Updated: Jan 14, 2022
By Heidi Wendel
Nelsonville, the Putnam County village next to Cold Spring, is called the “Hikers Hamlet” for its walkable access to the trails of the northern Hudson Highlands, as well as its own woodland preserve at the foot of the northern Highlands.
But like everyplace else in the Hudson Valley, invasive plants are a problem in the village. As part of a plan to tackle invasives and create pollinator habitat, in fall 2019, residents got together to remove a longstanding field of Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris) and replace it with a pollinator garden on a village parcel of about an eighth of an acre, a block from the village hall.
The village volunteers followed these simple steps to remove the densely packed patch of 3-foot tall mugwort and replace it with a colorful, vibrant garden the butterflies love:
Step1: We pulled out all of the mugwort to remove the roots while avoiding extensive shoveling/disturbance of the soil.
Step 2: We laid down cardboard over the entire area, in overlapping sheets. Volunteers purchased rolls of corrugated cardboard to avoid using cardboard with print on it. Re-using delivery boxes sounds good, but unfortunately the vast majority of delivery boxes have print on them that is toxic.
An added advantage to corrugated cardboard rolls, in addition to being print-free, is that they are very easy to roll out, particularly with the corrugated side upwards, which holds the dirt layer very well.
Step 3: We spread about 10 cubic yards of compost over the cardboard.
Step 5: Next volunteers planted deer-resistant anchoring shrubs, including low-bush blueberry and nine-bark; as well as perennials favored by pollinators, such as butterfly weed, bee-balm, lance-leaf coreopsis (tickseed), goldenrod, native sunflowers, blue mistflower, echinacea, among others.
Step 6: To prevent mugwort from migrating back to the garden from a neighboring, privately-owned property, volunteers dug a narrow trench between the village garden and the neighboring mugwort patch. The trench is about two inches wide and four inches deep, and was filled with rocks and pieces of brick – anything that would prevent the mugwort roots from breaking through.
In its first spring/summer, the garden had to be watered daily and weeded twice a week for two months. After about two months, the mugwort that had popped back up in the garden (through the cardboard, compost and chips) was almost gone.
After all the sweat and effort the volunteers put in, the garden has been a major attraction in Nelsonville. Residents and tourists alike love it -- both of the human and animal varieties. Numerous monarch caterpillars can be found hatching from eggs on the butterfly weed and resident and migrating birds stop off to eat the seeds and the insects that make their home on the plants. It’s a big success that village residents hope to replicate elsewhere.
Heidi Wendel lives in Nelsonville NY and loves hiking with her family. In her own yard, she replaced both the front and back lawns with native plant gardens and has been rewarded by such lovely sights as indigo buntings, bluebirds and grosbeaks; as well as many different kinds of butterflies, moths, bees and other insects.