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Posts filed under 'Animals'

Ditching the Lawn to Feed the Butterflies in Los Angeles

I’ve dreamed of re-landscaping with native plants for ages. But, like our decrepit bathroom, we just hadn’t the time or energy to get around to it. Until now.

This is just a long-winded account of what we did to reclaim our yard, under the guidance the many online tips from folks at Las Pilitas California native plant nursery. Hopefully I’ll write up a full-fledged guide shortly.

We never really watered our weedy lawn much, out of environmental consciousness and a little laziness. It managed to survive pretty well until one drought year when it went really brown. So finally one day I saw a crew of gardeners ripping out a lawn up the street (to re-sod — ew), and I had em rip out our remaining grass. Then to make sure all was REALLY dead, I watered for months and waited through the rainy season for anything to sprout, spraying nasty, evil chemicals to dispose of the rest. Rampaging weeds and invasive grasses are a sure way to ruin a native planting before you even start.

After much soul-searching, we murdered our 40ft eucalyptus tree so that it wouldn’t destroy our new native habitat with its thirst for all moisture in the soil and constant rain of leaves, seeds, blossoms and bark. I will miss the shade and smell, but not the daily sweeping. Here in Santa Monica we are frankly lucky we didn’t get protested for chopping a tree, even if it is an invader from Australia. We offed it swiftly.

I did a modest amount of research and at first it was hard to track down NATIVE plants at the local nurseries. Everyone sells so called drought resistant stuff, but almost all of it is from the Mediterranean, Australia and Africa. The same handful of species is sold everywhere. It just doesn’t make sense — why not salvage a little of the local biodiversity with perfectly suited plants that need little or no care? I suppose it is just the economics of nurseries — they all get plants from the same national distributors and customers all ask for the same silly plants.

Finally I found this quite cool California native plant nursery with a brilliantly informative website (laspilitas.com) with easy online ordering and delivery. I picked out critter-friendly buckwheats, salvias, manzanitas and more. I carefully (more or less) diagrammed the mature sized plants across the yard. I contoured a couple of modest mounds into the yard. I even filled the Civic with 700 pounds of rocks to welcome the plants. The sprouts arrived by UPS, surprisingly tiny and a little smooshed. I planted the suckers as planned. Contrary to every gardening instinct (and against advice from our neighbor the professional landscaper) I followed the instructions from the native plant people – no soil amendment, no roto-tilling, no organic matter, no fertilizer, no composting. Just stuck the plants into the hard, minimally disturbed ground. Ok.

And now time to mulch. The one things the native plants do need is a few inches of wood chips to recreate the natural organic matter that would cover the ground in the wild. I carefully calculated how much I’d need and started looking for sources. It was gonna cost at least $500 to either buy the dyed crap they sell at Home Depot, or to get some nicer stuff delivered. It would cost more than I’d paid for plants and rocks! The City of LA also offers free mulch that you can pick up at several yards throughout the city, though I read reports that it often has a bunch of trash in it. Then I found a tree trimming company that would, for FREE dump FREE wood chips and it was completely FREE, including the FREE delivery. I was mighty excited about the free part. The minimum they’d deliver was a bit more than I needed, but I figured I’d easily find some spots in the backyard that could use a little mulch.

Now, in retrospect, I now know that they dumped much more than the minimum portion I’d requested. But when it arrived I had no idea. I had already assumed the pile would seem astonishingly huge – I have no point of reference. But as the pile slid out of the dump truck, I started to feel a little sick. The mountain was much larger than our car – longer, wider, higher. Which sounds kinda big, but, really, when it is in your driveway and you can’t park there any more or use your gate, and all of the neighbor kids want to climb in it and everyone who passes points and starts asking questions, it is impossibly big and seems like a big mistake. And it radiated that nice piny Christmas smell, but multiplied by a gazillion so that the off-gassing made my eyes burn for days, even inside the house. Neighbors were gawking and some passers-by were outright laughing, though I may have been suffering from a little paranoia.

So for a week (during a nasty heat wave) I frantically and desperately hauled wood chips around the yard trying to make the mountain get smaller and prove that I wasn’t a friggin idiot for getting it all dumped there. And, besides, I had to make room to park the car, and get the trash bins out of our gate. Thanks to Mr. Peterson, my neighbor, who witnessed the delivery and lent me a wheelbarrow. I guess I had thought I was going to use a bucket to spread the stuff or something. Yea, right.

Well the pile was a crazy hodge-podge of wood. The stuff on top that I spread on my yard first was too big—giant chunks of pine that were really bright colored and it made the yard look like I was getting ready to light a bon-fire. You couldn’t even see the plants. It was sad and embarrassing. On the other side of the wood pile I found stuff that was equally unacceptable – really papery dusty crap that had mixed with some leaves so it was composting and steaming. A woman actually knocked on my door concerned that the giant dangerous looking wood pile was spontaneously catching fire. Somehow, by accident, I realized that if I spread the composty stuff on top of the absurdly huge pine chunks, it made neither look too ridiculous. So I dumped another layer on the yard. Not bad. Then I spent another few days dumping woodchips in every free nook in the back yard. Finally in the middle of the pile I found some really nice, modest sized, reddish wood chunks, just the kind any normal, self respecting suburbanite would love to have in their front yard. But no more space. Oh well.

I managed to use about 2/3s of the damn pile. Really. It was amazing to see the pile actually shrink, against all odds, as I dragged barrow-full after barrow-full around the yard.

The remaining pile mocked me for another three weeks as I posted Free Mulch on Craig’s List and met about a dozen very interesting people who also like mulch.

Two weeks after the first application, the wood chips settled and the color and scent actually became pleasant. The plants nearly all survived (surpassing all hopes) and after only a couple of months have grown nicely, begun bloom and attract some beautiful native butterflies and birds. I just want to hang out in the yard and water it to show it a little love, but I can’t because it doesn’t need water and in fact it would kill it.

3 comments July 8th, 2008

Beautiful Orb Spiders Coming Out for Fall in Los Angeles

The crows aren’t the only ones coming out for fall in Los Angeles. Huge, beautiful (creepy?) orb spiders have come back. Every evening in a couple of choice locations around the yard, about 15 feet in the air, they start weaving. Before bed I can usually spot a couple not far from where they were the night before. These orb spiders have huge bulbous bodies and, unlike the many jumping spiders, cobweb spiders, house spiders and other crawly friends around here, these guys make big old classic webs. They shoot out long strands between the trees and the eves of our house and then make the circuit, around and around, filling them in for a couple hours. And it looks like they capture big old moths. I hope so, for all that work. Frequently they are still hanging there in the morning with their webs slightly broken, and they seem to hide out during the day.

Lots of good info and photos can be found at the Natural History Museum’s Spider Survey page. You can even participate by dunking your spiders into alcohol, filling out a form and sending them to the museum. (I prefer to leave them in my yard). And we love this book, Insects of the Los Angeles Basin for all of our figuring-out-what-bug-this-is needs, also written by folks at the Natural History Museum.

September 5th, 2007

The Crows are Back

Well they’re back, whoopin’ it up at dusk in huge numbers in the local trees. I refuse to believe summer is over, but the flocks of crows that like to party around here have started their antics. Last month it was a very very loud mocking bird making some kind mating call through the warm summer nights. Now it looks like the crows are getting together for some nice fall roosting.

For a few years I had wondered about the raucous crow festivities here in LA, so in January I asked asked Kimball L. Garrett of the Natural History Museum a few questions about crows in Los Angeles. He has some insights into crow behavior and some perspective on why they seem to take over urban areas. Basically, we’ve replaced the native scrub habitat with crow-friendly trees. And we don’t shoot them like farmers do (it is against the law, so don’t try). Read the article to learn more.

And I’m sure we’ll hear more complaints about the flocking crows this year. I’m still betting that someone here in Santa Monica will come up with a bazillion dollar crow birth control program. So stay tuned for that….

August 26th, 2007

Dog Solar Landscape Light Statue – I found it on Amazon

Solar landscape light is such an amazing innovation. Easy to install, eco-friendly and, as of this season, it is finally quite affordable. At last an environmentallyi friendly product that sells itself not because it is green, but because we are all lazy and it is easier than wired products.

Solar Powerd Dog Landscape LightWell, now that solar landscape lights have hit the big time, thoughtful product developers are taking the technology and making sophisticated decorative items that all modern households should have. For instance, take the Golden Retriever Dog Solar Landscape Light Statue. So life-like you’d swear an actual minature golden retriever was holding a lantern in your yard. One of a kind and available now from the good people at Winning Gifts, care of Amazon. I would suggest you buy it as a gift, but, as usual when gifting, how can you help but get one for yourself too?

May 9th, 2007

Polar Bears: Endangered but who cares….

In the first article of our Issues department, Carla Wise has a hard time caring that Polar Bears are becoming endangered. Not that she doesn’t care — she’s a conservation biologist who has devoted her life to endangered species — it’s just that climate change is now threatening all living species. Check out this incredible article on Polar Bears, climate change and the evolving environmental movement. Don’t despair, it includes a strong set of solutions to help save the Polar Bears, human beings and all living species.

You can leave any comments on the article here….

17 comments April 20th, 2007

Peru Animals, Plants & Natural history page updated

Our Quixo Peru Animals, Plants & Natural History page has been updated! Say you want to know where to find a llama, alpaca, vicuña or guanaco…. Or maybe you want to find the best reference books for bird watching in Peru and South America. And by the way did you know that in the highlands of Peru you might find a member of the chinchilla family that looks like a cross between a rabbit and a squirrel? You guessed it, the vizacha.

Anyway, there’s a lot more, like info on dear, foxes, giant hummingbirds. And as always great book recommendations.

2 comments March 27th, 2007

Backyard Science & Fun with Nature (with Kids)

We’ve just posted a new backyard science and fun with nature in los angeles guide! Catherine Criolla has submitted a fantastic write-up on backyard science activities, books, places to go and resources to find more information. I guess it is for kids, but there’s stuff for everyone. There’s stuff about all kinds of critters — bugs (insects, spiders and butterflies), birds, squirrels… You name it. Plus some tips on getting out and enjoying nature around Southern California and beyond. Leave a note here if you have any additions or suggestions.

1 comment March 12th, 2007

Santa Monica Crows in the News

Just these week I posted a little article about the Crows here in Santa Monica. I had been curious about these amazing flocks of birds. Well, as I had suspected, some people are getting riled by them.

Santa Monica Mirror whining about crows

What do they want animal control to do, round up the crows in big nets? Poison them? Knowing Santa Monica liberals, by next week we’ll have a bird birth control program in place that costs enough to provide health insurance to all of the domestic help in Los Angeles. And the real reason this is happening? Our hedges are now so tall the crows are nesting in them.

Honestly, it is not that bad. Enjoy the fact that we have a little bit of nature here in the City. Or cut down your trees and replace them with native scrub.

January 26th, 2007

Crows take over Los Angeles!

At least it seems like it! Every winter crows take over our Santa Monicaneighborhood, having wild partie like a bunch of insane winged bikers. They gather in the evenings and mornings and if they choose our part of the neighborhood, the racket can be loud and intimidating.

So I thought I’d get to the bottom of it. I had a little conversation with Kimball L. Garrett from the Los Angeles Natural History Museum. You can read the Los Angeles Crows article here. Particularly poignant are Mr. Garrett’s comments at the end about the poor job we are doing protecting upland habitat such as sage scrub, grasslands, while we focus so much on wetlands. Sounds like a we’ll need to do another article! And feel free to leave you crow and other experiences in the comments!

Oh, one PS to the article. Just after completing it, our local crows were making a particularly big ruckus. Next thing we knew, a swarm of them flew over our heads chasing a huge hawk who appeared to be clutching something (or someone, ooh hoo ha ha). We don’t get big old hawks in our neighborhood very often, so it was pretty impressive!

7 comments January 23rd, 2007

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