Sunday, December 4, 2022

The Gift of Gardening


I’m a size 6 … in Felco pruners. Having good tools is essential to happy gardening so if you have people in your life that love to work outside, consider giving them tools, or gloves, or something they might not have considered for themselves. Last year, my best friend gave me a whole bunch of stakes to prop up weak plants. They were most welcome. Today’s post offers more ideas.

A similar post that I made last year is full of ideas, all still perfectly relevant. Read that post here. One of my favorite ideas (as a gardener myself) is the one in the last paragraph about gifts of time: “Gifts of time are especially appreciated by older folks who need help in the garden or just appreciate your company. Create your own gift certificate with messages like “Will plant your new plants for you or Weed your garden” and package it up with a few tea sachets and a message that you can enjoy a cup of tea together after the work is done.” 

You might need ideas for people just getting started. How about some book ideas for beginning native gardeners? Here are several of my blogs about books:

Ideas for Beginners and Southeast Native Plant Primer and Climate-wise Landscaping

Ideas for Winter Reading (deeper selections) and more ideas 

Doug Tallamy's books: The Nature of Oaks and Nature's Best Hope and The Living Landscape

Plant Identification Books: Field Guide to Wildflowers of Georgia and Wildflowers of the Atlantic Southeast  

Looking for something to inspire children? Three very good books can be found at Pollination Press (which also has great books for adults). Another good book about bees is available at Beecatur.

I hope this post both inspires you and gives you ideas for meaningful gifts. Back to those pruners I love … one important act of service might be to offer to get their favorite pair of pruners sharpened. Gifts don't have to cost a lot but the thought behind them means so much.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Favorite Wildflower Walks in Georgia (the book)


The first few cold days of the winter season just make me want to hide in the house with a hot drink. It is actually a good time to start planning, planning changes to the landscape or planning trips around the state. It is with the latter goal in mind that I remind you of a book that was published in 2007 but is still perfectly relevant today: Favorite Wildflower Walks in Georgia by Hugh and Carol Nourse.

I appreciate the few books out there that are specific to Georgia in terms of subject matter. I have met the authors on several activities with the Georgia Botanical Society and I know they are passionate about plant communities and appreciative of places that represent them well. As the description at the first link says, "Of the many walks the Nourses have taken, these are the ones they return to most often because of the density or the unusual nature of the floral display. All twenty of these wildflower walks are on public land; everything you need to know about how to find them and what to do once you're there is included." 

I have been on a number of these walks both on my own and with the Georgia Botanical Society. The Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail (#1) is quite literally a perennial favorite for me, the earliest of places to see spring wildflowers in north Georgia. I’ve done #5 at Carter’s Lake and found it enjoyable and easy. #9 is Sosebee Cove, a fantastic place (but the parking is a bit iffy). I didn’t know that #12 was called the Bradley Peak Trail at Arabia Mountain but we have hiked it and it’s a fun way to get kids into nature. Down in the Coastal Plain, #19 at Okefenokee is a good one; I went in 2014 but I think it’s time to go again!

With twenty walks outlined in the book, it looks like I have plenty more to do. I hope to do several more of these in 2023 - perhaps some of you will consider visiting a few too. The Georgia Botanical Society has several of these each year as field trips. Need a walk during winter? Check out my earlier post on winter waterfalls.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

We Need Bugs


Convincing people to use native plants more in their landscape has been an evolving message over the last 20 years. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Doug Tallamy, his fellow researchers/authors, and many others, we now know that supporting insects is the strongest reason we have to use more native plants.

Red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta)

Why do we need bugs? They perform many services such as pollination (bees, flies, beetles, wasps, butterflies, moths); decomposition (beetles); and even pest control (wasps). They also support the ecosystem in another important way: they become food for other insects and for birds and small mammals. Over the last 20 years, Audubon at the national and regional levels have taken up the native plant message as a critical part of supporting native birds.

I’ve just returned from a 10-day visit to the island of Hawai’i (called the big island) which has a nice mix of tourist areas (Kona, Hilo) as well as fantastic natural areas (Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park). We spent our first 5 days in Kona, which has mostly non-native plants. I saw no insects and most of the birds were non-native sparrows, doves, and myna birds. Rarely did we hear any other bird calls.

The last part of our trip was in the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park which tries very hard to preserve native plants, restore native plants, and to remove invasive plants.

One of our day trips in the Park was to the Kīpukapuaulu Trail, a 1.2 mile trail dedicated to preserving biological diversity of native species. Some people call this the Bird Trail, a testament to the power of native plants to support a variety of birds. The birds were absolutely there in abundance, and their songs and calls delighted us throughout the walk. We even saw the Kamehameha butterfly (Vanessa tameamea), one of only two native butterfly species in Hawai’i. Its host plant, a shrub in the nettle family known as māmaki (Pipturus albidus) was there in abundance; the butterfly itself was after sapflows on tall trees and I wasn’t able to get a photo but there was no mistaking it (it very much resembles our red admiral butterfly, a species that also hosts on nettles).

Māmaki (Pipturus albidus)
ʻŌhiʻa (Metrosideros polymorpha)

Native plants make a difference; go somewhere where they are in the minority and I think you’ll see the difference too. I'll share here a photo of one my favorite Hawaiian Islands endemic plants: known as ʻŌhiʻa (Metrosideros polymorpha), it is abundant in the park and one of the earliest to take hold in areas where lava flowed. We saw it in many places where it was the only thing growing in a sea of black lava. Its bright red flowers are a source of nectar for the native birds known as Hawaiian honeycreepers.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

November 2022 Moment in Nature

 I was driving through East Cobb County last week when I spotted this magnificent sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) in a residential yard. It wowed me enough to designate it my #momentinnature for the month. 

Oxydendrum arboreum

We are so fortunate to have so much natural sourwood in the metro Atlanta area. I love to find it peeking out from natural areas each fall. It really has some of the best fall color. I also love it for blooming in summer when other trees are not.

This tree likely was planted by nature in this spot but kudos to the homeowners for recognizing its value and keeping it. I encourage everyone to figure out what trees/plants they have so that when it comes time to thin or remove, you know what is worth keeping (like this one!).

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Fall Color: The Shrub Edition


Last week I wrote about fall foliage on trees, encouraging home owners to Bring It Home by including native trees known for good color. Not everyone has room for big trees when they are considering what to plant for fall color so this post is dedicated to some ideas for shrubs. Fall color is courtesy of deciduous plants; the plant stops making chlorophyll (green pigment), leaving only the pigments for carotenoids (yellow/orange) and/or anthocyanin (red), thus revealing the colors that are so pretty. Afterwards, the leaves fall off and become nourishment for the next cycle.

For full sun (6+ hours of sun), consider the following shrubs:

Fothergilla is a spring blooming shrub with handsome summer foliage and spectacular fall foliage. I call it my fruit cocktail shrub because it often has a mix of red, orange, yellow and even green at the same time. The hybrid ‘Mt. Airy’ is a cross between two native species is quite garden-worthy but if you have a big space go for Fothergilla major or if you like a bit of bluish foliage then choose Fothergilla gardenii.

Fothergilla 'Mt. Airy'

Cultivated blueberry (Vaccinium)

Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) have fabulous fall color, and if you choose the cultivated ones you can have fruit too. Be sure to choose several different ones to ensure good cross-pollination for best fruit. Read my earlier blog on blueberries to learn more.

St. John’s wort has several species of native shrubs but perhaps the best one for fall color is Hypericum frondosum. It is often available as the cultivar ‘Sunburst’ which was selected for larger flowers but does not compromise the value to pollinators one bit. Bees love it! The fall color can be a kaleidoscope of colors including pink and yellow.

Viburnum dentatum in fall

Viburnum nudum

Several of the native viburnums fit in the full sun category and can have outstanding fall color. Viburnum dentatum, called arrowwood for its very straight limbs, does very well but can get tall. The cultivar ‘Blue Muffin’ was selected for compact height, up to 5 feet, and produces both flowers and fruit that are attractive to wildlife. In moist areas, possumhaw viburnum (Viburnum nudum) does very well and has incredibly good fall color. Another large sun-loving one is blackhaw (Viburnum prunifolium); it can double as a small tree with a height up to 20 feet. A smaller viburnum is Viburnum obovatum (especially dwarf cultivars) it is probably the one viburnum that doesn’t seem to have showy fall color. Read more about viburnums in my earlier post.

Chokeberries have great fall color, both the red (Aronia arbutifolia) and the black-fruited (Aronia melanocarpa) ones. They are naturally large and suckering shrubs but several compact cultivars have been selected (dwarf forms do not necessarily compromise the value to wildlife). Black chokeberry has also recently gotten a lot of attention for its fruits being high in antioxidants. Read more about chokeberries and their cultivars here.

Winged sumac (Rhus copallinum)

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra)

Sumac lights up the roadsides but isn’t always selected for home gardens because it is perceived as unruly. Grow smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) in a pot or select the low-growing fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica). Sumac is not always easy to find in cultivation but it is worth it.

For part sun (less than 6 hours), many of the above shrubs can grow with fewer than 6 hours but might not bloom as much; consider also the following:

Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) has long been a popular landscape shrub and the fall color is superb. Read my earlier blog for more details and why many folks consider it to be a 4-season shrub. The species is large but many dwarf cultivars exist. For best wildlife support, avoid the ones with double flowers.

Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

Itea virginica (a wild plant)

Itea virginica goes by the name Virginia sweetspire, and, like oakleaf hydrangea, has long been in the nursery trade. It is an adaptable native shrub naturally found on streamsides where its suckering habit helps to hold the bank against erosion. Dwarf cultivars and others that have more consistent fall color are available in nurseries.

I mentioned native viburnums in the sun section but there are several species you should consider for part sun areas. Mapleleaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) is excellent for part shade; it was the subject of my very first entry on this blog. Also suitable is rusty blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum), a taller but slow-growing species that could work as a small tree.

Mapleleaf viburnum
Also mapleleaf viburnum

A part-sun sumac that does well at my house is winged sumac (Rhus copallinum). This plant was already here when we moved in and continues to delight us with brilliant red leaves each fall. See the photo earlier in this blog.

Fall color is especially noticeable when you have an occasional evergreen plant that helps show off the colors of the deciduous shrubs. Find some evergreen ideas in this post.

In the mood for other shrub ideas? Check out this post on shrubs. Keep in mind that when you choose native shrubs, you also help contribute to the local ecosystem by providing bugs and birds more of the choices they evolved with.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Bring It Home: Fall Color


Thousands of folks visit North Georgia each fall to take in the beauty of the fall foliage. I love to do that myself but you’d be surprised at how seldom that happens, even for retired folks! Poor weather, errands, being sick, volunteering – these all get in the way of a timely visit and then the leaves are gone. That’s why I like to recommend incorporating good fall color plants into designed landscapes so that you bring some of that beauty home.

A photo taken by my friend Sheri; it is a shopping mall parking lot 

As I write this on a crisp fall day, a light wind is blowing leaves all around but plenty remain on the trees: the golden leaves of tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera), ash (Fraxinus spp.) and hickory (Carya spp.); reddish leaves of black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) and sumac (Rhus spp.); orange Sassafras and serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.); pink-purple sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) are all consistent in their colors while the red maple (Acer rubrum) varies from tree to tree: yellow, orange, and even brilliant red.

Serviceberry in my yard
Oaks in a parking lot

Among those trees there is still plenty of green; an essential component of appreciating fall color are the occasional pops of green. In addition to the pine trees, many of the oak (Quercus spp.) and American beech (Fagus grandifolia) trees have yet to turn. They provide the later hues of fall colors: deep burgundies and rich honey browns.

As much as you plan for spring blooms, take some time to plan for fall color too and enjoy the change of seasons right from your own window. For ideas on plants to use, see my earlier blog: The Fall Color Compilation.

Maple in my yard
Sourwood on a country road

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Out My Front Door


I love the views and the wildlife interactions that I get right outside my own front door. Watching the trees turn color this week in the front was just one more reminder of how important it is to me to put the plants I love where I can see them the most.

This week's view: Viburnum prunifolium (purple)
with the orange foliage of serviceberry (Amelanchier)

I've written before about considering that your front yard can be every much a part of your habitat garden. You can read that post here. For me, the front yard is the part of my yard that I see the most. My back yard is entirely natural and feels like you just wandered into a woodland, so I use my front yard to create organized beds of native perennials and shrubs.

My birdbath and hummingbird feeders are in the front and I pop out daily to check on them. I use the driveway as an informal potting area, walk along the sidewalk to get the mail, and often go out to check on what’s blooming and what bugs are using the plants.

In the spring, shrubs like native azaleas, viburnums, mountain laurel, blueberries, and serviceberry bloom above the coreopsis, columbine, penstemon, bluebells, trillium, and pussytoes.

A butterfly on the azalea on the front corner of the house

In the summer, I have St. Johns wort, summersweet, pagoda dogwood, sundrops, spiderwort, coneflower, black-eyed Susan, milkweed, hibiscus, partridge pea, cardinal flower, and mountain mint. It is a joy to watch both adults and juveniles enjoy the plants.

Cloudless sulphur on partridge pea
Cloudless sulphur on cardinal flower

In the fall, the asters run wild while sunflowers, turtlehead, boneset, and blue mistflower rise above them. Every moment out my front door is a joy to me. Make your front yard one of your happy spots too!

The bumblebees adore the fall asters