Habitat Tips

When to Water

annotated photo of watering tools (can, hose, nozzle, sprinkler, rain gauge) Although established native plants rarely need watering, ensuring they get consistent water their first year is important to develop deep drought tolerant root systems. Newly planted trees need our help for the first 2-3 years!

  • Use a rain gauge or a level straight-sided container to measure rainfall. If it records 1 inch a week, no watering is needed.

  • When installing your new plants, shape a level bowl around their stem for watering their root zone. Be sure this area is well soaked to a 4-6 inch depth. New large leafy plants may require more water since those leaves will be transpiring water back into the air. 

    • diagram of bow size for root zone 2-4 feet plus for shrubs and trees which will need 5-20 gallons of water, depending on their size, to encourage deep rooting. Tree gator zip-up watering bags can be helpful.

    • 12-16 inch diameter for gallon and larger pots.

    • 6-8 inch diameter bowls for plugs or small pots.

  • Observe how your plants respond so you can figure out their needs.

  • It's better to water late in the day so the water soaks into the soil in the cool of the evening vs. evaporating quickly in the midday sun.

Mulch and Compost

New plantings that replace regularly mowed and leaf-raked lawns typically require adding a layer of compost and *hardwood chips to jump start beneficial fungal/soil biota activity and add organic matter and nutrients. 

leaf litter Woodland edge and moist meadow natural communities typically have high organic matter from leaf litter or dense meadow vegetation respectively. When rewilding shaded or soggy lawn sites, layer 2-3 inches of compost followed by 1-2 inches of wood chips to mimic these conditions. In future years, leave the fallen leaves, stems, branches, and deadwood in place. 

Sandy sites and thinly soiled outcrops are naturally lower in organic matter and nutrients. When rewilding these areas, layer 1-2 inches of compost followed by 1-2 inches of hardwood chips. These drier plant communities won’t thrive with excessive nutrients but need a starter boost in their first year. 

This Mulch Guide from Brooklyn Bridge Park is an excellent summation of the pros, cons and subtleties of using mulch, including sheet mulching.

*Here’s more in-depth information on the benefits and types of hardwood chips: Ramial Chips - Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners.

Track and ID Insect Visitors

Native plants attract diverse insect visitors: native bees, flower flies, beetles, solitary wasps, butterflies, caterpillars and more. Not all will be prominently feeding from flowers. Many are inconspicuous, either camouflaged or leaving behind evidence such as cut leaves or minute droppings. The presence of insects is an indication of a healthy natural community. It is rewarding to identify these beneficial guests! 

We recommend setting up an iNaturalist account to not only help ID what you’ve found but to contribute to community science, e.g. Vermont Center for Ecostudies’ Vermont Atlas of Life . Community scientists contribute over 95% of Vermont’s biodiversity records and Vermonters contribute more field observations per capita than any other state!

screenshot of inaturalist iNaturalist offers a great guide for getting started on the app or scroll down on this site for some how-to videos. Here are a few additional tips based on our experience: 

  • Getting the right photo to use on iNaturalist takes patience. Move slowly and maintain sharp focus. Select the shot that shows key features, crop it and post to your iNaturalist account.  The app's algorithms will suggest some IDs. 

  • Review the suggestions and select the best match.  Note whether the suggested insect is active at the time of year the photo was taken. For example, if your photo was taken in May and the insect is only active in August, it’s not a match! Likewise, if the species has not been seen in this part of the country, it’s likely not a match either. 

  • Experts will confirm or suggest another ID. Once two agree on the species ID, it is designated Research Grade. Scientists have also created “Projects” to join. For example, users can help track  which plant species are favored by leaf cutter bees! 

We’ve learned a lot by observing, photographing and uploading our photos, and scientists are grateful for the observation data. You may observe a bee, beetle or moth rare to science!

Cutting Back Stems

cross section of a mason bee nest in old wood. Some of our native bees nest in last year’s dead flower stems or woody cavities. Heather Holm, biologist, award-winning author and pollinator conservationist in Minnesota, helped create the linked graphic below and shared these photos to explain how they use the dead stalks.  

Our native stem-nesting bees will lay their eggs in dead stalks and provision the egg cells in year one. The eggs hatch into larvae which mature into adults over the next 11 months if they’re not disturbed. 

IF we need to cut back garden stems, we look for the 

  • pithy or hollow dead stalks that have 
  • ⅛ inch or greater centers and 
  • cut them to 8-24” tall, 

breaking the rest into pieces to leave around the plants as mulch and recycle their nutrients naturally. New green shoots will quickly grow to hide the dead stems.

That’s a small carpenter bee working on its nest in a pithy stem and a cross section of a mason bee nest in old wood. 

Learn more: How to create habitat for stem-nesting bees

small carpenter bee working on its nest in a pithy stem