Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Virtual Tour – Up Close

Last week was the native plant garden tour and I quickly published a blog with some pictures of the garden overall. This week is about showing some close-ups of the plants that were blooming during the tour.

Mouse-eared coreopsis (C. auriculata)

First on the scene was a patch of mouse-eared coreopsis (Coreopsis auriculata) that was big and lush and full of blooms! It could not have been a better beacon of native hospitality. I’m very much a fan of this plant so it was good to show it in style.

Yellow trillium (Trillium luteum)

In the same area there were plenty of other blooms: red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), purple beardtongue (Penstemon smallii), and the rain lilies (Zephyranthes atamasca) were still going.

In the shady area behind the sunny group, yellow trillium (Trillium luteum) and foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) were blooming.

Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Rain lilies (Zephyranthes atamasca)

The piedmont azaleas (Rhododendron canescens) were finishing up but still gave a sense of what they offer in terms of beauty and fragrance. Other blooming shrubs included the red buckeyes (Aesculus pavia) near the street, Florida anise (Illicium floridanum), several hawthorns (Crataegus sp.), paw paws (Asimina triloba) and the American smoke tree (Cotinus obovatus) by the driveway.

Piedmont azalea (Rhododendron canescens)
Hawthorn (Crataegus triflora)

American smoketree (Cotinus obovatus)

While 3 species of viburnums were heavily budded, none were far enough along to have open blooms. Long past blooming, the Chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia) was instead sporting tiny fruits, a treat in itself. The alternate leaf dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), also known as pagoda dogwood, was putting on a good show to the left of the front porch.

Cornus alternifolia (view from inside the house)
Around the side, perennial blooms included green and gold (Chrysogonum virginianum), scorpionweed (Phacelia bipinnatifida), the tiny star-shaped blooms of woodland stonecrop (Sedum ternatum), more mouse-eared coreopsis and columbine plus a sweep of golden ragwort (Packera aurea) that had spread from two small plants I got when the garden tour was at Charles’s house. I gave away some during my tour too! 

Sisyrinchium angustifolium

My friend Marcia had given me some extra blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium), which I do have naturally, and that was blooming on the path into the woods, a space that has been largely yielded to the deer. Not much was blooming in the woods unless you happened to find the adder’s tongue fern, but it is always a nice, peaceful stroll to the creek.

Baptisia alba

Inside the protective pool fence, plants celebrated their ability to live unmolested by large herbivores: bluets (Houstonia caerulea), hairy phlox (Phlox amoena), green and gold, white baptisia (Baptisia alba), Carolina catchfly (Silene caroliniana), valeriana (Valeriana pauciflora) – a gift several years ago from Sheri - and Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus).

The whole sunny border is crammed with plants, overstuffed with the joy of deer-free gardening.

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea)

Valeriana pauciflora

At the back of the pool area, umbrella magnolia (Magnolia tripetala) tried to offer a few blooms but the rain the night before gave it pause and the flowers never fully opened. Still the leaves on it and the adjacent bigleaf magnolia (M. macrophylla) offered a lesson in identification as well as growth habit.

Around the yard, my attempts at using native plants in containers were showing signs of success: blooms in some while lush growth in others hinted of summer blooms to come. I take my lessons in container gardening from expert friends like Debbie, Marcia and Sheri. It’s time to do an update on my earlier post.

It’s been nice to enjoy the garden in the week since the tour. Spruced up and blooming nicely, it’s a celebration of how beautiful native plant gardening can be. Thanks for stopping by, in person and via the blog.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Virtual Tour

After a one year hiatus of the Garden Tour program, we just completed the 2016 GNPS members-only garden tour. I participated (as a garden) in 2008 and decided to participate again this year, 8 years later. The garden has changed in several ways so it seemed a good time to repeat (and it was time to get the place back in shape).

There’s a lot of work involved in getting your garden ready for a tour. I started out in February with general clean-up such as large fallen limb removal. I hadn’t really done much of that over the last few years so my bird-friendly brush piles were diminished and the limbs were everywhere. Now I have four big brush piles again and the forest floor appearance is more focused on the growing plants than the dead limbs. Note: I didn’t cut back my perennial stems until mid-March, leaving them for the insects to finish out their winter cycle.

As plants began to green up and bloom, I evaluated where some editing was needed. I was generally happy with the bones of the garden, but some plants had gotten a bit too happy (blue mistflower anyone (Conoclinium coelestinum)? Available for the taking!) while other plants had disappeared. Some plants were potted up for the GNPS sale and some moved to other locations (and some mistflower just had to go).

The front as viewed from the driveway

The front as viewed from the left side (looking towards driveway)

The plants that I’d had waiting in the wings (well, in pots) now could be planted. That was really fun! Probably adding plants is the most enjoyable part of gardening. I also used some wood chips from my January tree work to better define the paths so that people had clear places to walk.

Adequate deer protection was another part of my prep work. Deer pressure has been a major reason behind some of the garden’s decline (especially in the back) since the first tour. The local herd had really grown since 2008, thanks to feeding by a few neighbors. I’ve learned which plants to place only in the front (hydrangea) and which ones to spray more often. In the month before the tour, I sprayed a lot but still some plants were eaten.

Coming around the left side, blooms not as noticeable this far away!

The left side with a sunny perennial bed and the fence around the pool
Inside the pool area the plants are protected from the deer!

I have spent more time in the garden this year in preparation than I have in several years. That’s been a good thing! I’ve been able to really notice more plants as they grew, as I weeded around them or nestled them in fresh mulch. I’ve seen blooms that I might not have noticed before. So I'm glad I did it.

Just a few pictures from today. Will have to do a follow-up blog to show more (the software balks if there are too many pictures). Enjoy the tour.

Following the path around the back side of the pool

One of the wildlife brush piles (behind house)
The right side of the house, steps up to driveway

A red-spotted purple butterfly, I think

In next week's blog, I'll feature some of the plants that were blooming during the tour. I've got to share what finished out the day in a most beautiful way.

After everyone had left, I walked up the driveway and spotted this butterfly. The previous day I had found the chrysalis on a dead branch that was broken but still attached to the tree. I flagged it to keep anyone from removing it. The butterfly had just emerged at the end of the tour. What an awesome end to a day that I hope inspired people to support insects just like this one.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

I Am A Plant Relocator

It is never more apparent to me than the week before the native plant society’s annual spring sale that I am a semi-professional “plant relocator.”  I should get a bumper-sticker made or perhaps a button to wear on my shirt. Of course, I should get several for I am not the only one; I have a group of friends that have trained with me all these years.

Plants under the deck wait to be transported

How do I get all these plants?

- All through the year, I rescue plants and pot them up or plant them in my yard. The potted plants are often destined for the next plant sale.
- Someone might offer to donate plants to the sale, and I’ll host the plants at my house for several months (even longer if they need time to grow to a good size).
- I pot up extras from my own yard.
- For the native plant society's annual sale, nurseries donate plants.

Plants waiting to grow stronger or bigger

So those are all plants coming in. Then, at some point, plants go out. They get packed up and taken to the big sale or to meetings, plant swaps, restoration projects or friends.  For the big sale, the car gets pretty dirty by April. In the two weeks before the sale, the back seats are removed or folded down to make more room. Tarps or old shower curtains provide some measure of protection, but pine needles and bits of mulch know how to escape.

I really enjoy being able to facilitate the transfer of native plants to new people. We all do. The reward is in the look on the faces of the recipients and customers. To hear someone say “Oh, I’ve been looking for this!” It is also in knowing that you’ve shared one of your favorite plants with someone who will enjoy it.

This year added a special aspect to the game. I’m participating in the society’s garden tour next weekend so there was much movement around the house as I shuffled plants that were going or staying but needed to be somewhere else (front to back, back to upper deck, or was it the side deck …?). More about that fun in next week’s blog ….

So here’s to me and my friends: Sheri, Marcia, Karen, Lynn, Greta, Lola, Debbie. You know who you are. Maybe we should write a re-locator manual! In the meantime, we’ll keep honing our skills so that we can train future plant re-locators in the ways of this craft.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

After All These Years

After almost 13 years of being on this 2-acre property, I thought I’d seen every plant that came with the property. I have walked every inch of it over the years, searching for good plants to appreciate as well as looking for bad ones to remove. This week, I found something that I’d never seen before: Southern adder’s tongue fern (Ophioglossum vulgatum).

Southern adder’s tongue fern (Ophioglossum vulgatum)

I had heard of this plant before - a friend has it - and so had an inkling of what it was when I came upon it on a high humped area in a ditch that occasionally gets flooded during heavy rains.  Adder’s tongue fern produces individual leaves (a frond, really) and sometimes a separate spore stalk (one per frond). Not all fronds have the spore stalk. I actually found a colony of fronds and probably less than 25% of them had spore stalks (known as a fertile frond).

Ophioglossum vulgatum

Georgia actually has several species of adder’s tongue fern throughout the state, but this one is found only above the Fall Line.  According to the Field Guide to the Ferns and Other Pteridophytes of Georgia, Ophioglossum vulgatum is found in floodplains along streams and other areas. That explains why it likes this spot!

Later I also found a smaller colony about 50 feet away in a drier area of the woods.  Again, only a few of them had fertile fronds. So why am I just finding this plant? I don’t think I could have brought it in with other plant material because I don’t plant many things into the woods, and I never would have planted them in the middle of a drainage ditch (or even near it).

Ophioglossum vulgatum

One source that I found said that the plant can go for years without producing a frond. I suppose that might be the answer. We’ve had a couple of wet years. Perhaps the plant decided that conditions were right for an appearance. 

Well, I’m glad to have found it. Now I wonder what other things might pop up?

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Everything’s Coming Up Roses

Plants are often part of larger groups, known as families. It’s fun to see which plants are in the same family and this spring I am reminded that there are plenty of spring bloomers in the Rosaceae family (besides roses, that is).

Crabapple (Malus angustifolia)

How do you know which ones are in the same family? You can use the USDA Plants Database to see family relationships. In particular, these are the ones catching our attention at the moment.

Amelanchier – serviceberry
Aronia – chokeberry
Crataegus – hawthorn
Malus – crabapple
Neviusia – snow-wreath
Prunus – plum, cherry

Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)
Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)

Chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia)

The Rose family consists of trees, shrubs and even herbaceous perennials.  Perennials like goats-beard (Aruncus), just putting up foliage now, plus strawberries (Fragaria), bowman’s root (Gillenia), Geum and others. Some of the later blooming family members include roses (Rosa), the native Spiraea, blackberries (Rubus) ninebark (Physocarpus) and mountain ash (Sorbus).

This is a rose too? Alabama snow-wreath (Neviusia alabamensis)

Across so many different plant types, it’s hard to believe that these plants have something in common. Not even the type of fruit is consistent as some have fleshy fruits while others don’t. I found several explanations for what ties them together, and it has to do with the flower structure. The following statement is from the Utah State Herbarium website: 
Flowers of the Rosaceae are marked by the presence of a hypanthium. This is easiest to see and understand in large flowers, such as those of Malus, but it occurs in all members of the family. The other distinguishing characteristics of the family are its radially symmetric flowers with 5 separate petals, many stamens (i.e., more than twice as many as the petals), and the presence of stipules.
Knowing family characteristics can make your plant identification skills a little sharper. Or it's just fun to be able to tie some plants together. You can read about a couple of other plant families that I have casually explored in earlier posts: Pass the Mustard (Brassicaceae), and More Peas, Please! (Fabaceae).

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Red Mulch Rant

Dyed mulch is taking over - taking over the mulch aisle, that is. The mulch aisle at the big box stores used to have an array of bagged goods: pine bark mulch, pine bark nuggets, pine bark mini nuggets, hardwood mulch, cypress mulch, and soil conditioner (finely ground pine mulch). At least two of those types are gone now, their floor space given over to dyed mulches in at least 3 colors.

The popularity of these dyed mulches has exploded and the stores feature huge spring sales. For the last two years, the parking lots of both Home Depot and Lowes have enormous stacks of these mulches at special prices. I watch as pick-up trucks pull up and get 20+ bags at a time! Red, black and brown dyed mulches are the most common colors.

Mixing red mulch and pinestraw

These mulches are showing up in our neighborhoods and even professionally landscaped areas. Screaming red and coal black landscapes smother scattered perennials, occasional shrubs and solitary trees. Am I the only one that cringes at the unnatural palette they paint? Geez, at least get the brown one!

Nice blend with the natural woodlands - not!

Perhaps my personal preference should be left out of this. Not everyone has the same taste. Leaving aesthetics aside, there are still two reasons to seriously reconsider using dyed mulch.

The Dye

The largest companies proclaim that their dyes are “natural” dyes made from iron oxide (for the red) and carbon black (for the black). While these might be natural by-products, I am not very confident that I need large amounts of rust (iron oxide) and charcoal surrounding my plants. Should we believe them that these are “safe?” I’m sure we can all remember when they said several other chemicals (glyphosate as in Round-up, now considered harmful to humans, to name one) were fine. 

The Wood

Even small amounts of casual research reveals that the wood used in these mulches is primarily waste woods such as ground up pallets, shipping crates, and reclaimed woods such as old lumber that might have been treated with chemicals.

Sometimes it takes a few years for consistent results to show up. Also, are they evaluating human toxicity or plant toxicity? What about earthworms and soil bacteria? We are potentially poisoning the organisms that do the most work for us. (It reminds me of using neonicotinoids on plants and killing the bees. How counterproductive!)

Here are some ideas for mulch:

-          Leaves from your trees make the best, free mulch you can get. They are constantly decaying and releasing nutrients back into the soil while also attracting beneficial bugs and worms that help with the process and provide ground-hunting birds with food. If your leaves are too thick/large, chop them with a shredder or lawnmower before you place them in the beds.
-          Chips from tree companies can be a source of free mulch as most of them don’t want to have to pay to dump their chips in a landfill. These raw chips should not be piled high in the beds as they will heat up. You can age them in a big pile if you have room and then use them later (several months).
-          Bagged or bulk mulch that has not been dyed: pine bark, hardwood mulch (you may consider avoiding cypress mulch due to harvesting concerns, do your research).
-          Pinestraw is a choice that is readily available in the South; it is gathered from pine plantations. Examine the contents when applying to pull out any weeds caught up in the baling process (the non-native old world climbing fern has been known to hitchhike in the landscape that way).
-          Grass clippings, old garden straw – these are options if you know they are chemical free. Don’t pile them too thickly as they can create a barrier to rain if the clippings mat together.

This black mulch isn't 12 months old and it already looks faded

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Redbud – Peas on a Tree

When someone says a plant is in the pea family, do your thoughts immediately go to sugar snap peas? Some people might envision the distinctive butterfly-like flowers associated with so many pea family (Fabaceae) plants (including sugar snap peas). In fact, Fabaceae family members with this type of flower are said to be in the Papilionoideae sub-family, a fitting name for those butterfly-like flowers. Our spring-blooming eastern redbud tree (Cercis canadensis) is one of those and those flowers are popping out now.

Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis)
My first glimpse of the redbud was when I was driving along the highway in the spring of 1989; it was my first spring in Georgia. The highway generally has a thick row of pine trees along each side. Occasionally I would see glimpses of purple; I eventually realized they were thin branches enveloped in a tight arrangement of tiny purple flowers. Someone told me the name of the tree was redbud; I was confused – these were not red! I still haven’t figured that out.

Redbud habit (Cercis canadensis)
The eastern redbud is a small tree, growing 20-30 feet tall. The shape is wide and open, often being as wide as it is tall. Heart-shaped leaves emerge just as the flowers are finishing; it is unusual that the redbud has single leaves while most pea family plants have compound leaves. Pea pods form after the flowers, each holding about 4-10 bean-like seeds which are eaten by birds and squirrels. Seed production can be heavy on some plants and heart-shaped babies often sprout up.

Popular with bees
Of course, we can thank the bees for all those seeds. Bees absolutely love redbud flowers. I can stand next to the tree and see both native bees and honeybees happily foraging in those flowers.

The flowers are made up of five petals: a ‘banner’ petal, two wing petals, and two petals that are partially fused together to form a boat-shaped ‘keel.’ Bees go inside that keel to get to the pollen and nectar.

Close up flower and arrangement on branch
An interesting aspect of redbud is that flowers can emerge not only on the branches but also directly from the trunk. They are usually arranged in small clusters on short pedicels. The flowers are considered edible and are high in Vitamin C. The pea pods can be eaten too (maybe that’s a way to control the volume of seedlings).

If you’re looking for an early-blooming spring tree, give redbud a try. It appreciates part-shade in Georgia but can probably take more sun if it has good moisture. If you're interested in learning about other pea family plants in Georgia, check out my earlier blog post: More Peas, Please!