Between the plan staked out at Nature Nooks Retreat in the desolate-looking March 21st “before” photo below and the “after” photo from about the same location on May 22nd,   there has been plenty of sore, stiff, and worn out. Yet, the work has been really fun and rewarding to do. Nearly all of the plants are already leafing out! For me, there is nothing better than the exhausted self-satisfied grin that comes from getting something worthwhile done – maybe a vestige of my protestant upbringing – but I love it. And, of course, a G&T to go along with basking in the good-tired feeling helps a bit too.

Before planting natives showing staked locations After planting native plants







Having ordered the ten different species of woody natives from five different sources, they arrived in a spaced sequence that allowed for immediate planting. C&C Landscaping delivered a bobtail load of wood chips, 7 cubic yards I think, for $223.00.  This was enough to put 3 to 4 inches of mulch around all of the 120 some plants we planted between the Nature Nooks Retreat site and the in-town site. According to Douglas Tallamy in Nature’s Best Hope, wood chips are the best mulch to use as this natural woody material favors the survival of pupating butterflies and moths. It also keeps the weeds down and the soil moisture up and provides some competition-free space through which clumping species can send up shoots and where the stand-alone species to thrive.

A handful of the plants went into marginal areas that were not previously yard. These got 2’ x 2’ weed mats that have an X cut in the middle for the plant.  These mats were ground-stapled at the corners after planting. A photo of this set up, with a deer wire, is shown below. These weed mats allow moisture in but deter the weeds. Almost all the plants got the 4” diameter and 2’ tall nylon mesh cylinders to protect from rodents and rabbits. These are held in place by bamboo stakes.  The mats, mesh tubes, and bamboo stakes were ordered from Forestry Supply out of Mississippi.  However, because the New Jersey Tea came in small pots and were already multi-stemmed, these got protected by larger diameter chicken wire rings.

Plant with weed mat, tube, and deer fence

As all these different plants grow, I foresee replacing small protective mesh or wire rings with larger ones. Already the Chokecherries and some of the Service Berries have grown above the 2’ tall mesh tubes.  I have had to put 4’ tall, 2” x 4” mesh welded wire fencing rings around these to keep the deer away as a temporary solution. My deer challenges along the West Fork of the Kickapoo River, where Nature Nooks is located, will be endless. Every spring I do what I call “the oak wire shuffle” – replacing too small diameter 4’ to 6’ tall fence wires around the oaks with larger ones. Unless I build a fence, it’ll be the same with these native shrubs.  I’ve used a solar-charged electric fence in the orchard to keep the deer away. However, the wisdom of this approach has been called into question by my partner Pam. Afterall, this “outdoor room” with fire circle is being created for our retreat guests.

Another deer strategy is to spray every few weeks with Plantskydd, a bovine, dried blood product that seems to work better than anything else. If used at least 24 hours before a rain, it seems to persist. It stinks when wet but not so much when dried. This prevent-deer-browse topic is big and could easily become the subject of follow-up postings. Right now, I have to go spray Plantskydd on two-hundred-some previously planted natives. The darn deer love those new leaves.