Asters, Sages and Milkweeds, Oh, My II

Pollinators and Plants for Pollinator-Friendly Gardens – Part 2

By Debra Knapke 

Last week, I introduced you to the pollinators in Part 1. Now, it’s time for the pollinator plants . . .

Let’s start with general plant groups and work toward some specific choices in each group. This is a start. Any plant that is not wind-pollinated has an associated pollinator. Once you start exploring your plant options, the sky is the limit.

Aster family

Most members of this family provide a perfect perch for many insects. You will see an array of bugs, beetles, flies, bees, wasps and spiders  crawling on the composite daisy flowers (Note: spiders are actually looking for their next meal; it’s a bug-eat-bug world out there!).

Echinacea purpurea skipper

Echinacea purpurea — purple coneflower, plus a skipper

Achillea filipendulina

Achillea filipendulina – yarrow; a full sun plant!

 

Silphium laciniatum flw Heritage Garden 7-20-07 resize

Silphium laciniatum – compass plant, a stately native

 

Aster Symphyotrichum purple Dome plant crop resize 2

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’ – one of the last flowers for butterflies & other pollinators

honey bee on aster pollen sacs 10-3-05 crop 2

In October, a honeybee sips a late drink from a ‘Purple Dome.’

IMG_2027 Cheekwood Gardens 9-12-208 resize

Zinnia angustifolia ‘Orange Profusion’– narrowleaf zinnia is an annual that is a pollinator magnet.

Bean/Pea family

Not only do the bumbles and other bees like the pea and bean family, but this group of plants has a lovely relationship with several species of bacteria that can fix gaseous nitrogen into a form that can be used by plants. Nitrogen is often the most limiting nutrient in built landscapes. This plant offers a way to fix the problem.

Baptisia australis staked resize

Baptisia australis – false indigo – is one of the most enduring plants in the garden.

Milkweed family

We have many species of milkweeds and butterflyweeds that are native to the Midwest. A recent study found that swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is the most likely to be chosen by the monarch butterfly as a larval host in the Midwest.  The Mexican tropical milkweed – Asclepias curassavica – is the host plant for the monarch when it travels south for the winter.

Asclepias tuberosa 6-24-10 resize

Asclepias tuberosa – butterflyweed for butterflies and bees

Mint family

Species in this herbal family should be in every garden.  Many of the species are our favorite culinary herbs (basil, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme…) and many have anti-fungal, anti-bacterial attributes. The bilabiate flowers have long throats that lead to the nectaries. I have watched bumbles chew into the base of the flower because they could not enter the flower through the “front door.”

IMG_0965 crop

Lavandula angustifolia – English lavender with skipper

 

salvia elegans Innis 10-09-09 crop

Salvia elegans (red, pineapple sage) and Salvia leucantha (blue, Mexican bush sage) are hummingbird dream-plants. I have been “strafed” in the garden by hummingbirds when I have stood in the flight path to the flowers.

Salvia officinalis flowers 5-24-06 crop

Salvia officinalis – common sage which is tasty and beautiful.

Parsley/Celery family

Another family that contains many herbal plants and some of our most potent poisons, not only feeds pollinators but also attracts the “good” bugs that eat the “bad” bugs – at least from the human perspective.

bronze fennel aster laevis10-2-07 resize

Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ – bronze fennel is another multi-tasker in the garden. It is a culinary and medicinal plant. It hosts a variety of butterfly larvae while offering pollen and nectar to many insects.

 

Eryngium yuccifolium lvs Knapke 8-10-09 resize

Eryngium yuccifolium – rattlesnake master – a tea made from its roots is reputed to be an antidote for snake venom; not sure I would trust that. Its flowers attract a myriad of insects.

 

All of the above are herbaceous perennials, but many trees and shrubs provide food for pollinators, too. Below is a bumble on her way to becoming drunk from the flowers of a littleleaf linden tree – Tilia cordata.

bee on Tilia flower Holden 6-25-09 resize

Wishing you awe in the garden!!!

Eryngium yuccifolium Knapke 8-10-09 resize 2

 

 

Asters, Sages & Milkweeds, Oh, My (I)

Pollinators and Plants for Pollinator-Friendly Gardens – Part 1

By Debra Knapke
Pollinators and plants: a beautiful symbiotic relationship that is usually mutually beneficial.  A plant gets to propagate itself, while the pollinator gets food. We’ve always known that these relationships exist, but there are threats that are interfering with plant and pollinator interactions. Global Climate Change, habitat reduction, and pesticide use are just a few.
We can be part of the solution. Resist using pesticides in the garden and let the “good” bugs have a chance to eat the “bad” bugs. Buy more plants and create pollinator habitats in your garden.
In order to choose which plants, you need to know who you are inviting in.
Meet the pollinators:
Bees
In the June/July 2016 National Wildlife magazine it was reported that bees contribute $300 billion toward global agricultural systems.  We are fortunate to have a diverse group of native bees in the Midwest. If you are interested in learning more about identification and good landscape practices for supporting our native bees, check out the resources at the Ohio State University Bee Lab website.
The non-native, but very important honeybee will benefit from the same plants and practices that you would use for our native bees.  This is a case where native/non-native is a non-issue. Both native and non-native bees are essential to our well-being.
bumble on Consolida ambigua 6-25-06

Bumblebee on annual larkspur

Flies
Some of the bees you see are actually flies; often called Hover flies or Syrphid flies. A bonus of this pollinator group is that the larval stage is a voracious eater of aphids.

How can you tell bees and flies apart? A quick way is to note the number of wings: bees have two pairs; flies have one pair.

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Fly on witch hazel

Sometimes we do not give flies their due in the insect world. I would like to offer this thought: without a small tropical fly, we would not have chocolate.
Hummingbirds
This flying jewel is particularly fond of deep-throated flowers. They typically live in the Midwest from the beginning of April to the beginning of October. On their quest for nectar, they also transfer pollen between flowers.61006 050
Butterflies, Skippers and Moths
Monarchs have been the poster child for creating habitat for pollinators, but there are so many other butterflies, skippers and moths that benefit from a ready source of nectar and their required larval plants. Some pollinators are night visitors. A moon garden filled with night-blooming white and pale yellow flowered species offers food to night-flying moths.
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Asclepias curassavica with monarch larva 8-9-15

Asclepias curassavica — tropical milkweed — with monarch larvae

 

There are other pollinators, but this is not meant to be an exhaustive treatise. It is an introduction. Hopefully you will be intrigued enough to do some research of your own.
On Friday, look for my follow-up post on pollinators’ favorite plants.

All-Star Asters That Brighten Autumn

Aster Symphyotrichum Purple Dome

Aster Symphyotrichum Purple Dome

By Debra Knapke

Autumn is the time of golden, scarlet, and maroon leaves and shortened days. It is the time for picking apples and harvesting vegetables. We watch our gardens slowly decline, and yet there is one perennial that says “Wait, my time is now!” Enter the asters, the late summer to fall-blooming plants so loved by bees and butterflies.

We often overlook the flowers of autumn as we fill out our gardens with spring and summer blooms. Many of us buy plants in April, May and June when the spring and summer flowering plants proudly show their colors.   But we overlook the asters which are just emerging: green leaves and no flowers.

Asters are not difficult to grow. Here are a few cultivation and maintenance guidelines:

  • Asters prefer full sun, 6+ hours of light; most tolerate part sun, four to five hours of light.
  • Most asters are drought-tolerant if you keep the soil moist during the first year in the garden.
  • Asters love compost, but excessive fertilization will cause them to grow quickly and ungainly; an aster lying on the ground is not attractive!
  • The taller asters should be cut back by 1/3 in early to mid-June to promote stronger stems and to avoid the need for staking.
  • Asters are best divided in the spring.

It’s not too late to add these late bloomers to your garden, but don’t wait too long. After late August, asters may not have enough time to grow their roots into the soil and acclimate to your garden before winter arrives. If you miss the planting window this year, buy the green, leafy aster next spring.

Here are some species that are native to most of the Midwest. Many of the cultivars listed have been selected for their compact habits and richly colored flowers.

Aster Symphyotrichum Purple Dome

Aster Symphyotrichum Purple Dome

  • Aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) – has aromatic foliage; height 18-36”, width 12-18”; blooms Sept. to Oct.; sky blue to lavender-blue flowers;   Look for: ‘October Skies’ (compact: ht. 18”); ‘Raydon’s Favorite’
  • Blue wood aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) – height 2-4’, width 2-3’; performs best in part sun, but tolerates sun to shady conditions, blooms Aug. to Sept.; small light blue flowers
  • Heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) – height 1-2’, width 12-18”; blooms Aug. to Oct.; white to light pink flowers; look for ‘Pink Cloud’ ‘Snow Flurry’: both are more compact selections
  • New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) – height 3-6’, width 2-3’; blooms Sept. to October; light lavender or pink to deep purple or pink flowers; if the soils dries out, this species will lose the lower leaves on their stems; look for: ‘Purple Dome’ (compact: 24-30” tall) ‘Vibrant Dome’ (compact: 18-24” tall)   ‘September Ruby’
  • Smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) – height 2-4’, width 18-24”; blooms Sept. to Oct.; striking blue-violet flowers; look for: ‘Bluebird’
  • White wood aster (Eurybia divaricata) – the exception: prefers part sun to full shade; height 12”, width 18-24”; bloom Aug. to Sept.; white flowers; ‘Eastern Star’ is a more compact selection

Side Note:  The Aster Name

Not only do our native asters suffer because they lack early flowers, but they have been separated into new genera with difficult names. One of my horticulturist friends calls it the “aster disaster”. If a garden center has arranged the perennials by their botanical names, the asters will be spread across several locations on the nursery shelves. Fortunately, in most garden centers, asters still hold a place at the beginning of the alphabet instead of being scattered throughout the benches. For those who are interested the new botanical names are listed with the common names.

Favorite Flora: Asters

Who art thou, o aster?

Aster SymphyotrichumPurple Dome flw crop

By Debra Knapke

Back in 2003 Neil Diboll of Prairie Nursery in Wisconsin called it the Aster Disaster.  Not to bore you with the minutiae of name changes of plants, suffice it to say: in 1994, it was determined that the asters of the New World (ours) are different from the asters across the oceans.  The New World asters were found to be more closely related to goldenrod (Solidago), fleabanes (Erigeron) and boltonia (Boltonia) than the species in the genus Aster.  Thus began a series of name changes that are accepted by most, but not all, in botanical and horticultural communities.

We are adjusting to this name change in the horticultural and landscape worlds, but not without some angst.   You are now seeing the newer genus names in the magazine articles you are reading and on the tags that accompany the asters you are buying.  The majority of the asters that we encounter in print and in the garden center are now in the genus Symphyotrichum – aster was so much easier to spell! – with a few in EurybiaAster Symphyotrichum purple Dome plant crop resize

At the Ohio Botanical Symposium in April, attendees had the chance to further understand the name changes and “walk” through a key for the native asters in Ohio.  In the tricky after-lunch slot, David Brandenburg showed how to master the native asters.  His handouts included a comprehensive aster chart and a pictorial key drawn by an extremely talented artist, Sigrid Neilsen.  Both her key – free download – and her beautifully illustrated book on native asters are available on her website:

Will the common name change?  Probably not.  To quote William Shakespeare:  “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

aster illustrations

Garden party for native plants

Trilliums are among Ohio’s many spring wildflowers.

By Michael Leach

While garden shopping this spring, plan on adding plants that evolved in your part of the world. Besides being decorative, they may have historic connections to local ancient peoples as food, building supplies, clothing material and medications. More amazing, some of these plants fill specialized places in the local food web that flora from afar may not do as well if at all.

If you haven’t guessed, we’re talking native plants. In the past 25 years or so, natives went from being the newest trend to vital players in combating climate change and the decline of birds and other animals.

Because of their importance, not to mention the aesthetic appeal of many, such as asters and redbud trees, Ohio designated April as Ohio Native Plant Month.  The event debuted two weeks after the state’s pandemic lockdown last year. Planned activities were canceled but not enthusiasm. 

Redbud trees dazzle in spring and add beauty year round.

For instance it failed to slow the group’s initiative to plant 100,000 Ohio native trees and shrubs. Turns out 200,000 trees and shrubs were planted last year. The 2021 goal is 200,000 as well.

Because there are many new gardeners among us and some seasoned growers who may be new to natives, caveats are warranted about these plants.

Pink dogwood are a jewel of spring.

Natives aren’t magic. If your site doesn’t offer the soil, light, moisture and such they need to flourish, they won’t grow well, if at all. Neither will plants from any place else. Study your site and the needs of whatever plants you may want to grow. It’s estimated that 80 percent of all plant problems are eliminated if the plant has what it needs to grow successfully.

Native plants may not supply eye candy when you want it. In my part of the Midwest, there isn’t a native to rival the brilliance (or bee appeal) of snow crocus in early spring. If I’m doing all the work, I see nothing wrong with flowers on well-behaved plants from elsewhere, especially if they break the evil spell of Midwest winter.

Sugar maples make Ohio autumn glorious.

Natives don’t always behave as heroes. Some natives, such as Virginia creeper, can take over in minutes if left on their own. Others, such as my beloved redbuds and sugar maples, can be prolific seeders whose progeny appear in unwanted places making them weeds to pull. Black walnut, among the Borgias of the plant world, poisons rivals with a soil borne chemical.

Even after careful research you may be surprised by nature. As a wise gardener once observed, “Plants can’t read so they don’t know what they’re supposed to do.”

Jerusalem artichoke adds color to the late summer scene.

Multiple approaches

Along with plant sources and details on the tree-and-shrub challenge, the site offers:

  • Great Healthy Yard Project — Take the Healthy Yard Pledge and avoid using synthetic pesticides, weedkillers and fertilizers except on rare occasions to resolve an infestation or improve habitat for native plants and  wildlife. 
  • Pocket Pollinator Gardens — Take a small but deliberate step in changing the environment by replacing a sunny part of your lawn with an array of native plants that benefit bees, butterflies, birds and insects. Directions and plant lists are given. Plus you can register your site with different organizations keeping tallies of such activities.
  • Backyard power — Learn why your yard needs native plants by viewing Dr. Doug Tallamy’s hour talk. It was part of the Ohio State University Chadwick Arboretum’s Living Landscape Speaker series during the past winter. Tallamy is a professor of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Delaware. Heartland Gardening’s Debra Knapke was one of the series’ quartet of experts who shared advice and insights.

The National Wildlife Federation Native Plant Finder has advice based on Zip Code for the flowers, shrubs and trees offering the most benefits for local fauna.

Garden Trends 2021

Photo by Simon Matzinger on Pexels.com

A Promising Year For Gardeners

By Teresa Woodard

Goodbye, 2020, and hello 2021! Thankfully, the new year is shaping up to be a bright one for the gardening world. Here are a few highlights of what’s to come.

More Gardeners

Experts report more than 20 million new growers took up their trowels in response to the pandemic. The nation went from 42 million gardeners to 63 million in the past year. And following the Black Lives Matter movement, the green industry is working to become more supportive and inclusive. Check out Black Girls With Gardens and Walter Hood’s new book, Black Landscapes Matter.

More Gardens

Public gardens are reporting record attendance figures with as much as a 300 percent boost in a pandemic year. Luckily, more public gardens are slated to open in 2021. Head to Detroit to see the Oudolf Garden Detroit opening this summer at Belle Isle. Last August, more than 26,000 plants were installed on the 2.6-acre site designed by internationally renowned Piet Oudolf in front of the Anne Scripps Witcomb Conservatory.  Visit Waterfront Botanical Gardens, a 23-acre urban garden being developed on a former landfill along the Ohio River in downtown Louisville. The visitor center, its surrounding gardens and Beargrass Creek Pathway are now open. Future plans include a Japanese garden, children’s garden, biopond, pollinator meadow and conservatory. Also, plan a trip to Kingwood Center, a historic garden in Mansfield, Ohio, to see the new visitor center and Gateway Gardens by Austin Eischeid, an Oudolf protege. While the matrix planting will take three years to reach its full potential, the new garden should be quite lovely by June.

New matrix plantings at Ouldolf Garden Detroit on Belle Isle; Image by Ryan Southern Photography

More Garden Content

The green industry has stepped up to provide stay-at-home gardeners with more online content.
Free of charge, I virtually toured English gardens through the UK’s National Garden Scheme, learned from garden masters at Garden Master Class Weekly Garden Chats and heard from new book authors at the Garden Conservancy’s Literary Series.

More insects

Every 17 years, a large brood of cicadas emerge in the Midwest and make big buzz – reaching up to 100 decibels — for five to six weeks. The brood will return this year in May. While there’s no need to spray chemicals, you may want to cover or delay planting new fruit trees this year. The stems are vulnerable spots for cicadas’ egg laying. In 2021, also be on the lookout for spotted lanternflies and viburnum leaf beetles.

Cicada Photo by Michael Kropiewnicki on Pexels.com

More New Plants

Gardeners will find new plants at the garden center this spring.  A few favorites include:

  • Better Boxwoods: NewGen™ boxwoods are promising higher resistance to boxwood blight and leafminers. In addition, Gem Box® inkberry holly by Proven Winners is a tougher native alternative to boxwood.
  • No-So-Basic Houseplants: No more simple snakeplants and pothos. This year’s houseplant darlings include tropical calatheas, sculptural mangaves and bold alocasias.
  • Super Veggies: Pack more nutrients and flavor in your garden crops with smart seed selections and soil amendments. See this article and video for more tips.
  • Color-Charged Annuals: Consumers can add instant eye candy to their landscapes with brilliant new annuals like Marvel II pom-pom marigolds, Double Delight begonias, Roller Coaster impatiens and Surprise Sparkle petunias.
  • Pollinator Favorites: The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden trials pollinator plants each year and posts its favorite annuals, perennials and shrubs.

For more pandemic trends, see our post on trend-spotting from the green industry’s trade show –Cultivate 2020.

Spare Me the “S” Word

By Michael Leach

Alas! Once again it’s the season when weather predictions often include the four-letter “s” word. But there’s no cause for undue delight or despair.

This wee word, representing countless minute bits of frozen, white precipitation, is a subject celebrated in poems, lyrics, paintings, ski resort posters and greeting, cards. Yet it also appears in unflattering ways in ads touting warm, palmy places. The commercials generally switch from images of turquoise water and scanty swimwear on attractive bodies to a Dantesque nightmare of pale gray city streets awash with oily slush. Scattered in the gloom are hunched figures, swathed in mounds of drab coats and scarves, staggering against an arctic  gale.

This little word has divided Americans in northern areas far longer than political parties. Some love it, while others are rational and disdain it. I’ll grant the first snow transforms my garden into something of a living landscape painting. This view from the sunporch enhances morning coffee time and breaks between shoveling.

The ”s”  divide extends to weather forecasters. No matter how they attempt dispassionate predictions, It’s easy to tell who loves “s” and who doesn’t. Not so subtle clues give them away.

Those who can’t wait until the world becomes a floured mess are pixilated when the computer spews out parameters that include only the tiniest hint of “s”. From this, they paint scenarios maximizing the potential misery in terms of inches, duration and wind chill. Their lust for heavy frozen precip blinds them to the downsides: snarling traffic, slipping pedestrians and aching backs from shoveling. To be fair, there are a few winners, tow truck and plow drivers for instance. Oh, and let’s not forget that sales spike for heavy winter clothing to warm hunched figures in arctic gales.

The “s” enthusiasts put too much confidence in computer models. Sure, science tells about the inner workings of the atom, and Seri tells me where to go, but how about telling me what the weather will be 24 hours from now? Hmpf! It’s easier to predict the trajectory of a startled cat.

Such variability is especially true of winter weather. A wind gust here, a dry spot there, some 50-mile wobble in the path of a storm stretching across half the Midwest and voila! We can have an icy glaze or a few drops of rain or 12 inches of “s” or some combination of all the above or nothing. To put this in gardening terms — during a drought, would any of us  skip watering the wilting tomatoes when a 100 percent chance of an inch of rain is forecast? Not hardly. Such experience keeps panic at bay no matter how dire the weather prediction.

Plus, I’ve learned a coping mechanism that can help you regardless of your weather preferences. Check TV channels and scan weather websites to find a forecast echoing your desires. After discovering such a prediction, believe it. At least until something better comes along.

Natural Beauty

A Border Brings Splendor and Pollinators

By Teresa Woodard

Two years ago, Debra and I had the opportunity to revamp an outdated 85-foot border with a natural-style one at the entrance of Hidden Creek, a 600-acre conservation development west of Columbus. While the charming entry with its stone wall and brick-trimmed gatehouse originally had a border of zebra grasses, daylilies, shrub roses and taxus, the plants had become overgrown and dated. We were challenged to bring a fresh look more in keeping with the development’s conservation purpose. The border also needed to be aesthetically pleasing with four seasons of interest, require minimal maintenance, offer pollinator appeal, tolerate a heavy deer population and survive with no supplemental water beyond the first year.

Together, we designed a densely planted mix of 400 natives, native cultivars and pollinator-friendly plants. The tight planting scheme meant less mulch, while producing more color impact and structural support for the plants.

The best part of the project was the sense of community it created. Neighbors joined in helping with the installation and used the opportunity to learn more about the plants. One neighbor even volunteered to water the new plants as they became established during the first season.

Now starting its third year, the border shines each season and attracts a host of bees, birds and butterflies.  In spring, alliums, nepata, amsonia, baptisia and salvia begin the show. 

In summer, the border peaks with purple and white coneflowers, liatris, agastache, Joe Pye weed and globe thistle.  In fall, coneflower seedheads, purple asters, little bluestem, prairie dropseed and amsonia’s gold foliage bring a season finale. Neighbors often stop to offer compliments and call to ask about for plant IDs. Others have added similar plantings in their own landscape. A few even had fun spray painting the border’s allium seed heads for the July 4th holidays.

Plant list:

Try planting some of these natives, native cultivars and pollinator-friendly plants in your own backyard. The list includes prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), little bluestem (Schizachyrium ‘Standing Ovation’), coneflower (echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ and ‘Ruby Star’), false indigo (Baptisia ‘Indigo Spires’), Joe Pye weed (‘Baby Joe’ Eupatorium), salvia (Salvia nemorosa ‘May Night’), gayfeather (Liatris spicata), globe thistle (Echinops ritro), catmint (Nepata ‘Walker’s Low’), Carex pensylvanica, Amsonia hubrichtii, Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’), Aster ‘October Skies’ and Allium.

Hidden Creek is a 600-acre conservation residential community along the Little Darby River, a National Wild and Scenic River west of Columbus, Ohio.

Happy New Year and 2016 Favs

bloggers-01As we tip toe into a chilly 2017, we wish you a very happy new year and share our gratitude for your generous support in 2016.  Just five years ago, our trio met at a garden writers’ conference and decided to begin blogging about gardening in the Midwest.  We’ve covered new plant introductions, new books, gardening tips, destination gardens, landscape trends and issues of the heart. Thanks to all who have explored our blog, offered comments and contributed to our collaboration in so many ways.  We wish you all the best in 2017 and share these 2016 favorites to inspire your gardening in the coming year.

Kiss of the Sun for Pardon  by Michael Leach

Garden Downsizing by Michael Leach

Asters Sages and Milkweeds Oh My Part I by Debra Knapke

Asters Sages and Milkweeds Oh My Part II by Debra Knapke

Beautiful Brassicas by Teresa Woodard

Garden Tour Round-Up by Teresa Woodard

The Signs of Fall: early, late and unusual

By Debra Knapke

On the morning of November 10th I woke up to the first frost in my garden caused by temperatures in the high 20s. The overnight temperatures dipped into the low 30s the week before, but because of microclimates caused by tree cover and topography, no frost touched my plants.

We are experiencing what some call seasonal shift. Weather is variable. This is a given. Two years ago Central Ohio experienced an early frost – October 3rd – which was followed by an extended warm spell. This year the occurrence of the first frost in early November makes it the latest in my gardening life.

What does this mean for our plants? On the bright side, if you were behind in your vegetable garden clean-up, you have enjoyed an extension of the tomato, pepper and squash season. But the weather could interfere with plants going dormant for winter.  The ground has stayed warmer longer and this could interfere with the process of plants getting ready for the winter; “going” dormant. If our temperatures take a rapid dive down and stay there, this could affect growth for next year.

Think of it this way. The soil is still warm which promotes growth. But the ambient air temperature is cold so the signal to the plant is: go dormant. (Temperature is not the only factor that affects a plant’s dormancy process. Decreasing light levels have an effect on the dormancy “countdown”, too.)

Talk about conflicting messages! Which signal should the plant respond to? Send energy to support new growth at shoot and branch tips or keep the carbohydrates stored in the roots for next year’s growth? It is a plant dilemma.

fall-16-11-8-echinacea-last-gasp-cropTomatoes and squash aren’t the only confused plants. Here purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is sending out a few late October flowers. Note that there are new leaves emerging from the crown and the new flowering stems are short; about 6” tall. Contrast that with the stems from summer which are brown and done for the season. The only reason the stems are still there is the seedheads – not present in this picture – which I have left to feed the birds that visit my garden. This plant is responding to an extended warm fall. You also see fall blooms on magnolias, rhododendrons, and other woody plants that have already produced their flower buds for 2017.

Will this affect next year’s growth? Probably not for most herbaceous plants. For woody plants it depends on the species, how much growth is pushed out-of-season and how quickly the temperatures fall and then stay in the teens, 20s, and low 30s.

While the fall growth and bloom of the purple coneflower is uncharacteristic, consider the blooms and leaves of the hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium). Its life cycle is opposite most of our garden plants. It blooms in late August though early October then its leaves emerge in late September, last through the winter, and go into dormancy in late spring when temperatures rise. This year, the flowers started later and lasted until October 31st.

fall-16-10-2-cyclamen-curled-stem-resizeAbove is hardy cyclamen in full bloom on October 2nd. This is later than in previous years. Usually full bloom is mid-September with a few flowers remaining in early to mid-October. Notice the coiled flower stems; these are the developing seedheads. The coiled stems bring the seedheads close to the ground where ants harvest the seeds for the coating on the surface. After removing the coating, the ants discard the seeds. I mention this in case you have wondered how some of your hardy cyclamen moved up to 50 feet away from the main planting.

fall-16-10-31-cyclamen-hederifolium-leaves-resizeOn October 31st there are still a few flowers and the leaves have fully emerged. These leaves will remain under my dawn redwood through winter and early spring.

fall-16-11-8-nasturtium-resizeAnother sign of a later-than-usual fall is the blooming of the nasturtiums along the deer fence around our vegetable garden. These tender annuals from Central and South America usually succumb to light frosts. This is November 8th which is unprecedented in my garden. However, after an overnight low of 28 in the early hours of November 10th, it became a pile of mush.

fall-16-11-8-borage-borego-officinalis-cropBorage, a prolific self-seeding annual, also took advantage of a late fall. This is a seedling of a plant that I removed from the garden because it had reached the end of its flowering life. I scattered its seeds so that I would have a full stand of borage for next year. But what I have is a lot of seedlings now. My fingers are crossed; hoping some seeds did not germinate so that there will be a 2017 stand of borage.

fall-16-11-8-salvia-elegans-golden-delicious-cropGolden Delicious pineapple sage (Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’) is a tender perennial from Mexico and Guatemala, cold hardy in Zones 8-10. Usually it blooms in September, in time to be one of the last food sources for hummingbirds. This year its blooms were too late. Hummingbirds take off for warmer climes by October 1st, and my pineapple sage plants did not bloom until the second week of October.

Over the years I have observed the differences between the plants in my backyard and front yard with respect to plant emergence, bloom times and senescence. It is a mixed bag of results, but one species I felt I could count on to be “on schedule” is Ginkgo biloba. The trees in the backyard show their fall colors at least three weeks before the one tree in the front yard. The back trees drop their leaves by the first week of November, and the front tree starts dropping leaves a day or two before Veteran’s Day.

fall-16-11-8-ginkgo-stupka-resizeAbove is Stupka ginkgo in the backyard that still has some green-tinged leaves and as of Veterans Day, dropped few leaves. Below is a branch from the front tree on Nov. 10th, but the fall color is only edging the leaves. On the 11th, more branches have solid golden leaves, and there is no sign that the rain of ginkgo leaves is about to begin. That may not seem like a significant difference, but I have watched this tree for 30 years and have raked leaves out of the thyme lawn under the ginkgo every year before Veterans Day. November 12th update: ginkgo rain has begun, but it is slow and intermittent. The overnight low was 28 degrees and that frost signaled the ginkgo to let go. The leaves on the ground are all gold. I’m predicting that the gold-edged leaves will fall last without transforming into gold.

fall-16-11-8-ginkgo-front-egded-in-gold-cropAutumn Glory Comes in Many Ways

The perennial queens of the fall garden are the asters. They offer butterflies, bees, wasps, flies and more the last nectar feast of the season. My asters are always late, often not blooming until mid-October and continuing until a hard frost. I have taken them for granted. So I have no data for you, just an entreaty to plant them as they support so many of our garden residents. Below is October Skies aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’) cascading over a log. The other aster image shows a bumble bee caught by cold temperatures. She was not moving early (7:00 am) on the 10th.

Unfortunately I had to remove an ailing Engelmann spruce. In the top branches, I found another sign of fall: an eggcase of a Carolina mantis. I am ecstatic. I saw a pregnant female during the 2015 gardening season, but hadn’t seen any of her progeny this past season. Here’s proof that someone was here. I tied this branch to another tree outside and look forward to seeing baby Carolina mantids next spring.

carolina-egg-case-11-2-16-in-engelmann-spruce-cropOne last example of the variability of fall and this season in particular is expressed below. The spicebush – deep gold color in front – is on time with its color and leaf drop, but the pawpaw in the background are not quite at their peak, solid golden color. Usually these two plants are in color together. Please pardon my anthropomorphic wonderings… but, it seems that the spicebush kept to its schedule, but the pawpaws took advantage of the extended, warmer fall by not shutting down their chlorophyll factories. This led me to think about which attributes will determine the success of a plant in a time of climate change. Flexibility and the ability to adapt will be high on the list.

fall-16-11-8-sun-sculpture-black-walnut-bed-resize

Wishing you a lovely fall . . .

Coda — November 13 in the early morning hours, the temperature fell to 23.1 degrees. While at breakfast I watched as the front yard ginkgo lost all of its leaves except for the ones that had not changed. Now at 9:30 a.m., one by one, even the green leaves are falling. It is mesmerizing.

 

 

 

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