Native Plants Take Root in Owls Head, Maine

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How a local a native plant nursery in the midcoast region found fertile ground with a new client thanks to Wild Ones Midcoast Maine and the fruitful work of native plant gardening.

Native plant gardeners at Rooted Elements planting purple lovegrass at a site in Owls Head, Maine.

Text and photos by Wild Ones Midcoast Maine founding members Rooted Elements owners Amber Lewis and Sara Melanson. Rooted Elements is a participating vendor at the upcoming 2023 Camden Native Plant Celebration & Sale September 16th at the Camden Public Library.

When we first visited the property on the ocean in Owls Head, it was early spring, and construction was almost completed on the new house. There was a lot of bare, disturbed ground around the house, a small patch of lawn at a back corner, a few mature highbush blueberry shrubs, and several invasive species starting to come up around the edges of the property. The property owner had found us through Wild Ones Midcoast Maine’s online directory of native plant nurseries, and engaged us to do a consultation with the goal of developing a plan for increasing the native species on the property and creating habitat for wildlife. Stemming from this initial consultation was a multi-year landscaping plan that would introduce only straight species native plants (no cultivars), cover the ground without planting a lawn, rejuvenate the highbush blueberries, and remove and manage the invasive plants and other weeds. Special consideration was given to choosing plants able to withstand a changing climate and the sometimes harsh conditions close to the ocean, including salt spray and intense sun exposure.

Purple lovegrass planted by Rooted Elements in Owls Head, Maine.

During that initial visit, we envisioned a low meadow on the side of the house facing the ocean, comprised largely of salt-tolerant purple lovegrass interplanted with native wildflowers. Wildflowers would include other species native to Maine such as the sundial lupine, seaside goldenrod, smooth blue aster, butterfly milkweed, and little bluestem, and also a few species native to the northeast and midwest, including purple coneflower, spotted beebalm, prairie smoke, and blazing star.

Other ideas developed during the consultation process included a planting of bearberry on sloped areas, the use of lawn alternatives such as sedges and wild strawberry, a shade planting on the north side of the house, and shrub plantings. Plans for weed suppression included mulching with hay in areas of bare soil that would be planted soon, and sheet mulching with cardboard and bark mulch and/or hay to kill off invasive species and other  weeds. In addition to suppressing weeds, a cover crop of crimson clover sown on bare areas would prevent erosion and compaction, fix nitrogen, and increase organic matter to prepare the soil for future native plantings. 

Bearberry and cover crops planted by Rooted Elements in Owls Head, Maine.

Once we and the client decided to move forward with the project together, we got busy growing several hundred lovegrass plugs from seed, sourcing the bearberry from other Maine nurseries, sowing the cover crop, and mulching with hay. Planting of the bearberry and meadow areas began in early summer, and has continued over the season. By late August, the crimson clover was starting to bloom, the bearberry was putting on new growth, and the purple lovegrass and some of the wildflowers were beginning to flower, attracting native bees and other insects. Over the coming years the plantings will fill out and expand, and subsequent phases of the project will be implemented, creating a vibrant habitat to support pollinators and other wildlife. 

Rooted Elements is a peat-free plant nursery in Montville, Maine specializing in seed grown, pesticide-free native plants. Founded in 2021 by life-long friends and gardeners Amber Lewis and Sara Melanson, Rooted Elements currently holds pop-up sales and offers nursery visits (by appointment only). Native plant garden design and consultation services are also offered.

All photos and words are the property of Rooted Elements and were contributed by request of Wild Ones Midcoast Maine.