Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hummingbird Favorites in My Garden

Hummingbirds evoke a joy and wonder in humans that is almost universal: those tiny bodies, those fast wings, that slender beak!  While I don't plant flowers specifically for them, I am always thrilled when my choices meet with their approval.  Here is one of the little guys enjoying a bit of Turk's Cap Hibiscus.

Looking back over the blooming season, here are the plants that I have which attract their attention.  In early spring, the Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia) feeds the earliest hummingbirds.  The tubular red flowers are the perfect flower for them.  Can you imagine how those clusters of red tubes must serve as a brightly lit buffet sign to passing Hummingbirds?

Aesculus pavia

 After the buckeyes are gone, the Salvias come into bloom.  These early summer flowers come in a range of colors, but it is the red and pink ones that Hummingbirds find.  You probably already know they have a fondness for red tones.  Look at these luscious reds - the buds on the Salvia coccinea remind me of little lipsticks.

Salvia greggii
Salvia coccinea

While the Salvias are blooming, the Red Yucca sends up a spike.  This year was a spectacular display of blooms.  Every day, a few blooms would open up to reveal flowers that were like little works of art!

Hesperaloe parviflora
Hesperaloe parviflora

Lonicera sempervirens

On a fence near the red yucca is a new addition to my garden: Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens).  This is the native honeysuckle; it has very little fragrance compared to the japanese one, but the color can't be beat!  I had just a few blooms this year, but I know it will be even more floriferous next year.

Rhododendron prunifolium

Plumleaf azalea (Rhododendron prunifolium) starts blooming in late June and continues through July.  The bright red blossoms keep the hummingbirds coming.  This azalea has no fragrance, but the color is spectacular.

The next plant to bloom for my hummingbirds is known as Turk's Cap Hibiscus (Malvaviscus arboreus) or Turk's Cap Mallow.  The species is naturally red, but I also have a pink form that a friend brought me from Texas.  The soft pink petals look like roses.

Malvaviscus arboreus
Malvaviscus arboreus

Lobelia cardinalis
The last flower to bloom is Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). The intensely red blooms of this plant capture the attention of the Hummingbirds that haven't flown south for the winter.  Rivalry is intense and you can often see them chasing each other around this plant.

 The flowers bloom on a terminal spike that lengthens as it blooms.  The lowest flowers open first and by the time the topmost flower blooms, seeds are already forming from the first flowers.  Each flower makes a seed capsule that holds dozens and dozens of tiny brown seeds.  Cardinal flower can be a short lived perennial, so let some of the seeds fall to the ground to make new plants.  They do best in a slightly moist area, and the rosette of leaves, which can persist over the winter, does not like to be covered by fallen leaves or mulch.

Campsis radicans

And not blooming in MY garden, but a spectacular plant on the side of the road for at least the last four weeks is Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans).  It is a little too aggressive for most gardens, but it looks swell on a telephone pole or a big tree.

So if you have a mind to garden for Hummingbirds, some of these native plants might work for you.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dealing with Deer

This little fella is a cutie, no doubt about it.  But as I watched him and took pictures, he wandered around the woods, stopping to munch a tender leaf here and there.  And unfortunately, his favorite leaves were on the native plants!  Well, to be fair, the area was wooded with few invasives so it was 95% native anyway.

I live in a neighborhood that has 2 acre lots and is surrounded by lots that are even bigger.  There are a fair number of natural areas – certainly over 50% of the land is not landscaped.  Add that to the fact that there are fewer predators than ever and you can understand that we have a large deer population with many new babies each year. Oh and some of my neighbors feed them corn.

This blog entry is about what I do personally to deal with the potential for deer browsing in my yard.  Because that’s what they do, by the way, they don’t “eat”, they “browse”.  Picture them wandering around the neighborhood, grabbing a bite or two as they go along.  If you see them with their nose to the ground, they are likely not eating grass, but eating acorns or something else that is in the grass.

Know what they like: I know what they like by what other affected people say (for example, experienced gardeners consider hostas to be “deer candy”), and I also know because of personal observation in the 8 years that I’ve been here.  Hydrangeas (native and not) are a favorite, Alumroot (Heuchera americana), Azaleas, Ginger (both Asarum and Hexastylis), Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Trillium, and early spring (tender) leaves.  Which means they eat almost anything if it is tender enough!

Deer damage on a perennial

And learn what they don’t like – they don’t eat ferns much, plants with stiff foliage like Agarista and Leucothoe (sometimes the tender new growth), aromatic foliage like Wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera) and Florida anise (Illicium floridanum), and I have not seen them eat the prickly foliage of junipers and creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata) – BUT they will eat anything if they are hungry enough, plus they might try something “once”. 

Siting – don’t put the plants they like out in the open.  I have one hosta, for example, and it is behind the ONE piece of wooden fence that I have.  Other potentially tasty plants live up close to the house where the deer are LESS likely to go (but sometimes they stop by for a nibble!).

Fencing – you might consider this a type of “siting”.  Fencing is not just to prevent the deer from browsing on the foliage, it also can protect young tree trunks from being rubbed in the fall.  So you may want to fence a young tree that they might eat ... or to protect the bark (rubbing can be fatal to a young tree because it damages the cambium tissue under the bark, interrupting the flow of nutrients).  There are also plastic tubes that you can place around the trunk for this reason.

Damage from rubbing (now healing)
Wire cage

Smelly sprays – my family hates these sprays but they work.  The smell fades after a few hours from a human’s point of view.  I have used brands like Deer Off! and Liquid Fence.  They seem to work equally well so it is just a matter of which one is more available or cost effective. I apply it at least four times a year on the plants that I know are potential targets - during the spring on tender growth, in early summer on plants like ginger, alumroot and trillium, in early fall to protect the flower buds of azaleas, and again during the winter on azalea flower buds.  Excessive amounts of rain may require re-application as well - it's kind of a trial and error situation, but one rain alone won't wash it off in my experience.

There are do it yourself recipes on the internet, but be prepared to screen the liquid to eliminate chunks or the sprayer will clog.  Actually, even the ready-made products can get lumpy over time.  But they do work and apparently if you do it consistently, the deer will learn to circulate elsewhere ... like to your neighbor's house!

If I can make it until fall, then copious amounts of acorns fall from the many mature oaks that the area has, and the deer will happily switch to eating them instead.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Late Summer Yellows

Late summer brings out an incredible amount of yellow blooms in the native garden.  Many of these yellow-blooming plants are members of the Asteraceae family, also known as Compositae.  If you’ve ever heard someone mention the acronym “DYC”, these are the flowers they mean – as in “damn yellow composites” – because there are so many of them, they look a lot alike, and they hybridize among themselves to create new forms.

Annual Sunflower, Helianthus annus

Composite flowers are usually composed of both disk and ray flowers – and a lot of them. What you consider "a"  flower is actually many flowers in an arrangement.  The disk flowers are tiny flowers located at the center of the structure while the ray flowers are what many folks consider to be the “petals”.  Here is a very good site that explains and provides more examples of these terms.

Coreopsis major

Probably the first of these to bloom in my area is the large flowered Coreopsis, Coreopsis major.  It’s a great plant, hardy and tough as the dickens.  However, I find the flowers extremely hard to photograph because they don’t always look so good when you get close up (but you can see I found one here)!  Still, I would recommend them because they are fine with poor soil and dry conditions.  The whorled foliage is very attractive from spring to fall.

I will cover the next three genera alphabetically because it is hard to say which starts blooming first: Helianthus, Rudbeckia or Silphium.

Helianthus angustifolius
Helianthus divaricatus

The genus Helianthus is generally known as the Sunflower family.  The annual sunflower, Helianthus annus, is a member, but there are many other species that are perennial garden favorites.  The woodland sunflower, Helianthus divaricatus, is a stoloniferous plant which means that it grows by underground roots to make expanding colonies.  In rich and moist garden soil that means it will be a bit aggressive.  It normally grows on dry, partially shaded woodland edges.  

Taller members of this genus include Helianthus tuberosus, which is known as Jerusalem artichoke (at least you can eat it if it gets too aggressive!), and Helianthus angustifolius, the late blooming swamp sunflower.  I have seen majestic stands of swamp sunflower blooming in gardens in October – the statuesque clumps are much admired by those that pass by.

The flowers in the genus Rudbeckia are known as coneflowers.  One of the most commonly sold forms is Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ and is usually referred to as Black-eyed Susan.  I have (and enjoy) another form known as Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida which is often known as Orange Coneflower.  I used to think this was a later blooming form – now I know that it is late for me because the deer keep eating it in spring and summer!  But that means I get a lot of blooms eventually due to all that “pruning”.  

Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’

The one that many folks consider to be the “original” Black-eyed Susan is Rudbeckia hirta which is considered to be short lived perennial (but reseeds nicely).  It is easily distinguished from Rudbeckia fulgida because the plant parts (stems and leaves) have many hairs.  It is one of my favorites, and I love to see it growing on roadsides and in fields this time of year.  A similar, but taller, species is Rudbeckia triloba, which is sometimes called Brown-eyed Susan.  Some of the leaves have 3 lobes which helps to distinguish it from R. hirta in the field.  Tired of the dark eyes?  Not all the coneflowers have them.  Cut-leaved coneflower, Rudbeckia laciniata, has greenish cones.  There is also the yellow-flowring genus Ratibida which shares the common name coneflower with Rudbeckia.  I know that many people think that using the Latin name is unnecessary, but you can see here that common names can mean different plants!

Rudbeckia hirta

Rudbeckia triloba

Another genus with great height is Silphium, known as “rosinweed”.  Probably one of the most well known members of this genus is Cup Plant, Silphium perfoliatum (also known as Silphium connatum).  The stem pierces the leaves, creating a “cup” at the junction.  This cup can fill up with rainwater, allowing birds to drink from it.  Kidney-leaf rosinweed (Silphium compositum) is often found in my area.  I find the leaves to be quite beautiful – thick, sculpted, and decorated with red veins.  In late July I attended the Cullowhee Native Plant conference, and several vendors had Silphium integrifolium for sale.  Members of this genus deserve more use in the garden – they are dependable and drought tolerant perennials for late summer blooms.

Silphium compositum

Silphium compositum, foliage

Silphium perfoliatum, Cup Plant
Photo by M. Tucker

Silphium perfoliatum

Confused by all these disk and ray flowers?  Looking at the BACK of the flower may be helpful.  The green bracts which hold the flower can be very distinctive.  Here are pictures of the back of the flowers discussed above.

Rudbeckia back
Helianthus back

Coreopsis back

Silphium back

Another tall yellow flower blooming now is Smallanthus uvedalius, known as Bear's foot because of the leaf shape.  I photographed this last week on a roadside.

Smallanthus uvedalius
Smallanthus back

Other yellow flowers that you may see this time of year: St. John’s Wort (Hypericum, which is usually a type of shrub), Goldenrod (Solidago altissima is probably the most common one on roadsides), Bidens (known as tickseed for the shape of its seeds), Maryland aster (Chrysopsis mariana), Wing-stem (Verbesina alternifolia or V. occidentalis) and Silk grass (Pityopsis graminifolia).

Hypericum punctatum
Solidago altissima
Pityopsis graminifolia
I hope to do a full blog entry on just Solidago soon.  I think it is a genus that is under-appreciated.  In the meantime, enjoy the many ways that yellow appears in our summer roadsides.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Cullowhee Native Plants Conference

Last week (July 27-30) I was able to attend the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference in Cullowhee, NC.  Although it  was the 28th conference, it was only my second one.  I enjoyed the conference my first year, and I was anxious to see if the second one would be just as enjoyable.

The conference is the premier native plant conference in the Southeastern U.S., and I'm sure for many years it was time when native plant enthusiasts could come together, joined by a love of native plants that was not always shared by other people in their every day lives. They would leave the conference with new information and new plants, refreshed and rejuvenated in their passion.

With the rise of information and communications via the Internet, one wonders if such a conference still holds value for people - especially those that travel far to get there.  I think the answer is "Yes".  Despite all that modern communications has to offer, there is value in spending time with others, examining plants in hand, and the spontaneous interactions and discussion that, well, just happen!

In general, I would encourage people to seek out and attend conferences when possible.  Almost every state native plant society has some type of annual conference - check their calendar and email them for more information if you don't find anything.  I have organized the Georgia one for the last four years and am working on my 5th one. Even though it is only a one day conference, I try to ensure that the topics are varied, the vendors are plentiful and the food is palatable!

If you'd like to see what the Cullowhee schedule was, to give you an idea of the topics covered, here is a link to the schedule.  The dates for 2012 have already been announced - hope to see some of you there July 17-21, 2012.

Here are some pictures from the 2011 Cullowhee conference. I never seem to get a picture of a lot of people - there were over 300 people there.  I guess I'm always just too busy talking to think about taking a picture.

Botanical art by Linda Fraser

A great selection of books

Lots of plant vendors - more than this!

Students explaining their projects

And plenty of beautiful flowers in the area:

Actaea pachypoda
Apios americana

Monarda didyma

Helianthus, I think!