Heliopsis helianthoides seedheads in the snow. Photo credit: Devin Floyd
February 23, 2021
In December and January, above ground plant growth is on pause and seeds are biding their time before they break dormancy and expose tender leaves to the sun. Those who tend the ground must use this calm and quiet time to rest and reflect on the season just past, while preparing body and mind to begin growing again along with the plants as soon as sufficient daylight allows. In February, the sun creeps up a bit more boldly in the morning and lingers longer. Herbaceous plants begin to stretch new leaves above the ground and seeds start to germinate. An investigation of standing dead plant material will reveal that most seed has been dispersed by wind, or birds, or gravity. In habitat restoration sites, it is time for work to begin.
Dry hollow stalks may harbor an insect nursery so, where they must be cut down, they should be cut down with care and, if possible, left in a pile nearby so that the native bees or other bugs can emerge on the warm days ahead unharmed.
Every few years (or more, depending on the state of the restoration site) grassland habitats in the Piedmont should be renewed by fire. Ecologists now understand that natural fires occurred as often as every 3-5 years across much of this region. These fires were low, slow, and instrumental for sustaining biodiversity. The 3-5 year interval was made more frequent through the land management practices of Indigenous people. This (mostly natural) disturbance regime resulted in vast expanses of biologically rich native grasslands that endured for many millennia before being brought to the edge of extinction by modern (colonial) fire exclusion. We are excited to be reintroducing fire to many local landscapes that have long suffered from the lack of it.
The Design and Restoration team has several grassland restoration sites in places that fire is not permitted (such as the streetside beds along Hinton Avenue in Charlottesville, VA). A careful cutback of standing dead material at these sites has been scheduled for February or March. We have nine more prescribed burns to accomplish by April. One is already complete. Seed and plant orders are being organized and placed for March planting at several ongoing and several brand new restoration sites. (Insert image of design schematic: see below) During the winter we generate new landscape designs for landowners looking forward to an exciting season of native planting in their home landscapes, as well as proposals for the restoration of larger privately owned wild spaces. Site consults are currently being scheduled at the rate of two or three a week. Spring is right around the corner and we will be ready!