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It’s Pollinator Week–What About Plants?

On Monday I talked about the importance of native plants. I said that if you had a choice, and if you liked native plants,  you should choose them because wildlife will always seek out native plants.

For all of you who don’t have natives in your yard (& I include myself in that group because a large portion of my yard is planted with ornamental plants) I will refer you to Douglas Tallamay’s still excellent  book Bringing Nature Home. It was there that I  learned about the true importance of native plants, and that an native  oak tree will feed several hundred different types of creatures whereas some of our imported ornamentals feed none. They’re lovely to look at but absolutely barren in terms of value to wildlife.

But that doesn’t mean that all our ornamentals have no value to wildlife.  Anyone who has watched bees on Japanese pieris early in the spring knows that that shrub, imported ornamental that it is, is quite valuable to the early emerging bumble bees in my region.

Similarly, hydrangeas of all sorts are usually covered in pollinators  (at least in my yard). I have seen several different types of bees, a couple of different types of wasps,  and a few different types of flies all on my hydrangeas (yes, I have a lot of hydrangeas).

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Another non-native ornamental,  roses, also attract bees. This Oso Easy rose was full of several different kinds of bees,  none of which obligingly posed for me. I saw several smaller bees, plus honeybees and bumblebees all on this large shrub.

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Catnip (nepeta) and lavender are two more perennials that are always covered in bees of all sorts. You can see a bumble bees on the nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ in the above photo.

And speaking of herbs, we are told to plant various sorts of herbs to assist different types of pollinators: parsley,  dill, anything with an umbel flower. None of those are “natives.”

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In the heat last week,  some of my leaf lettuce went to seed. But the smaller bees are loving the flowers so I am letting those stay as well.

So if you are feeling a little inferior,  perhaps,  because you don’t have native plants, or enough native plants, or the right kind of native plants, fear not! You can still garden for pollinators and they’ll love you!

Wordless Wednesday–Wabi-sabi Wednesday

I am not sure how long I have owned my little chipped bird. He was a “freebie.”  I brought it home from the garden center where I worked over a decade ago  ( with their blessing of course) because it was obviously not saleable.

I have a similar small bird on my desk, with just a chipped beak. It’s painted. I call it the blue bird of happiness.

Many folks couldn’t stand such “imperfections” in their lives or their gardens. For me, I find that small imperfections are what life is all about.

Happy Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day.  Thank you to all who have served our country.

I honor this day in a bit of a strange way.  I always plant my tomatoes on Memorial Day. What on earth might that do with honoring the memory of veterans, you ask?

Well,  for years, I used to plant tomatoes with my Dad, who was a World War II vet. Even after we gardened in different places, I still grew tomatoes for him and, if I had to,  I shipped them to him.

He will be gone 17 years this summer,  but the tomato planting always helps me to remember him–& all veterans.

As a bonus this year, my poppies opened this weekend too.  Very fitting.

Planting a Pollinator Garden

On Friday I talked about the Million Pollinator Challenge and I linked to the site. Today I am going to get more specific about one aspect of that challenge, planting your garden.

You may already have a garden that is a habitat garden of sorts. Or you may have a garden full of native plants. You may have one that you have designed to attract butterflies or bees or birds–or perhaps all three. These may already be pollinator gardens.

 

To decide, go to resources about planting your garden.

If you’ve ever done any sort of habitat garden, it’s very similar to that. Pollinators need exactly what any other “wildlife” needs: food (i.e., nectar), shelter, cover (in this case, it would be protection from wind, because they are sensitive to wind) and places to raise their young (so in the case of butterflies, you know that that means caterpillars and tolerating chewing damage–and not cleaning up the garden in the fall and cleaning it up very late in the spring, say). A nice sunny site is also desirable because in the case of butterflies, for example, many can’t fly until the temperature reaches 70 degrees.

A couple of other things–common sense to me but not always to everyone. If you read my “intro” at the top tab of this blog you’ll see that I became an organic gardener because when I moved to my property (24 seasons ago now,) there were no butterflies. A little bit of research told me that butterflies were highly susceptible to pesticides, so we went organic.  Within 2 years, we had 27 different kinds of butterflies and moths–a success story if ever there was one! So it is critical to avoid pesticides to every extent possible. That clover and those violets in your lawn are actually butterfly nectar food sources. And bees love them too!

Finally–and I talked about this when I talked about “don’t try to “get the garden done in a weekend!” It’s critical to have something in bloom for the longest time possible. At my house, it starts with snowdrops–or maybe hellebores–and it goes through to goldenrod and asters in late fall. Try your best to keep something in bloom during all the months of your growing season.

Our pollinators need–and deserve our help. With some of these tips, we can not only help them but grow some beautiful gardens as well!

Picking Good Plants–Don’t Buy The Renegade

Once you get to the garden center and you are confronted with all sorts of amazing choices, how do you pick the best plants? To a certain degree, it depends upon the type of plant you’re trying to buy (buying a little 6 or 8 pack of annuals requires a lot less care ad concern than the choices you’ll make when selecting a tree, for example). But in general, there are some rules you want to follow when picking any plant, from the little 6-pack of annuals, to a tree or shrub, or even to a house plant in a grocery or box store.

The first rule is, choose the plant that looks most like the rest of the plants. What do I mean by that? Perhaps another way to say it is “don’t choose a plant that stands out from the others.”

There’s a good reason for that: one plant, or a group of plants, may stand out from the others, because there’s something wrong with it (or them).

Now obviously good garden centers (and even box stores) are going to want to pull diseased, dying or otherwise unhealthy plants off the sale floor. But in the middle of a busy May day, sometimes that doesn’t happen fast enough. And if you happen to get to the garden center at just the wrong time, and you are unfamiliar with the plant, what might look like a great weeping variety could turn out to be a plant with vascular wilt. Ugh.

Worse yet, back when hosta mosaic virus was first becoming known, all these cool, mottled hostas were showing up in the trade. It was only later that they were discovered to have a virus. The virus wasn’t visible to the eye–but it could infect other plants in the garden.

A similar thing happens with orchids, which is why orchid societies caution folks to only obtain orchids from reputable, virus free growers.

So while a plant that looks different may really be cool and different, it may also be a problem for you and your garden. If you’re not sure about what you’re getting, leave that plant behind.

More on this on Monday.

Plant Buying Time

We talked a little bit on Friday about plant buying and weather. I threw in an off-hand comment that in my experience garden centers will often get in plants 2-3 weeks before it’s safe to set them out or in the ground.

That may have made some of you indignant, thinking that the retailers were setting you up to fail. I promise you it’s not that way at all. For one thing, when I worked at a garden center, it was a constant balancing act between the needs and wants of our customers and the weather. We wanted to be able to have what they wanted when they wanted it–and yet we often had to warn them that what they were buying wasn’t quite ready to go outside or in the ground.

I know that I start trolling the garden centers trying to find something–anything–that’s alive and green right about now. It doesn’t matter to me what it is or whether it’s ready to go outside. I know how to handle it.

Last year I bought some heuchera right just about this time. I was so excited to find them. When I got them home and went to transplant them–just from the black plastic nursery pot into a more decorative pot–all I had was a tiny root ball in my hand about the size of a tennis ball. I had paid for a gallon pot plant and I got a tennis ball plant and some very expensive potting soil. Oh well. My fault. That’s what happens when you’re over-anxious to be gardening.

My recollection is that one of them didn’t even survive. It may have been one of the dark colored ones. They never work out well for me, and my anxiousness to get them started early probably didn’t help things along.

Remember that in the spring the soil is still cool–I talked about this in my last post. So it never pays to rush things into the ground. If I do shop early, I will usually keep things in pots to give the soil time to warm before I plant them (of course, I have been known to go to extremes with that and then it’s July and I still have a bunch of pots that I am watering that should have gone into the ground weeks earlier!)

Just remember–just because you see it in the stores, it does not necessarily mean it’s safe–or even desirable–to plant it in the garden just yet!

It’s Time to Garden!

Actually no–it’s nowhere near time to garden–not in my part of the country.

But when my sister sent me photos of tomato transplants at her garden center (she lives in Oklahoma) I realized that of course not everyone is gardening on the same schedule and I had better address some thoughts about plant buying if I wanted to try to reach early plant buyers (well, “early” to me, anyway!)

So here are my initial thoughts about what to look for when you first walk into a garden center or a big box store (and yes, as someone who has worked at a box store, I do buy plants there–but of course, I consider myself a fairly sophisticated buyer. We’ll talk about where to buy plants in another post).

First of all, it’s spring. And if you are a gardener–or even if you are not really, but you just like flowers–after not seeing a lot of them for awhile, once there are acres of them in sight, they  are really hard to resist! So what to do and how to choose?

The most important thing to think about is your weather. Is it really time to plant? Certain plants–perennials and that dubious category of “half-hardy annuals” can take things like a light frost or a light freeze. Most things are not going to take repeated hard freezes or, worst of all, heavy snows!

So there’s no point in planting too early, only to have to go back and re-plant. Garden centers love that. You are just wasting your money if you have to do that, however. And I don’t care who you are, no one likes to run out to repeatedly cover plants–or bring pots in and out of a garage or shed!

Remember what I have said in the past: the soil is very slow to warm up in the spring. In the old days, the farmers would wait until they could walk on it bare foot (or sit on it bare bottomed).

Other ways to tell if your last frost has passed is if the oaks have leafed out. If they have, your last frost has passed.

Some folks use the last full moon but I haven’t found that quite as reliable as the oaks for me. But maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention–or perhaps oaks work better in my part of the country.

However you determine your temperatures, just keep an eye on them if you are planting as soon as the garden centers are selling the plants. I find, generally, the plants come in at least 2-3 weeks before it’s safe to set them out.

More about this on Monday.