Thursday, September 18, 2014

Native Plants for Northern Virginia Resource and Publication

The Plant NoVa Natives campaign recently released the publication, Guide to Native Plants for Northern Virginia. Why plant natives? Flora that are indigenous to a region evolved to accommodate and benefit from the wildlife that is also indigenous to that region. Native plants grow easily in the soil they've inhabited for centuries, if not millennia. This means fewer pesticides and less need for supplemental water and fertilizer.

Development endangers native species, which often come to be categorized as weeds. Native clover is a prime example of a beneficial plant that got a bad rap when homeowners longed for ever-green grass. Lawn herbicides knock out native clover, along with crabgrass and other noxious weeds. However, white and purple clover are essential nectar and pollen sources for bees.

The plight of the Monarch butterfly is well-known by now: development caused near elimination of the milkweed, the Monarch's only host plant. Recognition of the value of native plants, and their intrinsic beauty, is slowly restoring the acceptance and encouragement homeowners and gardeners need to grow long overlooked "wild" flowers. Hopefully this beautiful publication, which is available online and filled with gorgeous photos and resources, will encourage local gardeners to go a little wild in our own backyards.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Growing and Using Heirloom Ground Cherries

Check out this link to my first post for Mother Earth News. Find out more about growing and using Heirloom Ground Cherries, a husk fruit that's been around for more than 200 years and were recently classified as an endangered species. Help prevent their extinction, and give your taste buds a rare treat, by growing unusual little gems.
'Aunt Molly's' ground cherries

Monday, September 15, 2014

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day September 15, 2014

On the 15th of each month, garden bloggers around the globe post photos of flowers in bloom in our backyards. What a wonderful way to share the beauty of the world around us! Thanks to May Dreams Gardens for bringing us together, virtually, each month!

It's hard to believe summer's on the wane already, but with night time temperatures reaching the 50's, we're seeing evidence of fall already. Pollinators need plenty of nectar sources this time of year. As I ride my bike and hike local trails, I'm reminded of the native plants NOT growing in my garden, and I wonder if I have space for just a little more goldenrod, aster, and Joe-pye weed. Here's a snapshot of what's in bloom in my backyard:

Cheloni lyonii 'Hot Lips'

Salvia nemerosa 'Snow Hill'

Dandelion (why not?)

Dianthus 'Fire Witch'

Geranium 'Rozeann'


Zinnia elegans 'Thumbelina'

Symphiotrichum novae angliae (New England Aster)

Phaseolus vulgaris 'Purple Pod' 
Thumbergia alata (black-eyed Susan vine)

Lantana camara 'Sunset'

Tropaeolum majus 'Jewel Mix' (nasturtium)

Solidago (goldenrod)

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'


Monday, September 8, 2014

Pollinators Make a Beeline for Chelone lyonii 'Hot Lips'

When summer's blooms fade, bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other garden visitors look far and wide for sustenance. Fall is a crucial time for pollinators to fuel up on nectar and pollen. They need vital stores of carbohydrates (nectar) and protein (pollen) to nurture their young, hunker down for winter, or migrate to warmer climes.
A bumblebee with pollen baskets
enters a Chelone lyonii bloom.

Chelone lyonii 'Hot Lips,' commonly known as pink turtlehead, is perfectly timed to coincide with the demise of purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and other summer stalwarts. This inviting perennial provides vital support to native pollinators, while brightening partially shaded garden corners in August and September. Its tubular, fuchsia blooms resemble turtles with their mouths wide open, waiting to gulp down insects. Fortunately, the plant is not carnivorous. Blooms are built to host large bumblebees and then release them.

Bees see flower color much differently than we do. While humans see a spectrum ranging from red through violet, a bee's vision ranges from yellow, blue-green, and violet to ultra-violet. Streaks of ultra-violet light, invisible to the human eye, guide bees toward nectar at the base of the flower. On their way to reach the nectar, pollen attaches to the bees' bristly legs and stomach. Bumblebees comb the pollen into little bundles on their sides, commonly referred to as 'baskets.'

The bumblebee emerges,
ready to pollinate the next bloom.
Once sated, the bee retreats, with plenty of pollen tucked away. They transport the pollen back to their hives in order to feed larva. Meanwhile, any excess pollen remaining on their furry legs and belly is deposited on the next flower they visit, ensuring the flower's reproductive cycle.

Gardeners can support pollinators throughout the seasons by planting a range of native plants that bloom from early spring through frost. Chelone lyonii is native to the eastern U.S. and is hardy in USDA climate zones 3-8. Reaching a mature height of 2 to 3 feet, the bright green foliage provides a lovely backdrop for fading native blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium augustifolium), barrenwort (Epimedium), or  Brunnera macrphylla 'Jack Frost.' In my garden, it spreads beneath a young magnolia tree, where it receives light afternoon sun.

Though beautiful from a distance, an intimate look at Chelone lyonii reveals that there's more to her character than 'Hot Lips' implies. The symbiotic relationship with the larger eco-system makes her that much more desirable. If 'Hot Lips' doesn't fit into your color scheme, try white-petaled Chelone glabra, an equally beneficial species that is host to the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly.

Monday, February 24, 2014

How to Prune Trees, Shrubs, and Grasses in Late Winter

Pruning crossed branches will prevent
this unhealthy pretzel-like growth.
Depending on how you look at it, warm February days are a tease, an opportunity, or a save the date for a great big party. Generally, it's too muddy to garden or work the soil. It's too soon to plant even the earliest crops. There will surely be another frost before April. Though basking in the vaguely warm sun is a tempting option, garden junkies should dust off their loppers and get to work. Late winter is the perfect time for pruning.

Pruning encourages new growth, hopefully in the right direction. Removing crossed branches and
dead wood before the last cold snap gives cuts a brief chance to heal and encourages vigorous new growth in spring. It also allows the gardener to shape the plant, before foliage hides the branch structure.

Summer flowering clematis can be cut back.
Prune flowering shrubs that bloom in mid- to late-summer, but leave spring bloomers alone. Vigorous climbers, such as this Clematis 'Jacmanii', may be cut back to 12 inches from the ground. Shrub roses also benefit from a trim in late winter.

Azalea, spirea, vitex, and other early spring flowering shrubs and trees should only be pruned in late spring, immediately after their blooms fade. It is unnecessary to prune hydrangea or crape myrtle, unless they've outgrown their space. Remove 1/3 of the oldest branches to obtain the desired size or shape.

Trim ornamental grass to encourage new growth.
Grasses benefit from a late-winter trim, and wilted perennial foliage should be clipped to the ground. Faded coneflowers and black-eyed Susan have done their duty, and their dry stems and seedpods may
now be removed. Remove suckers from the base of trees, but be careful not to prune fruit trees until after the fruit matures.

After this harsh winter, a stroll through the garden on a warm February day is full of pleasant surprises (my young fig seems to have lived!), as well as disappointing news (two rosemary shrubs that witnessed the rise and fall of the herb bed have seen better days). Now I can retreat indoors, where I'll spend the rest of the season planning my garden's future. What's that they say about the best laid plans...?