Trees are an investment. They require our time, labor, and money but did you ever consider that trees pay us back, in multiple ways? Their leaves intercept raindrops and reduce erosion. Tree roots absorb rainwater providing stormwater retention. Leaves filter the air, removing particulates and releasing the oxygen we need to breathe. Property values of well-landscaped homes can be five to 20% higher than non-landscaped homes. Trees provide food for wildlife and people.
You may be surprised to learn that trees and shrubs provide a critical portion of the diet of many pollinators. Flowering native trees and shrubs such as dogwood, basswood, buttonbush, spicebush, apple, and cherry provide nectar and pollen. Something I recently learned is that trees and shrubs can be an excellent food source for the pollinators in their caterpillar stage. Choosing the right trees and shrubs can not only enhance your landscaping but can serve as the host plants, feeding many species of caterpillars that grow up to be beautiful butterflies and moths. The butterflies and moths not only pollinate most of our food crops; they also serve as food themselves for birds and other wildlife.
An excellent resource is www.nwf.org/nativeplantfinder, a collaboration amongst the U.S. Forest Service, National Wildlife Federation, and the University of Delaware. You start by typing in your zip code for plants that are native to your area. There are two categories: native trees and shrubs, and flowers and grasses. All are ranked by the number of caterpillar species they support, from greatest number to the fewest. I have a swamp white oak tree, several red oaks, and a pin oak in my yard, and I discovered that oaks are ranked the highest in the number of caterpillars they attract (477). I also have some young eastern redbuds (24), dogwoods (111) and persimmons (46). I have to admit that I have never noticed these various caterpillars but you can be sure that this summer I plan to investigate!
The website also has a butterfly finder tool where you can search for a particular butterfly or moth and its host plant or plants. The pawpaw tree is the only host plant for the zebra swallowtail caterpillar, but the polyphemus moth caterpillar isn’t so discerning and will dine on many different trees, including apple, ash, birch, hawthorn, hickory, maple and oak.
Why plant native? Native trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowers have co-evolved with our local wildlife and provide them with the food, shelter, and nesting sites they require. Natives are adapted to our climate and once established on an appropriate site, require little maintenance, saving you time, money and effort. Must your yard be 100% native? No, some landscape plants may be selected for their attractiveness, to serve as a focal point, to form a privacy screen, or for their color or shape. It is recommended that no more than 30% of your landscaping be nonnative.
I know it’s cold outside but now is the time to plan for spring planting and maintenance. Mark your calendar for “Growing Healthy Trees,” a two-part series of free virtual workshops for homeowners, scheduled for 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on March 24 and 31. Now is also the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District’s annual tree seedling sale.
For more information on both, visit soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us.
Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to https://soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us/.