Sunday, August 17, 2014

Here Comes The Cavalry

The dog days of summer are tiresome for us humans and hard on plants that were their best in spring. I’m starting to see a few plants sport the occasional yellow or red leaf. Even most of the summer perennials are dwindling, although the annuals that bloom like their lives depend on it (and they do) are still going.

It’s time for the last few batches of caterpillars to hatch and insects to get ready for the winter. Are bees still provisioning their eggs? Plenty of them are still gathering pollen on the last few blooms of mountain mint (Pycnanthemum) and anise hyssop (Agastache). 

Monarch butterflies will be coming through next month on their way south and they’ll want nectar. What’s a pollen/nectar gatherer to do?

Buckeye butterfly on Eupatorium
Well, here comes the cavalry – a group of fall plants that have evolved specifically to be there for the insects that need them!

First come the thoroughworts and by this I mean the white flowers in the genus Eupatorium. This does not include Joe pye weed (although it is great plant too) which is now in a different genus (Eutrochium). 

On a roadside this week I saw 3 different species of Eupatorium within a square yard: Eupatorium rotundifolium, Eupatorium serotinum and Eupatorium hyssopifolium. Only the first one was blooming, but the others were in bud and would be blooming soon.

Solidago odora on roadside - it should be in our gardens
Then the goldenrods start. The first roadside goldenrod (Solidago) to bloom in my area is the anise-scented goldenrod (Solidago odora), a well-behaved clumping form. I noticed a few of the aggressive Canada goldenrod (S. canadensis) are already blooming on roadsides but it’s early for them. Still, there’s no accounting for individuals that do what they want!

Leafcutter bee on Solidago speciosa

I really like how the different species of all these plants stagger their blooms over several months. It’s good for the insects and nice for us too. I have a showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) blooming in a pot; it was a purchase and I combined it with several other natives in a mixed planter in one of my “container” experiments. It has done very well there. 

The container also has Liatris elegans which I bought from Nearly Native Nursery. It is native to the Coastal Plain and also done well in the mix.  

Monarch on Liatris with Solidago and
Eupatorium nearby in fall 2012

Liatris are also part of the cavalry – the left flank if you will – complimenting the goldenrods with their puffy purple blooms. Monarchs are fond of it and I hope that some of my Liatris pilosa will have survived the deer’s attempt to eat it all.

The right flank comes in the form of asters, especially the small white asters whose name no one seems to bother learning. 

Symphyotrichum racemosum

These asters (Symphyotrichum) blanket the roadsides, their nondescript form transformed into sprays of beautiful white flowers. A few purple ones will work their way in, but the white ones are the workhorses. They will keep blooming until frost.

So if your garden is flagging in late summer and you'd like some help from the cavalry, plant some of these guys! Look for them at fall native plant sales.

1 comment:

  1. I love my fall native plants just about as much as my critters!!