Mother Nature’s Favorite Mulch: Tips from Carro & the NOTG Conservation Committee

Everyone knows that mulching suppresses weeds, buffers soil temperature, retains soil moisture, and reduces soil erosion. Decomposing mulch also adds organic matter to the soil. Pine straw seems to be the most popular choice for mulch, but I would like to offer you an easier, greener and cheaper option… your yard’s leaf litter.

Don’t bag your leaves and send them to the landfill! Leaf litter makes wonderful mulch both under the tree from which they fall and in your garden beds. Macro and micro invertebrates decompose the leaves which release nutrients into the soil to nourish your plants. Additionally, leaf litter aids in creating a biodiverse ecosystem in your yard by providing habitat for frogs, earthworms, beetles, crickets, centipedes, millipedes and butterfly pupae. Birds will come to forage for these insects to feed their young.

Let’s all adopt this easy and beneficial home conservation practice.

Storm Water Management: A Timely Message from the Conservation Committee

The city of New Orleans and its citizens must adopt Best Management Practices (BMP) to successfully manage the heavy rainfall that New Orleans frequently receives. The rain is going to fall so we might as well use it to our advantage. Good storm water management measures can be as common sense as protecting and maintaining mature trees. Researchers have found that one mature tree can absorb nearly 900 gallons of stormwater a day; a block full of trees can mean the difference between flooding and not flooding a neighborhood.

Rain gardens and rain storage systems capture and hold rain allowing water to penetrate in place and thus combat subsidence. Using pervious surfaces for parking lots, driveways and patios allows rainwater to remain close to where it falls instead running into drainage canals or streets.

A bioretention cell is a stormwater best management practice designed to capture and treat the first flush of rain runoff from impermeable surfaces such as a traditional parking lot. Bioretention cells are landscaped depressions used to slow and treat onsite stormwater runoff. Stormwater drains towards the basin and then percolates through the system where it is cleaned by plants and microbes. This is a far better landscape solution than the traditional raised planted beds in parking lots whose trees have an average lifespan of 7 years.

Some immediate benefits from water management practices such as these are improved water quality, flood control, community design, habitat creation, reduction of our urban heat island, improved air quality and these are incremental solutions that can be added to along the way.

Personal actions you can take to reduce your use of plastics

  • Recycle – Less than 14% of plastic packaging is recycled.
  • Go on a Plastics Diet – 90% of the plastic items in our daily lives are used once.
  • Ban the Bags – Urge officials to follow the lead of over 150 cities and counties by passing legislation to ban the use of plastic bags or impose a use-fee per bag.
  • Stop Buying Water in Plastic Bottles – Close to 20 billion water bottles are tossed into the trash each year.
  • Buy in Bulk – Consider the product-to-packaging ratio of items you buy. Single serving containers and travel size toiletries use decidedly more plastic.
  • Cook More – It’s healthier and cooking at home eliminates plastic & styrofoam takeout containers, plastic bags, plastic cutlery, and small plastic condiment containers.
  • Bring your own Garment Bag to the cleaners – Invest in a zippered fabric bag and request that your cleaned items be returned in it instead of plastic.
  • Consumer Rights – Contact corporations and ask them to use less plastic packaging and more recyclable containers.
  • Get the word out – Tell your friends and community about ways to cut back on the growing use of plastics. It can make a BIG difference for our oceans.

Wonders of the Wetlands 2019: Zone IX Meeting in Beaumont, Texas

A highlight of the 2019 zone meeting was celebrating with David Waggonner, a partner in the architectural firm Waggonner and Ball, when he received the Zone Civic Improvement Award at the Zone IX Awards Dinner in Beaumont.

New Orleans Town Gardeners proposed David for this award because of his visionary work with water management. After Katrina, David became a champion of solving water management problems in New Orleans and throughout the region by making water an asset not an adversary.

Congratulations David!

Coastal Loss Series, Part Four: What do hogs have to do with coastal loss? Plenty!

This is the fourth of a four part series focused on Coastal Loss and presented by the NOTG Conservation Committee. Thanks to Carro for these informative articles!

Feral hogs (Sus scrofa), were introduced as domestic pigs in the 1500’s by European explorers. They now number over 700,000 in Louisiana and are found in all 64 parishes. Sexually mature at 6 months, wild hogs can produce 6-12 piglets twice a year.

Considered by some conservation groups as the #1 invasive species in terms of detriment, hogs cause millions of dollars in agricultural, cultural, and coastal damage annually. Feral hogs are omnivores and can adapt to nearly any environment from desert to marsh to piney woods and hardwoods and can even survive in sub-arctic conditions. Hardy and adaptive, hogs eat everything from grubs, acorns and herbaceous plant roots to bird and turtle eggs, chicks and fawns. They out-compete other animals for food and destroy habitat for native animals such as ground dwelling birds.

Hogs’ insatiable appetite for acorns reduces germination of these native hardwoods which are important for water retention during storms. These porcine bull dozers root on marshes and levees, weakening the plant material vital to holding the soil in place. Bare soil that isn’t washed away is now vulnerable to invasive species.

According to Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries, statisticians have determined that 75 percent of the feral hog population must be harvested simply to maintain a static population. A number of possible solutions are being researched. At present, hog hunting season is “open 365 days per year” to combat their growing numbers, and approximately 350,000 animals are harvested annually.

Going Green at the March Meeting

Carro Gardner brought a fresh and radical approach to the lunch at our March meeting, serving as head hostess her first time since joining the club in 2001. An avid organic gardener, environmentalist, champion of sustainability and new board member of City Park, Carro decided we should try to make our club meeting at the Grow Dat youth farm as earth-friendly as possible.

Toward that end, she led her hostess team in rethinking how we handle lunch. Individuals brought real tablecloths and napkins, stainless silverware, and plastic Mardi Gras cups….all of which could be washed and reused. We purchased biodegradable bamboo plates. Four members each brought two casual flower arrangements with plant material from their yards for the table decorations. Instead of water bottles, Carro brought a two gallon water cooler. Instead of box lunches, Carro ordered organic green salad from Grow Dat and 4 varieties of healthy delicious wrap sandwiches from Green to Go, all served family style. When we finished eating, any food waste was scraped into a bucket which was then used for composting. The cans from some sodas and sparkling water were recycled. And after everything was cleaned up, Carro hoisted a very small bag overhead to show how little packaging was used and how little actual trash we accumulated from serving 45 people.

In addition to the almost negligible environmental impact of the lovely outdoor lunch, when the bill was tallied up, the luncheon cost HALF of our normal garden club lunch expenses. Each hostess only needed to chip in $31.50 for a beautiful, ecologically sound lunch in City Park. We left the site without any trace of having been there!

Thanks to Karin Giger Eustis for writing up this great report on how Carro and her hostess committee made such a difference!

Coastal Loss Series, Part Three: The Role of Diversions in Rebuilding the Coast

This is the third of a four part series focused on Coastal Loss and presented by the NOTG Conservation Committee.

Diversions are a large part of Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast and one of the most effective options for enhancing long-term sustainability of existing wetlands.

Many of our waterways have been controlled and redirected, curtailing their historic patterns of overflow, natural course changes, and flooding—and thus restricting their ability to distribute sediment over the coastal plain. Diverting the flow of fresh water through coastal areas can build new land while effectively combatting saltwater intrusion. Diversions mimic the natural river process of depositing nutrients into wetlands. Why pay to mechanically move sediment when the river will do it for us naturally?

Unfortunately, diversions do come with some trade-offs.

It’s not a fast fix. It can take decades before the slow process of land building gives coastal communities any appreciable storm protection. In the short term, abrupt changes to salinity will impact fisheries, especially oyster fisheries.

The influx of excess nutrients may weaken root systems of marsh plants and facilitate the spread of invasive species like Water Hyacinth and Giant Salvinia, and there is the possibility of increased flood risk to coastal communities.

Finally, while salt marshes can take some fresh water, fresh water wetlands cannot take salt water without sustaining damage. Fresh marsh systems are susceptible to salt damage when low river levels keep diversions from flowing as happens in late summer and fall.

What do you think? Are the trade-offs and potential risks of diversion programs worth the value they have in rebuilding land in coastal areas? The benefits are the risks are both real, and our vanishing coast may hang in the balance.

And the Medal Goes to….

Aristolochia macrophylla (Dutchman’s Pipe) has been chosen as the 2019 Freeman Medal WINNER.

There were 22 submissions for the 2019 award. One panelist noted, “If we are trying to encourage people to pay attention to nature and become in awe of it, this is a good ‘gateway drug’ plant.” The panel agreed that Dutchman’s Pipe is an underused plant. Its role as a host plant for the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly “sealed the deal.”

This annual GCA Horticulture Award was established by Judy and Louis Freeman in honor of New Orleans Town Gardener Montine McDaniel Freeman. The award considers native North American plants that deserve wider recognition and distribution. Being awarded a Freeman medal ensures interest and wider planting of the species.

Coastal Loss Series, Part Two: Nutria – How an introduced species can affect a habitat

This is the second of a four part series focused on Coastal Loss and presented by the NOTG Conservation Committee.

We often talk about the damage that invasive, non-native plant species can do to our environment. Louisiana’s coastline has been affected detrimentally by a particular non-native mammal, the nutria, who does his damage by feasting on the roots and grasses that hold together Louisiana’s marshland.

Nutria were introduced to Louisiana from South America in the 1930s to bolster the fur industry. It wasn’t long before they escaped or were released. The habitat here suited them well, but they became an agricultural nuisance to rice and sugarcane farmers as early as the ‘40s and ‘50s. They were also blamed by the trapping industry for a decline in populations of the native muskrat. In the 1960s, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries led a cooperative effort to market nutria fur. By the late 1970s, the price per pelt was peaking. Nearly 2 million pelts per year were being harvested. Damage to crops declined, and muskrats began to recover. In the 1980s, demand for fur declined abruptly, mostly due to the anti-fur movement. The price per pelt shrank to near nothing so trappers lost their economic incentive, and the nutria rapidly became a nuisance again. This time it wasn’t so much the crops, but rather coastal marshes, that suffered.

Nutria are well-adapted for the semi-aquatic environment of south Louisiana. Their highly-placed eyes, ears, and nose stay above water when they swim, and the female’s teats are on her back allowing her young to float while nursing. Nutria breed prolifically, producing two litters per year, and young are born fully furred and ready to eat vegetation within hours of birth.

The population peaked in late 90’s and nutria were killing marshes through over grazing or “eat outs.” By early 2000, nutria were destroying 90,000-100,000 acres yearly. In 2002 the State began a monitoring and bounty program, Coastwide Nutria Control Program (CNCP), which today pays $5/per tail. 350,000 nutrias are removed from the coastal zone annually and coastal damage is down to 10,000 acres yearly thanks to the program.

Nutria Facts and Figures

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Myocastor coypus

TYPE: Mammals

DIET: Omnivores

GROUP NAME: Colony

AVERAGE LIFE SPAN IN THE WILD: 8 to 10 years

SIZE: Head and body, 17 to 25 in; tail, 10 to 16 in

WEIGHT: 15 to 22 lbs

Join the Parade! Recycle on the Route!

Did you know that the average amount of waste created during carnival season is 900,000 TONS? Last year, in partnership with Arc of Greater New Orleans, volunteers from YLC Recycles (a project of the Young Leadership Council) launched a pilot program called the Mardi Gras Recycling Initiative.

During 1 day of parades, 10,000 aluminum cans, 2,000 plastic bottles, and more than 2,500 lbs of beads were collected along the route for recycling and reuse.