Saturday, July 4, 2015

Green Milkweed

I've been planting more milkweeds (Asclepias sp,) around our property with mixed success.  Butterfly milkweed, A. tuberosa, has done well and looks great with its showy orange flowers.  Swamp or rose milkweed, A. incarnata, has had trouble.  My deer, for some reason, seen to like to eat up the young plants I put in.  I've resorted to putting wire cages around them so the have a change to get established.  On the wild side we have a small patch of common milkweed, A. syriaca, which are ignored by the deer and doing quite well.

The other day while mowing I was surprised to find a different species of milkweed.  Not as tall as common milkweed and with drooping green flower clusters, I was sure this was something new (to me).

Green milkweed is noted for it's thick oval leaves and
green nodding flower clusters that hang from the leaf axils.

I checked a couple of guide books and am pretty sure what I found is Green Milkweed, A. viridiflora.  This is a fairly common species, usually found in dry lightly shaded locations, including roadsides, prairies and clearings.  My plant is near the edge of a wooded are, mostly in the open with average moisture soil.

While not showy for us, it does attract pollinators, particularly bees to its sweetly scented flowers and it does provide food for the monarch butterfly caterpillars.  So far I've only seen this one, but I'm watching for more.

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Surprise Bug

A few weeks ago a deer broke off a branch from one of the smooth sumac that I have been trying to establish on my property.  Rather than tossing it out I put it in some water to see if it would root.  After two weeks, I inspected it closely for any growth and found none.  This is no surprise, stem cuttings are not recommended for propagating smooth sumac.  What I did find was what looked like a new bud, but it was facing the wrong way.  On closer examination I saw that it was a small insect.

If this bug were turned around on the branch, I may not have distinguished it from the sumac's leaf bud.

The general shape of this insect brought leafhoppers to mind.  Looking at similar insects on the web brought me to conclude that this was the nymph of a two-striped planthopper, Acanalonia bivittata.  

The white plume coming from the rear of this insect is a waxy compound that helps prevent desiccation
 and may protect it from predators.
While I really love my plants, there are some pretty amazing looking insects out there.  All them with a role to play in a healthy ecosystem.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Wildflowers on the Potomac

Way back in late April I set aside some time to see some of the nearby native species on a guided walk with the Maryland Native Plant Society (MNPS).  We visited the limestone cliffs along the Potomac river near Sharpsburg, MD.  In this area are a number of plants rare to Maryland, such as northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) and bulbet fern (Cystopteris bulbifera).  Our leader that day was Christol Fleming (co-author of Finding Wildflowers in the Washington-Baltimore area), who really knew the area inside and out.

Following are some of the many photos I took that day (roughly in the order seen moving downstream from Snyder's landing):

Coarse foliage of Virginia waterleaf is spotted with white.
Its blooming period is a little later in May.

It's difficult to tell Dutchman's breeches and Squirrel corn (Dicentra cucullaria and  D. canadense)
apart when not in bloom.  Here, side-by-side, you can see that Squirrel corm has a blue-green cast.

These blue cohosh were not in bloom yet, but the layered foliage of this mass
created the effect of a green mist coming down the hillside. 

Up on a limestone cliff  we saw this lyre-leaf arabis (Arabis lyrata) and
 wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) on a rock outcrop.
These two species are well adapted to growing in thin soiled habitats.

Shooting star is a species found in rich calcareous soils
prevalent in this area along the Potomac.
Many Virginia bluebells were in bloom at this time throughout the region.  
Mixed in here are some of the rarer white ones.

In some places the floor of shady woods were covered with the white flowers of meadow rue.
It was formally of the genus Anemonella.

There were two kinds of trillium in bloom at this time. The red trillium (T. erectum),
shown here, and toadshade (T. sessile).

When I think of violets, shades of blue and purple come to mind.
This downy yellow violet, though common, really caught my eye.

There were many more species growing there than I've shown here, some like the hepatica had already bloomed out, and others like the dwarf larkspur and mayapples had not yet popped.

I would like to pay a visit to this area in early summer to see the massive banks of the native smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) in bloom; however Cristol warns in her book that this area has been overrun with garlic mustard and Japanese honeysuckle at that time of year.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Busy Spring

It's been awhile since I have taken some time out for blogging.  Besides getting the vegetable garden cleaned up and planted and pulling out garlic mustard, a major distraction this spring has been dealing with 'our' groundhog.

'Our' groundhog climbing a 3" diameter hackberry tree in one of our gardens.  
Last year I tried compromise, but that has been pointless, since we never actually entered into dialog. I tolerated it nipping down the New England aster and black-eyed susan seedlings and the occasional visits to the vegetable garden.  The tipping point was when it ate my newly planted Liatris and Amsonia plants.

My first approach was to use used cat litter and sudsy ammonia to stink up the burrows.  I think this was only slightly annoying and after a short time the ground hog returned.  Right now I am trying a castor oil solution.  This seems to be longer lasting, but I will need to keep up the treatments for a while longer to encourage a permanent move away from my garden.  In addition to using repellents in and around its burrows, I did complete a buried fence around the vegetable garden.  Hopefully this will remove another attraction from the area.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Securing the Garden Perimeter

Now that all sorts of plants are springing back to life any number of outdoor chores are available, some fun and interesting, others, not so much.  One of the major challenges in last year's vegetable garden was near daily incursions by a plump groundhog.  While we can hope that our resident fox does his/her job, I decided to take steps to modify the perimeter fence to make it more difficult to dig under.

Of course I had read that a good garden fence needs to go below the surface to keep out rabbits and groundhogs, I took the easy way out and only buried  few inches of the chicken wire fence under the mulch.  This was actually partially effective the first year, but last year there were several shallow entrances all around.  One article I read, says to dig a trench 2 feet deep and a foot wide and line the bottom and side closest the fence line with chicken wire.That sounds pretty impressive.  I got started, but hand digging a trench that size was beyond my limits of fun.  I backed off a little and when with 12-16" deep and 6" wide.

Here's some photos of my project:

First, dig a trench.  I used a narrow trenching shovel
to make a narrow hole with pretty straight walls.
This trench was only 14" deep and about 6" wide.
Push in the chicken wire and bend it outwards at the bottom
 so that about 6" covers the bottom of the trench.  This way
if the critter tries to go deeper, it will be frustrated.

Fill in the trench and compact the soil.  Connect the buried chicken wire
with the above ground fencing.  I bent about 6" of the above ground portion
outward to create another digging barrier.
Cover the base of the above ground wire with soil and then
 mulch the area between the inner and outer fence.
So with the inner fence secured against the small mammals I'll need to tighten up the outer wire fence to deflect the deer.  

One of the features of my garden is a pollinator border consisting mostly of native plant species. Since many of these plants are vigorous seeders, I have an abundance of seedlings to move from the garden out to the border.  Before I got started with trench digging I took a close look at the plants I would be digging up to determine with they were keepers or 'weeds'.  Here are some photos of the ones I encountered:

This is an over-wintered rosette of Black-eyed Susan.
It can be recognized, in part, by the soft fuzzy leaves
Black-eyed Susans produce a lot of seed and each plant lives only 2-3 years.  To keep a good supply of these in the border I have been transplanting them out from the inner garden.
At first glance the rosette of the weedy English plantain is similar to the Black-eyed Susan.  

This English plantain has lance-shaped, deeply veined leaves

This clump of common yarrow was dug out of the path of the new trench.
Common yarrow, Achellia millefolium, is a cosmopolitan plant, meaning is occurs in similar habitats on a global basis, not just a single region.  Though not always considered a native species it is very good at attracting pollinators and beneficial insects.

These leaves did not break ground until the last week of March.
Wild columbine, Aquilegia canadensis, is another short lived native perennial and is dependent on reseeding for its long term presence in the garden.  The new leaves are a dark, purplish green and can be difficult to spot until they open up some.  Before the leaves develop they could be mistaken for red clover.

There are a  number of native Cardamine sp.
around but they do not resemble this one
Hairy winter cress, Cardamine hirsuta, is a introduced winter annual.  It develops its foliage in late winter or early spring and is in full bloom by April here.

There are many wild garlics, both native and introduced out in the garden.  Since these have a tendency to deter small mammals, I have not been targeting them for removal.  I planted nodding onion, Allium cernuum, in the garden border a year and a half ago.  I have seen several resprouting, some are already about 6 inches tall.

The foliage of nodding onion is a flattened blade.  The
 weedy field garlic, Allium vineale, found in many lawns
 has darker green tubular leaves
Sheep sorrel spreads rapidly by shallow runners.

The last weed I was tossing out was sheep sorrel, Rumex acetosella.  The leaves of this plant can be used as a tart, lemony flavoring in soups and salads.  The plant concentrates oxalic acid giving them a tart flavor; however, it can be toxic in high concentrations.  I should probably consider trying it in a salad, in moderation.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Planting Plans for spring 2015

Every year brings another opportunity to grow my native plant collection.  This year I'm focusing on 4 areas:  Clean up and replanting around the swimming pool, clean up and expansion of the meadow, replacing the vinca along the driveway and build up a privacy hedge with the neighbor.  After learning a bit about the current conditions, what is already here and what might be expected to grow here naturally, I've put together a shopping list of natives to get this year.

This moss phlox is pretty happy growing along the pool deck,
A good portion of it is on the concrete slab.
The colors can be intense, so I use mostly one color at a time.
The area around the swimming pool is infested with common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis).  While native, there is just too much of it and it is not that attractive close up.  The soil is mostly a fast draining fill with a moderately high pH (ca. 7.5).  Since this is far from native soil I put a greater focus on what would look good growing in this setting.  Since I had already started using this area for plants native to Texas (my wife's home state) I will be adding two of my favorites, Wine Cups (Callirhoe involucrata) and Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella).   I got some seed on a recent visit to the Wildflower Center.  These will be great for the full sun areas and they tolerate alkaline soils.  The moss phlox could use some bolstering up as well.  I am attempting to remove the English ivy from the enclosure and this phlox seems to be a good candidate to fill back in.

This species of wine cups grows close to the ground, filling gaps around taller plants.
Seed requires a hot water treatment and  30  days cold stratification for germination. 

This is the annual species of Indian blanket, Gaillardia pulchella.

Small's Penstemon is long blooming in shady locations.
The contrasting lavender and white blossoms show up at a distance.

In the shadier areas I will be trying out Greek Valerain (Polemonium reptans aka Jacob's Ladder) and Small's Penstemon (Penstemon smallii).  Despite its common name the valerain is actually a native to the of the US.  This had confused me for a while.  Looks like the name Greek valerain is used for a number of species in the Polemonium genus.  One of them with particularly showy flowers, P. caeruleum, is a European native.  P. reptans grows more like a ground cover

I've ordered some more Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica) for an area in the pool enclosure with more moisture and organic soils.

This cottonwood seedling appeared in the vegetable garden.
I'll transplant it this spring to a moist part of the new meadow.

I have an area that has been overrun with invasives that I am trying to convert to a meadow.  I cleared half of it last year and hope to finish this spring.  After removing the bad guys I am backfilling with native species.  I realize that I'm making more work for myself by trying to kill off invasivies at the same time as introducing new plantings.  By planting mostly shrubs I think I can more easily manage the area with an annual mowing/whacking of the undesirable plants.  For the right way to convert a weedy area to a meadow or prairie check out this link.

Last year I planted an American plum (Prunus americana) and several elderberries (Sambucus canadensis).  This year I will add some chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) and smooth sumac (Rhus glabra).  I also have a Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) seedling to put on the edge.

The pawpaw blooms in early May,
just before the leaves open up.  

Way in the back I have a large grove of Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) trees.  I've been watching them for 2 years and I have yet to see any fruit.  Since pawpaws produce better with cross-pollination, I will be adding a couple of new individuals to the area,  It is possible that my entire grove is really just one clone.  We'll see if this helps, in a couple of years.

These goldenstar have more than doubled in size after a year in the ground.
I'll get some more to speed up coverage.

In the shady area around the driveway I have been ripping out the vinca and replacing it with shade tolerant natives.  I started with foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) and Heucheras and these are taking hold.  In addition to these I've seen some really good results with Goldenstar (Chrysogonum virginianum, aka Green and Gold) in open shade areas.  These are relatively easy to find in a regular nursery, sometimes marketed with the plants that you can walk on.  Another plant that I've used in dry shade is big-leaf aster (Eurybia macrophylla), It has dense foliage and spreads by rhizomes so it should do a good job competing with the vinca.

This shiny summer foliage pf aromatic sumac turns red and orange in the fall.
We'll see how it performs in a shadier location.

The boundary between our nearest neighbor is defined with a double row of white pines.  At 40+ years old they are now limbed up fairly high and not providing much screening.  We have already put in a juneberry (Amelanchier canadensis), hazelnut (Corylus americana) and Hoptree (Ptelea trilfoliata).  There was also a pawpaw already there, doing a pretty good job despite the drier conditions.  We are looking to add some additional shrubs to fill in this gap and obscure the view.  A local native plant nursery has listed maple-leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) for sale this year.  I've been told that this is a very difficult shrub to propagate.  It does well in shady woods so I'm looking forward to trying it here.  I should get two since they don't self pollinate.  I am also looking to get some aromatic sumac (Rhus aromatica).  The wild form grows 5-12 feet, just the right size for our area.  I already have some of the 'Gro-low' cultivar.  At about 3 feet it is a great ground cover shrub for many difficult locations.

Now with may list in hand, I can hardly wait until spring!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Winter Walk

Seeing as we were having a spell of dry weather on New Year's day, I decided to take a walk through the woods to see what was happening.  Now that essentially all the leaves are gone there's a whole other world of things to see.  Instead of focusing on the foliage, trees can be recognized by their bark, branching patterns and leaf buds.  On the ground level the few evergreen grasses and perennials are easy to find.  In particular, the evergreen ferns jumped right out.  Following are some photos of plant features that I came across.

The buds of this 2 year old seedling are
smooth and reddish brown.
The first place I checked out were some tree seedlings that I identified in the vegetable garden last summer.  Since I already knew what they were I could learn about how they look in the off season and store that away for future reference.

The end bud of the Sycamore was smooth and pyramidal.  Kind of like those of ash trees, but the sycamore has a single false-end bud (not centered at the absolute end of the twig), while ashes have a terminal bud flanked by two smaller, opposite buds.   

Another tree that sprouted in the garden was an Eastern Cottonwood, Populus deltoides.  Here the bud end is true and the scales are visible.  To me the most notable feature is that the year-old wood looks like it has shrunken back. leaving the stem somewhat squarish with wings, or ridges along the corners. 

Cottonwoods are often considered rather messy trees.  This spring I will transplant it into a moist area of the meadow that I am clearing of invasives.

The  dry leaves on this American beech
make it easy to spot in the woods.

Moving into the woods a young American Beech caught my eye.  In the winter these can be recognized by their tendency to hold onto their leaves until the spring and by their smooth white bark.

Another tree that has smooth white bark is the American Hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana.  While the beech has a smooth rounded trunk, The hornbeam's trunk is grooved, giving it a muscular or sinewy appearance.  Another way to distinguish these two white-barked trees is their leaf buds.  The buds of the hornbeam are small and dark brown while those of the beech are orangy-brown, long and pointed with many obvious scales.

Another tree with unique bark is the Hackberry.  Though highly variable many trees develop warty knobs and/or ridges that is easy to recognize.  Despite the unappealing name, the hackberry is a valuable wildlife plant, both as a butterfly host species and for producing a crop of 'sugarberries' in the fall for birds and small mammals.
The bark of the Hackberry is hard to miss.

Looking onto the ground plane I found several different evergreen grasses, which remain unknown.  More easily identified were the several species of evergreen ferns.  The most easily ID'ed was the Christmas fern.  This is a common species here growing mostly in shady moist areas.  

Christmas Fern is 'once-cut' and the pinna (leaf)
has a single lobe that makes it look like a boot.

A much smaller fern common here is the Ebony Spleenwort, Asplenium platyneuron.  This one is found in partly sunny location with average moisture.  Mine usually grow to about 6" long and hide in the undergrowth.

The frond of this Evergreen Wood Fern
appears to have been stepped on,
but otherwise looks pretty good.  

While poking around a steeply sloped area I found a fern that was new to me.  Unlike the previous two species this one was much frillier (thrice divided).  I took a bunch of photos and pulled out my fern ID books to come up with a name.  Turns out that I was an Evergreen Wood Fern, Dryopteris intermedia.  This is a common species in the eastern US, but just not that common to my piece of the woods.  It's relatively healthy green appearance in the middle of winter would make it a good addition to a home landscape.

When ID'ing ferns look on the bottom sides of the fronds for the sporangia or sori.
Their shape and location are distinctive for many species.

An unknown fern growing at the base of a tree.

There was one fern that I could not figure out.  It was small (3-4") and had fairly simple leaves (pinna).  It's grow in a gap between roots of a large tree.  I checked the underside of the frond for sporangia, but none to be seen.  I'll need to come back later in the spring to see how it develops.

I would appreciate any ideas on what this might be.

Underside of fronds shows no additional clues.

The last group of plants I checked on were some vines that I planted last summer.  My property is inundated with Japanese honeysuckle.  While I am trying to remove those I am also adding some native ones to fill the voids,  I put in a native Coral Honeysuckle along a fence in the spring.  It quietly grew to a span of over 6'.  Looking forward to seeing some blooms in the spring.  I also added some cultivars, 'Honey Coral' and 'Sulfurea'.  
Can see some flower buds forming on this Coral Honeysuckle.

The leaves of this Carolina Jasmine have turned red,
 but are holding on.

On an impulse I also picked up a Carolina Jasmine cultivar called 'Margarita'.  This species is hardy to zone 7, naturally occuring as far north as southeastern Virginia.  However, this 'Margarita' cultivar is good into zone 6.  So far it is holding onto its leaves.  This one may be too small to bloom come February, but I will be happy if it just survives and starts growing when the weather warms.