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To help preserve animal population, devote space to native plants

A native that grows up to 50 feet high and 30 feet wide, black gum is one of the best trees for fall color.
A native that grows up to 50 feet high and 30 feet wide, black gum is one of the best trees for fall color. (Courtesy of Ginny Williams, Handout photo)

I just learned that we've lost about half the world's nonhuman vertebrate animal population since 1970. This is shocking. One of the two main culprits is habitat loss. Can Marylanders help without turning their yards into woods?

Devote space to native plants of all types (trees are especially important), keeping in mind that all native wildlife evolved dependent upon these plants. Native plants' berries, seeds, nuts, nectar and leaves all supply food, while they also provide places to live or hide from enemies. Habitat fragmentation is a major problem, so if you join your planting areas together to make a bigger habitat — or even join them with neighboring areas — it becomes much more livable for wildlife. Of course, avoid erosion, pesticides and foreign invasive plants that push out native plants and animals.

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I just got a Japanese maple at a plant swap and I can't plant it until spring. Can I overwinter it indoors?

Dig a hole and sink the pot into the soil until spring planting. Keeping a plant inside that normally winters outdoors would be very stressful for it.

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Plant of the week

Black gum

Nyssa sylvatica

This is one you should run out and buy if you need a shade tree. A native that grows up to 50 feet high and 30 feet wide, black gum is one of the best trees for fall color — leaves go from yellow to orange to red to purple. Although the flowers are not spectacular, the bluish-black fruits, known as drupes, are loved by wildlife. It is difficult to transplant, so plant it in the spring when small. Place in moist, well-drained acidic soil, in sun or part shade where sheltered from the wind. Plant a named variety for best disease- and pest-resistance. The black gum is sensitive to polluted air, but is one of our best native trees.

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—Ginny Williams

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