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Stewarding Your Property

NCLT works to restore native and diverse habitats across our properties, but we need your help to transfer this ethic to the whole of our community…

Be a Steward of Your Property

Although New Canaan is a suburban landscape, there are still many steps you can take to help our native plants and wildlife thrive. Below are a list of easy things you can do to make your property more eco-friendly. We also encourage you to visit the CT Pollinator Pathway website, which is full of helpful information for home gardeners.

Convert Lawns to Usable Habitat

Lawns are often called “ecological deserts” because they do not provide any usable habitat for wildlife. However, there are some steps you can take to make your lawn more eco-friendly:

  • Consider allowing a section of your lawn to “go wild” during the summer. This longer grass can mimic the structure of a small grassland or meadow, and provide habitat for insects (and thus food for mammals and birds).
  • To enhance this new habitat, consider planting native wildflowers and grasses (some options below) to attract specific species of birds, butterflies, bees, etc.

By reducing the amount of traditional lawn on your property, you are not only helping to create habitat but are also reducing your environmental impact:

  • Lawns often require the use of pesticides, which will kill any insects that come into contact with it (even those that are harmless to your or your lawn). Pesticides can also pollute our water sources and leach into well water, which is the primary source of drinking water for many New Canaan residents.
  • Lawns need to be watered and can consume thousands of gallons of drinking water each year. The EPA estimates that, of the 400 gallons of water used by the average family of four, 30% of that goes to outdoor use. In New Canaan, that could add up to over 750,000 gallons per day during the summer.

Keep Standing and Fallen Dead Trees on the Landscape

If a dead tree (either standing or fallen) doesn’t pose a risk to your family or property, consider leaving it in place. There are many benefits that come from standing dead trees (also called snags) as well as fallen trees, but these trees are commonly removed from the landscape as they are considered unsightly or dangerous.

  • Insects, salamanders, snakes, mice, and woodpeckers create homes in standing dead trees, while skunks, bears, and a variety of bird species rely on the creatures living in the tree as a food source.
  • Fallen trees help with the amount of organic material and nutrients in the soil. Snags also provide a spot for mushrooms to grow which is a food source for many animals.
  • Without dead trees, many of these populations may struggle to find shelter, breeding sites, and food at different times of the year.

Build Brush for Wildlife Habitat

Brush piles are easy to build and maintain, and can often be built in conjunction with other stewardship projects such as the removal of invasive species.

  • Why: Brush piles create habitat for many small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects in areas where structural diversity in forests is limited. The residents of these brush piles can also act as a food source for songbirds, birds of prey, or larger mammals. Brush piles provide areas for nesting, resting, escape from predators, and protection from harsh weather conditions

  • How: simply stack logs and branches of different sizes to create a pile roughly 10 feet square, and 4-8 feet tall. Be sure to use materials that are found in the wild (avoiding things like leftover construction materials).

  • Where: It is best to build the piles in woodlands, and away from people so that wildlife will not be disturbed once the pile is created and they begin using it as a home or food source. Brush piles can also be used to protect seedlings or saplings from large herbivores. Simply build the brush pile around a seedling that you wish to protect, without covering the top.

  • Visit this website for more information!

Install Bird and Bat Houses

Habitat loss has driven some species away from former nesting and breeding areas. The right house can bring birds and bats back to these areas: with a bit of research, you can create the perfect home for desired bird species.

  • Helpful plans to attract specific species, including instructions on installation, habitat type, and more can be found on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “NestWatch” website.
  • Bats tend to be generalists but still need a specially constructed home. Check out Bat Conservation International’s website for more information.

Burning Bush – Euonymus alatus

Identifying Characteristics: A large bush that can easily exceed 10 feet if left to grow. Most easily identified by the winged branches and vibrant red leaves in the fall. Produces red berries in the late summer and fall.

Native Alternatives: Highbush Blueberry (vaccinium spp.), Viburnum, Dogwood (Cornus spp.), Sweetspire (Itea spp.) or Fragrant Sumac (Rhus spp.)

Recommended Removal Method: Cut plant and any regrowth that may appear later on. Can also paint stumps with small amount of herbicide.

Privet – Ligustrum spp.

Identifying Characteristics: Commonly planted as hedges, privet is usually seen growing as a bush. Left untrimmed, the plant can easily grow 20 feet or more. It produces strongly-scented white flowers in the summer with glossy leaves that are opposite each other on the branches.

Native Alternatives: Viburnum, Dogwood (Cornus spp.), Sumac (Rhus spp.)

Recommended Removal Method: Cut plant and any regrowth that may appear later on. Can also paint stumps with small amount of herbicide.

Japanese Barberry – Berberis thunbergii

Identifying Characteristics: Thorny shrub that commonly grows in clumps. Leaves are shaped like a teardrop and turn red in the fall. The plant also produces red berries in the fall. Cut branches or stems will produce an orange/yellow sap.

Native Alternatives: Weigela florida, Deutzia gracilis, Physocarpus opulifolius

Recommended Removal Method: Mow patches if possible, or cut and paint stumps with herbicide

Rambler Rose – Rosa multiflora

Identifying Characteristics: Entire plant is representative of cultivated rose varieties, including the numerous white flowers it produces in the spring, the sets of 3 or 5 leaves on each stem, and the sharp, hooked thorns.​ Usually grows as a shrub, but can reach 10 feet or more in height

Native Alternatives: Carolina Rose (Rosa carolina), Blackberry (Rubus spp.)

Recommended Removal Method: Mow patches if possible, or cut and paint stumps with herbicide

Bamboo – Phyllostachys spp.

Identifying Characteristics: Looks like a very tall grass that grows in dense clumps. Each individual has characteristic shoots with distinct notes. Produces flowers that are attached to branches.​

Recommended Removal Method: Cut bamboo, then lay a tarp or plastic over the area to smother any regrowth.

Other Notes: Bamboo has become such a nuisance that there is a CT state regulation regarding the planting and sale of the species

Asiatic Bittersweet – Celastrus orbiculatus

Identifying Characteristics: This deciduous vine is commonly found snaking its way up tree trunks, but can also be seen wrapping around itself in order to reach sunlight. The leaves are very round and slightly toothed, with the newest portions of the stem being a bright green, and the older portions changing to a grey/brown bark.​

Recommended Removal Method: Cut the vine near the base, and again 2-3 inches higher, to prevent the vine from reconnecting with itself. You can leave the vine to decompose in the tree, and to prevent regrowth, can paint a small amount of herbicide on the lower cut.

Common Thistle – Cirsium vulgare

Identifying Characteristics: Typically growing in open fields, this species of thistle gets its name form the bright purple flower produced at the tip of each stem in the late summer. The stems is covered with needle-like thorns that are incredibly sharp.

Recommended Removal Method: It is best to try to remove this plant before it flowers and releases seeds. The stem can be cut at the base, but it is best to try to remove the entire taproot. Mowing can help keep the plant suppressed until the root system dies.

Garlic Mustard – Alliaria petiolata

Identifying Characteristics: Low growing, and often found as individual stems. The easiest way to identify this species is to crush one of the leaves and smell it: there should be a distinct mustard smell. The leaves vary in shape, but the plant will begin to produce white flowers after two years of growth.

Alternatives: Fringecup, Piggy-Back plant, Ground ivy, Hairy bittercress, Black mustard

Recommended Removal Method: In areas with dense patches, laying down sheets of plastic to smother the plant may be the best option. Hand-removal is another option in lightly invaded areas. Best to remove prior to flowering.

Methods for Invasive Removal 

Manual Removal

  • How: Simply cut down the plant with a saw or loppers. You can also remove the root system of some species using a weed wrench or root jack, but should be careful to minimize soil disturbance.
  • Pros: Does not require the use of chemical herbicides, just a few tools and a bit of labor
  • Cons: Often needs to be repeated as many plants will re-sprout from their cut stumps, can be difficult to manually remove invasives that cover a large area

Foliar Herbicide Application

  • How: Hire a licensed herbicide applicator to spray the leaves of the invasive species. Glyphosate is the most commonly used herbicide and is effective on most species in our region.
  • Pros: Less work than manual removal
  • Cons: Herbicides are not species-specific and will also kill native plants if not sprayed carefully. Overuse can cause chemicals to enter drinking water supply

Stump Herbicide Application

  • How: After cutting the plant, apply a small amount of herbicide to the cut stump. Mixing a bit of dye into the herbicide can help ensure that you are only applying the herbicide in the area that you want.
  • Pros: Much smaller amount of herbicide used, and minimal risk of it entering the soil or being consumed by an animal. Also reduced the likelihood of the plant resprouting
  • Cons: Requires additional labor and materials

Suffocation/Starvation

  • How: Place double or triple layers of thick, UV-stabilized plastic sheeting over the invaded area (extending at least 3 feet past the desired area), and secure the plastic with stakes or weights. This prevents any plant under the plastic from getting light and water, and will kill the plants in 1-2 growing seasons
  • Pros: Aside from setting out the plastic, not much work is needed
  • Cons: Will kill all plants under the plastic, and requires the use of unsightly plastic for a year or more.

Cutting/Mowing

  • How: Using a lawn mower or brush cutter, cut the invaded area frequently to exhaust the root system of the plants
  • Pros: Does not use chemicals, and can help to regain a large area
  • Cons: Involves a fair amount of labor, and is less targeted than some other methods.

 

Plant Native Species

Native plants can be just as beautiful and easy to care for as non-native plants. When visiting your local nursery, make sure to chose plants that are native to our region, or do some research online to learn more about which species you should consider (Audubon has a very helpful resource HERE).