Tag Archive | Native Plants

Wordless Wednesday–Accidental Pollinator Habitats


There’s a lot of talk these days about “post-wild” planting. And while I haven’t read that particular book, I have read Larry Weaner’s books and been to a couple of his talks on habitat plantings and succession plantings. From what I can glean from interviews with the “post-wild” author, he has made habitat and succession planting just a whole lot more complicated than it needs to be! But maybe I need to read his book–perhaps I do him a disservice.

Take a look here. These are two native plants that have sprung up under my star magnolia. The Spoiler keeps wanting to “pull out the weeds.” I keep telling him that he’d better not, on pain of death (besides, good luck getting out the goldenrod. Its roots are incredibly deep!)

The taller, darker one on the end with the lance shaped leaves is goldenrod. The one in the foreground is a shorter lived succession plant called either white snakeroot, or boneset, depending on which common name you prefer. It actually migrated here from the edge of our woodlands. There is still a little bit there, but it obviously prefers this sunnier spot. Both of these are pollinator magnets, as I will show you later this summer.

What’s left in the woods? White wood aster, also a pollinator magnet.

And what was under this tree? Nothing. We keep limbing it up to let the plants grow in.


Here’s another “accidental” habitat that most people never see because they use 4-step programs and those programs kill clover. Clover is prime habitat for butterflies and bees. I am always amazed when I see folks walking barefoot on their lawns. I wouldn’t dare–and not because I’ve poisoned it with pesticides either!  I don’t want to accidentally step on all my precious bees!


Finally, don’t over look habitat in the most unlikely places. This is an overly broad crack between the slates on my walk. Yes, there are too many weeds here that I need to address. But there’s lovely moss, a fern and some violets. Those get to stay.

If nature is doing your “planting” for you, why fight it?


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!

Stop Right There! Is It Safe to Clean Up Your Garden Yet?


You’re going to hear a lot about pollinators from me and all the other Garden Writers (yes, I use capital letters because we’re all members of GWA, formerly Garden Writers of America) in the next few months.

For years we’ve been hearing about particular individual pollinators like bats, who were in decline from white nose fungus, or monarch butterflies who were declining because of loss of habitat and perhaps pesticide use and of course the honeybee and colony collapse disorder.

But have we ever stopped to consider that we might be the cause of some of the problem? It’s a dreadful thought, and not one that any of us want to think about I’m sure.

I know that I like to think that I do my part for pollinators. I plant native plants whenever possible. And I am the organic gardener that I am specifically because of butterflies–or the lack that I found when I moved to my current property in 1994. As soon as I convinced the Spoiler we had to stop using pesticides, the butterflies came back (now, if only I could convince the rest of the neighborhood!)

But I recently read this fascinating piece from the Xerces Society about leaving spring clean up in the garden until later in the season to allow the ground nesting native bees to seek shelter on cooler nights and to permit the overwintering butterflies to hatch out.

Whoa! That’s huge! Why does no one ever talk  about this?

I know we’re just starting to publicize leaving leaf litter and twigs, etc in the garden in the fall for just these same reasons–shelter and cover for beneficial insects and native bees.

You’ll be seeing a lot more from me–this month and in June, during Pollinator Week–about this topic.


The realization that for my climate I still need to be leaving the stems of my perennials standing a wee bit longer was amazing. I’ve been thinking about cutting them back for weeks and only time and wet weather prohibited me (thank goodness it’s raining again!)

If you live somewhere warmer, file this under “to be remembered.” The Xerces Society post has a great chart about how to know it’s safe to do spring clean-up by simple things like whether you have done your first spring mowing or whether the apple and cherry trees in your neighborhood have finished blooming.

Considering that’s a big fat “NO!” for me right now, I guess I and my neighbors will need to look at a messy yard a little bit longer–at least on my property!

Time for a Road Trip to Bart’s Cobble!


[Photos courtesy of the Trustees of the Reservation]

For those of you who might be traveling to New England to visit colleges in the near future, of if anyone has some time the next couple of weeks, it’s time to take a trip to Bartholomew’s Cobble in Sheffield, Massachusetts–in the Berkshires, just a little bit over the Connecticut border.

There will be daily tours from April 15 through May 7. This area boasts one of the largest collection of spring ephemerals in the region.

I visited the area last summer in the middle of a drought. Obviously the spring ephemerals were long gone but I was still captivated by the place. You can see my post about the visit here.

A press release with more information about the spring wildflower festival can be found here. I definitely am going to try to get there myself. And I encourage anyone in the area–or nearby, or even visiting–to go. I know you won’t be sorry!

Wordless Wednesday


This is milkweed, asclepias incarnata. It’s a native that most of us grow to help the monarchs. They lay their eggs on it.

It’s also a wonderful nectar plant. I have watched lots of different pollinators on it. This is the first time I have seen an eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly on it, however.  I guess it is better for pollinators than I realized!

It’s Mid-July. What’s Blooming in Your Garden?


20160708_075830We are halfway through meteorological summer and halfway through the “Dog Days.” How does your garden look?

It’s okay if you said “tired,” “dry,” burned up”  or some such thing. Keeping a garden going all summer is a real challenge and an art. There have been hundreds if not thousands of books written about it.

What I don’t want to hear is “this is not my growing season,” (unless you live in the southern hemisphere.) Try telling that to the numerous Botanic Gardens all over the south. Do you expect they can get away with that? They have to have gardens that look good all summer long. There is plenty that looks good–and is water-wise–in Florida and Texas and New Mexico and Denver–in the heat of the summer. I know this from personal experience. I’ve been to most of those Botanic gardens in the heat. If you don’t know what those plants are, go to your local Botanic gardens. If you don’t like those plants, that’s a different story.

So now that we’ve established that folks can find out what grows in their region in mid-summer, how do you go about getting some of those plants into the garden in a sensible way?

The sensible way is not to go out and buy those plants and plant them when it’s 90-100 degrees, of course. Even I am trying to limit what I plant right now since we are in the middle of a drought advisory (although, since I do have a couple of shrubs still in pots, the sensible thing to do is to get them in the ground and water them sustainably rather than to continue to water them every day!)

The sensible thing is to try to find plants earlier in the season–when the heat is not at its worst–and to plant them then. That means doing your research now and planting next spring–or for those of you in the south with a longer growing season, planting this fall, if you can find the plants you want to add to the garden.

But don’t just settle for tired, burned up sad looking gardens in July. It doesn’t have to be that way. With a little research, you can have a vibrant, sustainable, lovely garden all summer long.

Oh, and about that photo above? It’s almost all native plants. That makes these blooms fairly drought resistant once they are established. And they are great for the wildlife as well (in fact, they are a little too great in my drought! A rabbit has been helping itself to the echinacea plants. That’s never happened before. Poor thing probably needs a little extra nourishment and moisture!)


Leaflets 3, Let It Be?

Happy July 4th to all who are celebrating!

I will probably be celebrating with one of my favorite chores in the garden–weeding–which is why I chose this post topic.

I was originally going to make it a post about the importance of knowing the difference between the two native vines, Virginia Creeper (parthenocissus quinquefolia) and poison ivy (toxicodendron radicans). (Yes, poison ivy is a native and its berries are an important wildlife food source–that’s why it keeps appearing all over your gardens and mine!)

It is important for many reasons, not the least of which is that poison ivy causes a nasty rash in the majority of folks who come into contact with it. Also, poison ivy can contaminate anything it touches and the oil can linger anywhere from a year to up to 5 years and can re-infect the gardener that way.

But poison ivy seedlings are a little hard to identify–and there are a lot of mimics. The best case is to treat everything as if it is poison ivy, of course, and proceed with caution.

Still, you can save yourself a lot of heartache if you can recognize the different plants and keep ones that might be valuable to you. So here’s something that might help.

The first is the saying, above: Leaflets 3, let it be. That means that poison ivy has 3 leaves. But as you’ll soon see from my photos, so do a lot of other harmless plants when they are seedlings–and even larger plants. That’s okay. If in doubt, treat them as if they are poison ivy until you can positively identify them, particularly if you are sensitive.


This is a true poison ivy seedling. It’s very innocuous. It hardly looks like something that would make you want to rip your skin off.


But when we talk about “leaflets 3” here we have a 3 leafed plant that is definitely NOT poison ivy. It’s an alpine strawberry. Not something you would want to necessarily weed out. You can see how tiny this is by the acorn cap next to it.


Here’s another tri-lobed weed (again, notice the tiny size–I really had to hunt for this stuff!).  Weeder beware? Well, yes, but not of rashes. This is a maple seedling. I don’t want this to get too much bigger or it will be difficult to remove.

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Finally, you can tell this is nothing dangerous, even though it’s vining, because I have obviously picked it up and moved it. This is a Virginia Creeper vine at the beginning. I actually ripped a piece off to show that at the start, its “leaflets” are 3 lobed and not 5 lobed. So it can be a poison ivy mimic at times.


This is mature Virginia Creeper. It should look nothing like poison ivy to you. It doesn’t to me. We have it on a wood pile, climbing the trunks of a few pine trees, and here, on this stone wall, under a dogwood in places.

Despite the 5 leaflets, I can’t tell you how many neighbors have asked me to “please get rid of the poison ivy” on my trees. I’ve had to patiently explain that it isn’t poison ivy and tell them the “leaflets 3” rule. Every time a house sells, I go through this all over again.

And if we get help for a spring or fall clean-up, the Virginia Creeper inevitably gets removed as “poison ivy.” I know they think they are doing us as favor. Luckily the stuff is tough as nails and the birds bring some back for us within a year or two.

So for your own sake, and safety’s sake, learn the difference as you weed. It can make the difference between having some lovely native vines and a nasty itchy rash!