Most Prince Edward Island schools are situated on old fields – large brick buildings in the midst of grassland. At many schools, teachers and students have recognized that planting trees would help to make the school yards more interesting and attractive. A few schools have done outstanding work in improving their surroundings. The Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project is trying to encourage others to recognize the many benefits that plantings can bring to a school. Every year we help students plant trees and shrubs at schools and we have initiated a “Planting for Biodiversity” project through Environment Canada’s Action 21 program that will allow us to assist more schools across the province.
For more information about having a naturalization project for your school, contact Gary.
Why should you do school plantings at all? School yard plantings should be considered an extension of the classroom, becoming the focal spot for teaching a variety of subjects. They become excellent places to explore:
Natural succession: an important cornerstone of the natural world. Plantings teach you that things change as you alter soil conditions, amount of available sunlight, seed sources, etc.
Wildlife identification: you will want to know what you are planting and what species you hope to attract.
Habitat restoration: planting rare native trees and shrubs can have far-reaching impacts, since birds, small mammals or the wind can transport seeds to nearby woodlands.
Bird migration: why are some birds here only in the warm weather and where do they go for the rest of the year? Are there threats to those birds on the wintering and breeding grounds?
Soil Sciences: how plants get nutrients, what makes up good soil and what kinds of things live there and what roles do they serve.
Gardening: looking at pollination and pollinators, seeds and methods of propagation.
The Uses of Plants
Many native species have medicinal uses and were valued by indigenous peoples. As well, plants are used for building boats or as a source of food. Plantings can save schools money, through lower maintenance costs and reduction in pesticide use. Lawns must be mowed regularly and are often fertilized or sprayed with “weed” killers. Once established, native plantings need only periodic pruning and mulching that the students themselves can take on.
Native plants are usually very reliable – they have adapted to the climatic conditions of the area and serve a variety of functions within the ecosystem. More important they are proven performers – hardy, fitting into a wide variety of habitats, valuable to wildlife, useful for stabilizing streambanks and/or controlling soil erosion. Instead of looking for exotic species, many of which cause serious disturbances in our areas or need winter protection, look at the beauty of native plants all year long. Many native species have colourful twigs, buds and fruit, showy flowers and an exotic structure.
Plant only good quality plants grown in the area and remember that it is the rootstock that is important, not the height of the plant.