Questions from Clients

March 2nd, 2012 by Craig Stark

While analyzing my Google Analytics site I discovered several questions customer’s had that were not previously addressed through the website.  I’m going to try to address some of those items in the following post.


First was a question about how long you should leave that plastic tree guard on small trees.

Well the answer is that it is mostly for transport of the tree, so once it is planted it can be removed. Although it can give good protection against male deer in rut. When male deer (bucks) are in rut they mark their territory by rubbing their antlers on the trunks of small trees, thus damaging the new tree you just paid good money for.  That damage rarely kills most small trees, but can give a tree problems down the road. So the long answer is that you can leave those tree guards on until the tree gets to big for the guard. Those guards then must be taken off before the trunk starts to grow into the guard. With a healthy tree this should take place in as little as 1-2 years. The bigger the trees trunk the less likely it will be damaged by a buck. My experience is that they like trees with a trunk 1-3″ in diameter. The rut happens in the mid to late fall, so you can take those guards off the rest of the season and put them back on on about Labor Day. Hopefully this answers one of your questions.

Ecoscapes Native Nursery

February 28th, 2012 by Craig Stark

We are working hard planning our newest endeavor. We will be starting a Native Nursery this spring to offer quality native plants at a convenient location for both St. Paul and Minneapolis and the entire South Metro. We will be opening May 1st 2012.  We will be partnering with Innovative Landscape Supply to offer these plants along with their landscape materials. We are working on our plant list and pricing and should have that information soon. We want to make it easier for homeowners who would like to integrate native plants into their landscaping and fro those DIYers wanting to install a raingarden. If you have questions about us supplying your next project please let us know. Our nursery will be located at 721 Ladybird Lane Burnsville, MN 55337


Check out our landscaping services and reviews of our services on Thumbtack is a service industry resource and allows for outside review from actual clients.

New Addition to our Family

January 5th, 2012 by Craig Stark

It looks as though a busy year has taken much of my time and I have not gotten to reflecting or writing on the topics that I am passionate about. My wife and I where able to celebrate our son’s first birthday and as well as my wife’s birthday which is also on Christmas day. 2011 was a great year and I am  looking forward to our new year as well. As landscaping is a seasonal business I use the winter to reflect on the past year and make improvements for the coming. In 2011 I hired a foreman to take some of my responsibilities off my hands so that I can be more involved in working with clients.   I want to thank all my clients this past year as it was a great year with many great projects and great clients to work with. I am planning to further expand our business offering this coming year as well as expanding our list of trusted companies. 

Ending Winter

March 8th, 2011 by Craig Stark

As we slowing eek our way out of winter I think about the explosion of new and returned life that comes as a result of the warming temperatures of spring. I was fortunate to bring a new life into this world with my wife this winter. We had a baby boy born Christmas day this past year. Finn Richard Stark, 7lbs. 3oz 21.5″. I can’t wait to introduce him to all the amazing wonders of the world from plants to birds and butterflies of all sizes and colors to the largest mammals and fish of the seas.

I remember as a young boy I was enthralled with the salamanders that would find residence in the basement window wells of my childhood home. I recall finding them almost every time I looked when the weather is right. I know as I got older it became less likely to find them there and eventually I never saw them there again. I have since found out that many of our amphibian populations are being decimated. The scientific community relates much of this loss of these populations to the increase in herbicide and pesticide along with habitat loss. I fear that I will not be able to find species such as the spotted salamander to show my new son when he is old enough to appreciate it. I am trying to make it part of my business to restore and protect the plants, habitats, and native species that make our area great.



Our Native Nursery

February 10th, 2011 by Craig Stark

This time last year as I was getting a case of cabin fever, I came up with the idea of starting a small nursery to supply our projects whenever possible with native perennials. I wanted to be able to offer very competitive prices for native perennials within these projects. I just was not happy with planting small plug plants for many of our rain garden projects, because of the longer time to maturity. I decided that I would start this small nursery at my small property in Eagan but was baffled how I was going to grow many of these sun-loving plants on my mostly wooded lot. I finally realized I have a great place for them, the roof of my old two car detached garage. So as Spring hit last year I prepared to, buy plug plants, soil, and gather reused pots. The first rain day that we had last year my employees and I potted 2000 native perennials and set them up on the roof with a timed sprinkler and cleats to hold them up there.
I wasn’t certain that this plan was going to work, but as the season went on these plants proved to work great. They saved us time and fuel by not having to head to a nursery every time we had a planting job to do. I am very happy with or little nursery and hope to have a larger selection this season. I am proud that we are able minimize our inputs with this new nursery. If you are working on a native planting or rain garden of your own please contact us to be your source for plants!
I also was fortunate to have a 500 sq.ft. native prairie on my property. I was very excited to see more butterflies, hummingbirds, and pollinators of all kinds!
Here are some pictures of the rooftop nursery.





Creating a Bird & Butterfly Haven Garden

July 21st, 2010 by Craig Stark

Many of us look at gardens as a way to create something, enjoy the outdoors, and restore our spirit. As a landscape designer and contractor I am often asked, “How do I draw more birds and butterflies to my gardens”? I have always looked at attracting them from the point of view of what plants they eat. However, I think I have been missing several vital parts of the puzzle. What if we looked at everything they need and not just the pretty flower filled with nectar. Just like humans, birds and butterflies need food, shelter, and water. No, they don’t need clothes! I will discuss these needs for both birds and butterflies and then give suggestions for what to plant and do to our yards and gardens to create a healthy ecosystem for our feathered and winged friends.

It is difficult to learn all of these things at once, so let’s break them down into different needs and explore these individually, although many of the needs are interconnected.

First let’s look at food. What do birds eat? Well a lot of things: nectar, worms, insects, berries, and other fruits. When trying to create an ecosystem that is hospitable to birds we should create places that are hospitable to worms and invertebrates, as well as adding plants that provide nectar and berries. Now, how about butterflies, what do they eat? It is a little more simple, generally nectar from flowers.

How about shelter? What do birds need for shelter? This varies widely between species. Often a nest in a tree works, but some like shrubs, and yet others nest on the ground. Some birds like the protection of evergreens, and some like our small native trees and shrubs with thinner branches that keep ground predators away. Many birds need standing dead trees, which we often clear from urban areas. Consider leaving the trunk of a tree on your lot next time a tree dies.

How about butterflies? They need structure as well to keep them out of potentially fatal rains and a place to roost at night. They also need places to safely lay eggs and a place for their larvae to feed and eventually pupate and complete the life cycle. Finally both birds and butterflies need a clean and safe water source.

Looking at all these needs makes this task seem very complex, especially when you consider all of the species. However, when you boil it down you just have to supply the essential needs of the species you would like to attract. Following is a list of many plants that are good for butterflies and birds as well as some cultural practices that can help create a healthy ecosystem for them. Again we need to create an ecosystem, even if it is on a small scale, providing all the necessities for their existence. I always start any landscape design with trees or at least one tree. Trees are vital for most songbirds of the upper Midwest, as well as being good shelter for butterflies. Then I look at small understory trees and shrubs. They provide the layer that is often completely missing in our urban environments, because we have been trained to like park-like landscapes. Or, in the Twin Cities this layer has been replaced by invasive buckthorn, which has very little, if any habitat value for our native feathered friends. Finally, I try to integrate native grasses, sedges and flowers. For most gardeners this is the part we focus on already, but we can do better, by sticking to native plants.

When selecting plant species, locally native species are the best for creating habitat for out native fauna. It seems obvious that our native fauna has evolved with our native flora, but we have overlooked this and opted for pretty exotic cultivars instead. The green industry has pushed for bigger, brighter, and showier in our cultivated plants and this has resulted in a large scale replacement of native plants, especially in urban and suburban environments. The result is habitat loss for our beloved native fauna because many of these non-native cultivated plants do not provide them quality habitat.

Here is a list of suggested species that have significant habitat value for our native birds and butterflies. Some species of birds and butterflies need specific plants, called host plants. Many of the plants below are host plants for specific species, while others will attract a wide range of insects to feed our bird populations or supply nectar to many species. When selecting plants for your bird and butterfly garden, the more native diversity of plants you use the more animal diversity you will be privileged to experience.



Trees & Shrubs:

Bur Oak – Quercus macrocarpa

White Oak – Quercus alba

Red Oak – Quercus rubra

Northern Pin Oak – Quercus ellipsoidalis

Swamp White Oak – Quercus bicolor

Bebb’s Willow – Salix rostrata

Pussy Willow – Salix discolor

Prairie Willow – Salix humilis

Black Willow – Salix nigra

Black Cherry – Prunus serotina

Pin Cherry – Prunus pensylvanica

America Wild Plum – Prunus Americana

Choke-cherry – Prunus virginiana

River Birch – Betula nigra

Paper Birch – Betula papyrifera

Yellow Birch – Betula alleghaniensis

Bigtooth Aspen – Populus grandidentata

Quaking Aspen – Populus tremuloides

Prairie Crabapple – Malus loensis

Sugar Maple – Acer saccharum

Red Maple – Acer rubrum

American Elm – Ulmus Americana (Dutch Elm Disease Resistant Selections)

Hackberry – Celtis occidentalis

Downy Serviceberry – Amelanchier arborea

Saskatoon Serviceberry – Amelanchier alnifolia

Black Chokeberry – Aronia melanocarpa

Pagoda Dogwood – Cornus alternifolia

Red-osier Dogwood – Cornus servicea

American Hazel – Corylus Americana

Downy Hawthorn – Crataegus mollis

Showy Mountain Ash – Sorbus decora

Bush Honeysuckle – Diervilla lonicera

Ninebark – Physocarpus opulifolius


Grasses & Sedges:

Little Bluestem – Schizachyrium scoparium

Big Bluestem – Andropogon gerardii

Indian Grass – Sorgastrum nutans

Side Oats Grama – Bouteloua curtipendula

Bebb’s Sedge – Carex bebbii

Fox Sedge – Carex vulpinoidea

Porcupine Sedge – Carex hystricina

Bottlebrush Sedge – Carex comosa


Flowers / Forbs:

Anise Hyssop – Agastache foeniculum

Giant Hyssop – Agastache scrophulariaefolia

Pearly Everlasting – Anaphilis margaritacea

Wild Columbine – Aquilegia Canadensis

Swamp Milkweed – Asclepias incarnate

Butterfly Weed – Asclepias tuberosa

Whorled Milkweed – Asclepias verticillata

Smooth Aster – Aster laevis

New England Aster – Aster novae-angliae

Lance Leaf Coreopsis – Coreopsis lanceolata

Prairie Coreopsis – Coreopsis palmate

White Prairie Clover – Dalea candida

Purple Prairie Clover – Dalea purpurea

Pale Purple Coneflower – Echinacea pallida

Fireweed – Epilobium angustifolium

Purple Joe Pye Weed – Eupatorium purpureum

Sneezeweed – Helenium autumnale

Sawtooth Sunflower – Helianthus grosseserratus

Maxmillian Sunflower – Helianthus maxmillianii

Rough Blazing Star – Liatris aspera

Northern Plains Blazing Star – Liatris ligulistylis

Thick Spike Blazing Star – Liatris pychnostachya

Marsh Blazing Star – Liatris spicata

Scaly Blazing Star – Liatris squarossa

Cardinal Flower – Lobelia cardinalis

Great Blue Lobelia – Lobelia siphilitica

Wild Blue Lupine – Lupinus perennis

Bergamot – Monarda fistulosa

Smooth Penstemon – Penstemon digitalis

Yellow Coneflower – Ratibida pinnata

Orange Coneflower – Rudbeckia fulgida

Compass Plant – Silphium laciniatum

Cup Plant – Silphium perfoliatum

Ohio Goldenrod – Solidago ohiensis

Showy Goldenrod – Solidago speciosa

Blue Vervain – Verbena hastate

Hoary Vervain – Verbena stricta

Ironweed – Vernonia fasciculate

Culver’s Root – Veronicastrum virginianum

"Preparing For The Long Flight-2"  Shoreview, MN


Vegetable Gardening and Health

July 8th, 2010 by Craig Stark

Well it seems the fervor of spring and summer has made me delinquent with my blogging. I went out in my garden this weekend and was excited like a child when I was able to pick fresh organically grown beans, zucchini, kohlrabi, and broccoli. I also am on the verge of having peppers and tomatoes of all varieties. I already went though buckets of fresh lettuce, spinach, and Swiss chard.


I have seen an increased focus in mainstream media about our broken food system, obesity, and diet influenced diseases. What I don’t see is any focus on showing solutions to these problems. I grew up with a father that had over a 1/4 acre vegetable garden, a mother that canned, froze, or otherwise preserved everything we couldn’t eat fresh,  grandparents that gardened into their 70’s and Great grandparents that gardened into their 90’s. I feel I am in a great minority having all that passed down gardening wisdom. I would like to integrate more edible gardens into my clients projects. I also have found many new organizations that promote gardening. I believe these organizations have the solution to our sad state of nutrition, health and quality of life. 

I will list several of these organizations so you can explore gardening for your self. We also offer produce gardening services

Permaculture Research Institute

Do It Green Minnesota

Youth Farm & Market Project

Veg1        Veg2

Veg3         Veg4

Rain Barrel Installation

March 16th, 2010 by Craig Stark

My company is a partner of Metro Blooms, a non-profit organization that strengthens communities by promoting eco-friendly gardening that beautifies neighborhoods and protects our environment. Member gardeners and community volunteers are dedicated to ecologically friendly gardening education. Our raingarden workshops offer a do-it-yourself approach combined with expert help to put raingardening in the hands of gardeners and non-gardeners alike!

I have been a partner starting on 3 years. They offer a wonderful resource for people to find a more environmentally friendly way to garden. I also work for Metro Blooms as a Landscape Design Consultant for thier raingarden workshops. I wanted to share Metro Blooms purpose but also link the excellent video they produced showing the full installation process of a rain barrel. It is a great video and can really help someone looking to put in a rain barrel themselves. Click here for the rain barrel installation video. If you would like us to install your rain barrel or would like to buy a rain barrel please, Contact Us.

Emerald Ash Borer and Ash Tree Replacements

March 4th, 2010 by Craig Stark


I have had time to reflect on my time volunteering for Blue Thumb at the Minneapolis Home & Garden Show. Our booth was directly adjacent to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) booth. I have a good understanding of EAB from classes in forestry and personal research. EAB is slated to kill most of our Ash(Fraxinus) trees in Minnesota, sooner or later, unless there basically is an ecological miracle. I won’t get into the details of how or why it kills ash trees, let’s just assume it does and will. If you want more information about the pest please visit Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

I have two suggestions for owners of ash trees. The first would be proactively plant replacement trees near your existing ash trees of landscape value. Installing trees now before you loss those trees in your yard will ensure tree cover more continuously. It will also make the loss less evident. I will get to a list of suggestions below. Diversity of species is important to safeguard your yard from devastating losses in the future. Planting just a single species or family of trees in your yard makes your landscape more vulnerable to pest and diseases. Secondly, you have the option to preventively treat trees that have a significant value to you in your landscape. This should only be done once centers of infection are found within 10-15 miles of your property. Contact a local qualified arborist for this treatment.

Good Native Replacements for Ash Trees:

Hackberry – Celtis occidentalis
Bur Oak – Quercus macrocarpa
Red Oak – Quercus rubra
White Oak – Quercus alba
Northern Pin Oak – Quercus ellipsoidaliis
Swamp White Oak – Quercus bicolor
Red Maple – Acer rubrum
Sugar Maple – Acer saccharum
Kentucky Coffee Tree – Gynocladus dioica
(Dutch Elm Resistant Varieties Only)
American Elm ‘Princeton’ & ‘Valley Forge’ – Ulmus americana
American Linden – Tilia americana

Shoreline Restoration and Native Lakeshore Communities

March 1st, 2010 by Craig Stark

I spent much of the last weekend volunteering at the Minneapolis Home and Garden Show for Blue Thumb. Attendees from all over the metro and even the state asked many great questions. Most notably questions came from people that own lake properties. Though there are many resources for lake owners, having worked on many lake properties through my career, I will present some personal experiences and suggestions for lake owner to create more ecologically balanced lake ecosystems in this blog.

I have been sickened by the loss of our native vegetation buffers along Twin Cities and Minnesota lakes and the very common practice of mowing right down to the shore. I understand the want and need for recreational space on these lake properties, but there are solutions to have both recreational space and native plant communities. I hope we can stop the degradation of our shoreline and attempt to restore some that we have loss. For some reason there is a disconnect between why we enjoy our lakes and what we do to the natural systems.

I would contend that we enjoy our lakes not just for the water, but for the beautiful ecosystems they represent. That is where we are missing the connection. All too often people buy a lake home and clear out the majority of the understory plants and shoreline edge plants so they can see the lake better or have easier access to the lake. This process is one of the primary causes of the degradation of our treasured lakes. This systematic removal of native plants not only affects the plants themselves but the entire lake ecosystem. When these plants are removed it affects all the animals that once used those trees, shrubs and perennials. It often increases soil erosion and sedimentation into the lake. It also increases nutrients and pollution into the lake. This in turn increases algae production, reduces the occurrence of invertebrates, and affects fish populations. I won’t say more about the problems caused, because if you have a lake property on a lake that is degraded you see these horrible losses of natural ecosystems.
What I am suggesting is that we are destroying the very things that we value in a lake property. If you are concerned about your lake property please visit Blue Thumb or contact us for some solutions to these very common problems with lake properties.