Underhill House is built on a site that was wooded when we first saw it. The southern-facing slope was covered with oaks on the upper part and a little patch of planted pine trees below them down to the pond. The oaks have fallen victim to oak wilt, which is slowly and inexorably making its way around the hill toward the north. Each year, new victims suddenly wither and die.
We have done our best to put the stricken trees to good use. A number of them were milled into the boards that make the roof of our barn. Others have found a place as unmilled timbers in our house.
The pines we decided to cut to open a southern exposure for our passive solar house design. Those trees were milled and used for the roof of Underhill House.
Now that the house is built, the space around it looks a bit like a war zone. After the building year will come the healing year. A lot of the bare and beat up dirt will be planted in cover crops this year to begin to recreate a living soil. It’s also the quickest and easiest way to protect the soil from erosion while we make more specific plans.
Basically the plan is to create a habitat that is friendly to birds and invertebrates using native plants.
We want to establish hedges that will block the view of the house from the pond so that we disturb the wildlife as little as possible. As a first step, we are trying out a method we just learned to transfer Red Osier Dogwood Cornus sericea.
We’ve all seen it. It stands out in the winter as the shrub with vivid red branches. It can be the only color in a snowy landscape That was what drew me to it initially, but the more I learn – the more I like.
It’s a native shrub that grows quickly and can reach 9 feet tall, so it will work well as part of our hedge to protect the pond.
As far as being friendly to wildlife – The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract many kinds of insects, including long-tongued bees, short-tongued bees, wasps, flies, and butterflies. The short-tongued bee, Andrena fragilis, is an oligolectic visitor (specialist pollinator) of Cornus spp. (Dogwood shrubs). Other insects feed on the leaves, suck plant juices, or bore through the wood. These species include the caterpillars of many moths, long-horned beetles , leaf beetles , aphids , plant bugs and others.
Because of their higher than average fat content, the white drupes of Red-Osier Dogwood are an important food source of wood ducks, songbirds, and upland gamebirds. The fallen leaves are eaten by some turtles, including snapping turtles, and we saw two big, old snappers in the pond last year.
When I read in Birdscaping in the Midwest: A Guide to Gardening with Native Plants to Attract Birds by Mariette Nowak about a very simple way to transplant red twig branches right now just before they bud out, Doug and I were very eager to try this technique. This is a great book and I am using it as one of my guides as we plan our landscape.
Many online sources describe a much more complex process of cutting twigs in the fall and then go into various methods of preparing them for spring planting, but according to Nowak, dogwoods can be propagated from stem cuttings by basically sticking them in the ground.
We have a thicket of dogwood on the edge of our prairie, so we went up there with pruners and a bucket of water. The stems should be 2-3 feet long and be kept wet from cutting till planting, preferably on the same day.
Then water it and mulch it. And keep watering every week for the first season. Nowak suggests using twigs 1/2″ to 1-1/2″ thick. We planted a thick and thin one at each site to see which one works best.
What a great plant!