Yarrow is a trouble-free plant that offers many benefits in your garden or landscape.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is native to all of the temperate (non-polar and non-equatorial) regions of Earth. Traditionally, the above ground portions of yarrow, also known as the nosebleed plant, old man’s pepper, soldier’s woundwort, and thousand-seal, was used medicinally to stop the flow of blood from wounds, ease toothache, treat digestive discomfort, and to induce sweating. The science behind what yarrow can and cannot do is limited. It is a mild sedative. Some studies have shown that it can relax the smooth muscle of the uterus, so it should not be taken by pregnant women. Yarrow may also be able to intensify the effects of blood-thinning and blood pressure reducing medications, lithium, and sleep aids. Also, yarrow is believed to slightly increase stomach acid. Even if you never touch the stuff, yarrow is a good addition to a landscape. It looks nice in containers, too.
The yarrow plant
Yarrow makes an excellent ground cover. If mowed regularly, it will remain prostrate. If left to its own devices, it will grow to be a foot or two tall. The lovely feathery leaves feel soft and delicate to the touch, but these plants are tough. I don’t do anything for mine and they just keep on growing. Yarrow is drought tolerant and butterflies are drawn to the flowers.
While not particularly edible, the way lettuce or spinach are, yarrow can be dried and used to make a tea. Young leaves and flowers are sometimes added to salads, but I just tried it and don’t care for it. The tea is very nice. Yarrow has been used as livestock feed, in some regions, and to some, it is a weed. Yarrow’s true value, however, lies in its role as an insectary.
Yarrow as insectary
Increasing the biodiversity in your garden or landscape helps to keep it healthier. Mutually beneficial arrangements that have taken millions of years to sort themselves out really are effective. Rather than trying to Disnefy your landscape, with neat and tidy arrangements, adding a variety of flower shapes, sizes, and colors will attract more beneficial insects. Okay, okay, so we all want the topiary elephant, but diversity is still healthier than monoculture. Yarrow flowers provide nectar and pollen to many beneficial insects, including:
Aphids, striped and spotted cucumber beetles, flea beetles, and lygus bugs are also attracted to yarrow, but, in this case, that’s a good thing. First, it means they are not on your tomatoes. Second, those particular aphids are destined to be eaten by the larval forms of all those beneficial insects! Sort of a hoverfly happy meal!
Yarrow seeds need light to germinate, so do not bury them in the soil. A light dusting of soil or vermiculite will hold the seeds in place, but you might want to use a mister to water the seeds until the germinate. Either that, or you can saturate the soil with water, add seeds, and cover with plastic until the seeds germinate. Once your yarrow gets going, you will want to find it a permanent home. Yarrow tends to spread on its own, and it can even be used as a low border hedge. You can easily dig established plants up and divide them.
Do you have areas of bare soil in your landscape? These encourage erosion and unhealthy soil. Adding yarrow to your landscape or garden is a good way to reduce erosion, attract and feed beneficial insects, and hey, the flowers are lovely, too!
Chickens, jays, and mockingbirds can wreak havoc on your fruit and nut tree crops unless you provide protection.
Floating eye balloons, hanging old CDs, motion-sensing sprinklers, and noise cannons are just a few of the countless methods ‘guaranteed’ to protect your fruit and nut crop from marauding birds, but most of them do not work; not for long, anyway. Caging your tree is the only way to be sure that you get the lion’s share of your fruit or nut crop.
The netting used over your tree cage will still allow pollinators easy access. Unfortunately, it also allows codling moths and other flying insect pests to reach your fruit and nut trees. Even so, birds and squirrels can take a big bite out of apple, apricot, almond, nectarine, fig, and other crops. Tree cages can stop that damage before it even starts. Plus, these cages stay up, year round, so there's no wrestling with netting every spring and fall.
Store bought vs. DIY tree cages
Store bought tree cages can be astronomically expensive and most of the really nice ones are in the UK. The added shipping costs make it impossible or unrealistic for most of us. Luckily, it is surprisingly easy to make a tree cage yourself for less than $50. If you can scrounge old tree supports, it’s even cheaper.
Make your own tree cage
This tree cage design is intended for dwarf variety trees that will be pruned to 6 to 8 feet tall and 8 feet wide. You can adjust the measurements for bigger trees, but longer lodge poles can be harder to find and more expensive.
3. Place one lodge pole in each hole and gently press the dirt you dug up back into the hole, making sure that the drilled hole runs outside to inside of the tree space, rather than side-to-side. You’ll see why in a minute. Also, dig one more hole to create the doorway space.
4. Take both 1”x2” boards and cut a 1/2-inch notch out of the middle of each, only cutting halfway through. I used a handsaw to make the perpendicular cuts and then a hammer and chisel to knock out the chad. Fit the 1”x2”s together in the middle and hammer together into a giant X-shape.
8. Drape bird netting over the X-shape and staple it down to make it taut. Ideally, you want birds and bats to bounce off, not get tangled. Bring the netting down over the sides until it reaches the chicken wire. You can use the wrapping wire from the roll of chicken wire (or string) to “sew” the netting to the chicken wire. I used heavy duty black thread and an embroidery needle.6. Staple 2’ chicken wire to the lodge poles, all the way around.
7. If you are really handy (which I am not), you can build yourself a fancy door. I opted for something far more simple: I cut a piece of bird netting that was larger than the door opening, attached it to the opening at the top, and ran a piece of thin scrap wood through the holes at the bottom. The wood weighs the netting down enough to keep chickens, mockingbirds, and jays away from my fruit and nut trees, and it’s easy to use. For added stability, you can add a cross piece above head height between one of the four lodge poles and the door lodge pole.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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