FAQ and About Fitting In

Question, Answers and about Cues to Care.

Edward Felsenthal

2/17/20243 min read

Q. What about sowing from seed directly?

A. Yes, you can both save money and lower the carbon footprint of your garden in this way. Take into consideration these facts:

  • Birds eat seeds.

  • It will be difficult to differentiate between weeds and the plants you sowed.

  • Seeds move around with the rain.

  • Wildflower seed mixes may contain non native wildflowers, so make sure of your mix.

  • Wildflower seed mixes will create a random garden, whereas you may want something more formal -- see the Q "What about the neighbors?". In this case, buy packs of seeds of a single plant each to plant.

Q. How do I care for a plant I buy?

A. Dig a hole larger than the pot, fill the hole with water and do this repeatedly if the soil is dry. Then put the plant in the hole and fill under and around it with the soil you dug out. Keep the plant at ground level. For the first year especially, make sure it doesn’t get too dry. It’s normal for the plants to droop during the afternoon, but if it hasn’t fully revived by the morning, this is a sign that it urgently needs watering. Watering is best in the early morning or evening, not during the hot daytime. Certainly by year 3, the plants will be more robust and have deeper roots to withstand drought better, but unless truly a drought tolerant plant, you will always need to provide some level of watering when in a drought or heat wave. Fertilizing native plants is not needed.

Q. My plant didn’t bloom

A. Actually, many perennials will not bloom their first year of life, so this is to be expected. That is the tradeoff when you buy young plants: Cheaper, but may not bloom the first year or rarely, even the second year. The other tradeoff in your favor, though, is that it’s much more work to plant a lot of large plants than it is to plant a lot of small plants!

Q. There is a white powdery mildew on the leaves and other issues

A. This is a common condition and although ugly, doesn’t normally kill the plant. Some years it is worse than other years and some years it may not appear at all. You can treat is like this: Combine 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 1 teaspoon of mild liquid dish soap, and 1 quart (1 liter) of water. Spray on top and bottom of leaves and repeat only every 7 to 10 days.

Q. There are aphids on my milkweed (or other non native or native pests).

A. Normal, don’t worry about it, they are edible to birds. If the milkweed hasn’t budded out yet, you can chop off the top part where the aphids are congregating and then the milkweed will branch out and actually create more flowers. At least this worked for me with a Swamp Milkweed. If you want to treat them, Combine about 1-2 teaspoons of mild liquid dish soap (avoid soaps with strong detergents or degreasers) with 1 quart (1 liter) of water. Spray on the aphids and don't forget the underside of the leaves. Repeat every few days until better.

Q. Fitting in with the neighbors -- Intentionality and Cues to Care

Sometimes we forget that neighbors and town officials may not like native plants because they can appear weedy and unkempt. For example, in New York City, plantings in tree beds need to maintain a height of under four feet. Nearby townships have lawn ordinances.

But people have come up with solutions to avoid these problems.

Intentionality: Intentionality signals that the plants are desirable. Intentionality can be signaled by borders, wood chips, rock and sculpture placements, signage and plant groupings.

Cues to Care: Cues to care are crisply mowed borders and paths, recent edging, weeding, weeded gravel areas.

Communication: Measured communication is a tool at your disposal. Being friendly ahead of time and describing what you are doing help to make for peaceful neighbors who won’t even realize they have been manipulated to look kindly on your native plants.

Here are some examples of Intentionality and Cues to Care: A sculpture, a strip of mowed lawn and clay plant enclosures interspersed with other native plants.