for most gardens. Note any issues regarding bear, rabbit, rodents etc. Desirable species such as birds and insect pollinators should be noted along with their abundance or lack thereof.
Wind: Wind is often a hidden or ignored component of the landscape. Note the dominant winds (both summer and winter) and which areas are exposed to or buffered from the wind. Wind-exposed areas favor certain plant communities over others. Different heights and shapes may be more or less wind tolerant. Knowing more about your wind helps with plant choices as well as outdoor recreational use of the space.
Views: Include both desirable and undesirable views on an analysis sketch. Winter is a time when desirable (and undesirable) views reveal themselves presenting an opportunity to take future action. Desirable views can be enhanced through framing techniques such as pruning. Undesirable views can oftentimes be screened by making minor, strategic adjustments to planting plans. Views of a landscape from inside the house are especially important because many of us spend most of our time indoors and view the outdoors through our windows. Focusing on pollinator plants which also attract birds offers an opportunity to watch songbirds as they forage for berries right outside the window.
Plants: Plants, especially wild plants on (and off) a site may be the most important piece of a site analysis. People are often unfamiliar with the wild flora on and around their property. Their knowledge is often limited to those horticultural plants within their direct experience. As a result, wild (unplanted) native plants which may have great garden potential are often hidden in plain sight. A good plant inventory also provides valuable information about the growing conditions. Consider that a plant which is thriving without supplemental help means it is well-matched to the moisture, sunlight, and soil of a given location. (Thriving in this case means functioning in a community with other plants, unlike invasive species which overwhelm plant communities.) Identifying a stand of native wildflowers and grasses can serve as both a source of information and as inspiration for a planting plan.
Though trees & shrubs may be identifiable in winter, herbaceous plant identification is better left to the growing season. Both desirable and undesirable (invasive) species should be identified throughout the growing season on multiple occasions, such as early spring (especially important for ephemerals), early summer and then again in late summer. Pay attention as well to neighboring properties, especially any wild, unmanaged vegetation.
But how does one begin to identify wild plants?
Lots of ways both new & old including:
Field guides such as Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide and Weeds of the Northeast;
Apps for devices such as iNaturalist (https://www.inaturalist.org/home); and
Websites such as https://plants.usda.gov/.
Make an inventory of the plants you’ve been able to identify. Your list will grow as your skills do.
A wild plant inventory ultimately informs both the pollinator planting plan and the invasive removal plan.
Structures: Note the locations of buildings, driveways, patios, walkways, walls, utilities and so on. The house is often the point from which views are considered and at which gardens will be located. Structures are also a source of shade and are likely to have altered or compacted soil near their foundations.
History: Every property has a history. Make a note of any former land usage. Most of this region has an agricultural history—and knowing whether a property was cropped (plowed) or in pasture can make a difference. Formerly plowed land was subjected to substantial soil disturbance and disturbance encourages invasive plants. As a result, seed banks in cropped fields are more likely to have invasive species. Former pastures, on the other hand, are more likely to support stands of native plants and native species in the seed bank.
This all sounds like a lot of information to gather up but, in fact, most people already know a great deal about their property. It’s just a matter of paying attention to that knowledge, writing it down and doing more research to fill in the gaps.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to plant for pollinators on your property, please join the pollinator pathway: https://wallkillvalleylt.org/pp/join-pollinator-pathway/
Addendum to Site Analysis for Pollinator Plantings—Part I
Soils: You may want to consider a soil analysis. After the ground thaws dig up some dirt and mail your soil sample to the address on: ulster.cce.cornell.edu/gardening/soil-testing. An extensive analysis of both pH and nutrients costs about $30 and provides a lot of useful information.
Next month for the Wallkill Valley Pollinator Pathways article:
We’ll talk about a local annual plant sale that returns this May, after a year off, and will start selling native plants to support the pollinators.
Additional Learning Resources:
-Ecological Landscape Alliance is hosting Wednesday Walks in the Garden, Seven free gardening webinars beginning 3/31/21
-Cornell Cooperative Extension Columbia and Greene Counties: Spring Gardening Day 2021,Online Webinars and Plant Sale. Series of weekly webinars starting 4/10/21 can be found at:
Linked pdf documents:
EPA-EcoRegions.pdf (map image of southern Ulster County ecoregions)
Ecoregions-NYS-information.pdf (this document is linked to within article and can be found again by clicking here)