Monday, July 14, 2014

A Pollinator Border

When I planned my new vegetable garden last year I included a double fence design to help keep out the deer.  At the outer fence I planned for a border of pollinator-friendly native plants.  This border would help attract pollinators to the garden and also provide shelter for predatory insects to hang out.  By providing cover for the predators, damage due to insect pests is significantly reduced without the use of pesticides.

The border around the garden has a variety of native plants.  A bluebird is currently nesting in the box,
I try to avoid walking by, but it happens

The plants for this border need to provide pollen or nectar for the pollinators, be low maintenance, bloom sometime during the growing season and be somewhat to very resistant to deer browsing.  I also looked for plants that might deter smaller mammals that could burrow into the garden.  The garden location is in full sun and can get dry. 

Plants that are native to the area are the best choice for a pollinator garden.  These plants are natural food sources for the native insects that will be doing most of the work.  It is nearly impossible to find a single plant that will bloom the entire garden season, so a mixture of plants with staggered blooming times will provide some food for insects throughout the season.  The Xerces Society has guidelines for creating a pollinator friendly garden.  

When I put in the garden last year, most of the pollinator plants I put in were liners or seedlings.  Being young and of small size, they did not mature enough to bloom.  With a year in the ground they are really looking good now.  Here's a listing of plants I used in by pollinator border.

The earliest blooming plant in the border was Wild Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis.  The nodding red and yellow flowers are attractive to hummingbirds.  Blooming period is typically April through May.  The seeds are held loosely in the upright pods.  

I did not get a photo of my Columbine this season, but here you can see
the seed pods mixed in with some Black-eyed Susans.  I need to shake out
the seed pods to get more plants for next year.

Last year I planted both black-eye and Brown-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta and R. triloba).  The deer were constantly eating the flowers and leaves of both species.  This year only the Black-eyed Susans returned.  I have been more diligent about spraying them with hot pepper solution, which seems to work.  While not as upright as Yellow Cone Flower (R. fulgida) I like the extended blooming season of R. hirta, lasting from June through September.

Here's Spotted Beebalm in a mixed border of Black-eyed Susans and False Pennyroyal.
The flowers are actually small yellow tubes hidden by the large pinkish bracts.
Spotted Beebalm, Monarda punctata, was grown from seed and actually matured enough to bloom the first year.  This year it really went to town.  Peak blooming season is June and July.  This plant is very resistant to deer browsing and attracts mostly bees and wasps.

This is a short-lived perennial so it needs to set seed to maintain a presence in the garden.

The flowers of Wild Bergamot are more exposed than Spotted Beebalm's
 making it easier for large butterflies to access them.
Another member of the Monarda genus in the garden is Wild Bergamot, M. fistulosa.  This is a much taller species, easily over 4 feet in this garden.  The flowers attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  The bloom time is from early July through August.

These two Monarda species do well in dry to medium soils.  If the soil were moister Oswego Tea, M. didyma, would be a good choice, as well.

I had a difficult time with deer munching on the young Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa, plants last year.  This year they are doing much better and are coming into full bloom now (early July).
I have not seen any Monarch butterflies around these milkweeds,
mostly small greenish bees (Sweat bees?)

I have established a dense hedge of American Pennyroyal
 along one edge of the garden.
We'll see if it keeps out the moles, etc.
One of the first native annuals I put around the garden was American or False Pennyroyal, Hedeoma pulegioides.  This diminutive member of the mint family has a strong minty scent when touched.  It can act as a repellent for some insects, possibly mosquitoes.  I am interested to see if it will also discourage deer and small mammals from entering the garden.  Direct seeding in the garden last spring gave few plants, but these seeds came up in full force this year.  Despite what it says on the seed packet, fall sowing of some moist stratification (30 days, moist at 35-40 F) helps break seed dormancy.
I'm pretty sure this is one of the Nodding Onions.
I'll know better once it reaches full bloom -
will the flower continue to droop or turn upright.

Another plant to help form a barrier to invasion by burrowing mammals is Alliums.  I planted a long row of Nodding Onions, Allium cernuum, in the border. The idea is that they will be repelled by the presence of the onion bulb underground.  I've seen a few come up in the mix of plants, but sometimes they are hard to tell from the stray grasses also in the garden.  As we get later into blooming season (June-August) they should be easier to pick out.  

In the garden there is some white Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, that just blew in.  I also added a more colorful cultivar call 'Strawberry Seduction' to jazz things up a little.  I had problems last year with deer browsing, but not so this year.  Is this due to a more mature plant, or is it random choice by the deer?

I don't usually go for the flashy cultivars, but
I wanted to add some more red to the garden
The middle of the garden provides a refuge
for the more deer-sensitive species.

In the center of the garden I put a ring of tall flowers that was meant to draw the pollinator further into the garden.  Since these are more protected from deer, they don't have to be so deer resistant.  This year I have some Purple Cone Flower (Echinacea purpurea), False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides 'Summer Sun', Beach Sunflower (Helianthus debilis 'Pan') and 'Autumn Beauty' Sunflower (Helianthus annuus).  The first two species bloom for the first half of summer and the sunflowers carry the load into the fall.

I selected the 'Autumn Beauty' cultivar of sunflower because it only grows to 6 feet, keeping it in scale with the rest of the plants and reducing the risk of tipping over.

My deer really like to eat various species of Helianthus, so I could not grow these in unprotected areas.  I'm not sure how they would treat the False Sunflower, but I'm sure they would give it a taste.  

Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron annuus) and Heal-all (Prunella vulgaris) are a couple of indigenous plants that have found a welcome place in this border.  Heal-all is edible (haven't tried it) and has many herbal/medicinal applications.  It can be used as a native ground cover, growing between 2 and 12 inches tall.

Heal-all is widely disbursed through the Northern Hemisphere.
It is a larval host for the Clouded Sulphur butterfly.

In the new part of the border I'm trying some new native annuals.  I have grown Sulphur Cosmos, Cosmos sulphureus, by direct sowing in Boston before.  It did germinate well in the border here, but has since disappeared.  I also sowed some Plains Coreopsis, Coreopsis tinctoria, in the same area.  Germination wasn't as good, but the plants are persisting.  In another area the deer sampled the Coreopsis, but did not actually eat it.  Another native Coreopsis species that could be used in the border is Threadleaf Coreopsis (C. verticillata).  It is easy to care for and fairly resistant to deer.

Plains Coreopsis starts out kind of wiry, but straightens up as it matures.

 One additional note about the border.  My outer fence is a 5-wire electric fence, but it is not energized.  If it were, it would immediately ground out because of all the plants growing on the wires.  If you have an energized fence it must be free of plants.  A flowering border should be sited well inside or outside the electrified wires.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Visit to Martha Walker Habitat Garden in Napa, CA

In mid-June we had an opportunity to return to the Napa/Sonoma valley region of California.  Most of this trip was involved with tasting some really good wine.  Between tastings we took in some beautiful scenery along the Russian River and the Coastal redwoods near Bodega Bay.   One morning in Napa we paid a visit to the Martha Walker Native Habitat Garden.  

While I grew up in California and learned something of the state's ecology, all of my plant ID skills were learned on the East Coast.  I was a little overwhelmed at first not knowing the plants that I was looking at.  I did find some plant tags to get started.  After a while I started recognizing relatives to plants that I knew from the East.

Here are some photos of some of the plants I recognized.  (There are many more that I don't.)   The website was helpful in confirming some of the ID's.

The California Poppy was in bloom throughout the region.
It does well on well drained soils.

The California Buckeye was also in full bloom in the middle of June.
The palmate leaves and large panicles of flowers are similar to the eastern species.

It was easy to spot this Western Sycamore.  Note that the seed pods are hanging in a chain (raceme).
This is different from the American Sycamore (P. occidentalis) which has singly borne pods
and London Plane (P. x acerfolia) which has pairs of pods. 

When I saw this branch I immediately thought of our Eastern Redbud (C. canadensis).
 I found the tag indicating that it was a Western Redbud.  Instead of having
heart-shaped leaves of the eastern species, these are roundish,
many with an indention at the tip (retuse).

This Spiraea looks a lot like Steeplebush (S. tomentosa),
but that species is not listed as native to California.
 It may be S. douglasii, Rose Spiraea

Here is one of many Monkey Flowers in the garden.
There are over 70 species of Mimulus native to California.
I put some Allegheny Monkey Flower (M. ringens) in my garden
at home this year and am still waiting for it to bloom.

This is one of the many oak species in California (I couldn't find a label).
This is a quintessential tree to the coastal hills and valleys.

The dappled shade under the oak tree provided a very soothing resting spot.  

I had to look on the Calflora site to learn about this Matilija Poppy.
There are two very similar species on Romneya.  These plants
were common along the highways in Napa. (Note the state bird in the background.)

This is one of a number of Sage species in the garden.  I liked this one
because of the interesting form of the spent flowers.
I can image this having an impact all through the summer and fall.

If you are in the Napa Valley area I highly recommend a visit to the Martha Walker Garden for an overview of many native California plants grouped according to their natural habitats.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Experimenting with Penstemon

One of my backyard projects was to recover a meadow area from an overgrown mass of invasive species (Multiflora rose, Japanese honeysuckle, Autumn Olive, Tree of Heaven and Bittersweet with some poison ivy, river grape and horse nettle to boot).  Last fall and early spring I went in with a heavy duty weed whacker and a chain saw to cut down the bushes.  I treated the larger stumps with concentrated glyphosphate to finish the job.  

The most common native plant in this area is Wingstem, Verbesina alternifolia, which is a tall nice looking, if somewhat coarse, perennial flower that blooms in late summer.  Since I created a lot of open ground I needed to help with the regrowth by adding some additional native species.  My main reference for plant selection was Native Plants for Wildlife andConservation Landscaping - Chesapeake Bay Watershed.  Plants that I have put in include American plum (Prunus americana), Tall Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata),  Elderberry (Sambucas canadensis), Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa), New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans).  I also picked up some Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) since it is supposed to be deer resistant. 

White Foxglove Breadtongue are on the left and purple and
white Small's Beardtongue are at the right center of this view.
Both these flowers show well in part shade.

While flipping through the plant lists I realized that I had very little experience with Penstemons, which are very common in meadows.  With the spring native plant sales coming up, I added these to my list.  There are over 250 species of Penstemon, essentially all of which are native to North America, most of them from the western regions.  I focused on eastern species, particularly those indigenous to the mid-Atlantic. 

These are growing in part sun.  The leaves
are opposite and clasp the stem.
The most readily available eastern Penstemon is Foxglove Beardtongue, Penstemon digitalis.  It is a medium tall plant (2-5') with panicles of intensely white tubular flowers for about a month in late spring.  I grew it equally well in both full and part sun.  The flowers seem to be lasting longer in the sunny location. 

This close-up shows the fine hairs that cover the flowering parts.
 The flower is the perfect size for a bee to climb in.

This Eastern Beardtongue is not as leafy.  This specimen
has leaves with edges that roll inward (involute).
Eastern beardtongue, P.  laevigatus, was harder to find.  I eventually found it on-line from Enchanters Garden a nursery that carries many mid-Atlantic native species. Eastern Beardtongue is not a rare species, but it is not as showy as P. digitalis and I believe it is harder to cultivate.  Its range includes the mid-Atlantic and Southeastern states.  It tolerates sun to shade in moist to wet soils.  It has pale lavender to nearly white flowers and at 1-3.5' it is generally shorter than P. digitalis.  Its blooming period is reported to be earlier than P. digitalis, but mine bloomed a little later.  Maybe once these plants are well established the timing will change.

Here you can see the lines down the throat of the flower that act as nectar guides

The leaves of this forest species are broader than
the other two shown here and the stem is leafier. 

The last species that caught my attention was Small's Beardtongue, P. smallii. This plant grows in the mountainous regions of the Southeastern states.  It prefers partly sunny locations.  It is reported to be short lived so I will not dead head it to encourage it to set seed.  The purple flowers are intense and show up well in a shady location.  This is a long blooming species. For me it has been blooming for a month and it looks to go on for a little longer.  I got mine at a plant sale but it is also available from on-line native plant nurseries.

Here the beard on the flower's 'tongue' is very pronounced.

A general problem I'm having with my meadow replanting is deer browsing.  It seems that anything new got chewed on to some extent.  Even the coarse-leaved Wild Quinine got munched.  I have been spraying leaves with hot pepper spray, but the most effective means of protection is to put up a chicken wire cage around the plant.  This is particularly important for the woody plants, once they are large enough they should be safe.  The penstemons were nibbled then left along for a while.  It seems with the appearance of a new generation of fawns everything is being sampled again.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Zebra Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail, Eurytides marcellus, is a common visitor to our property here in west central Maryland.  The native range for this species is the south eastern US.  One reason we have so many is the abundance of  the native Pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) which are the host plants for the Zebra Swallowtail's caterpillars.  

This Zebra Swallowtail is checking out the thermal blanket on our pool.
It's probably looking for some moisture.

This was one of the first butterflies to visit us this spring, showing up in the first part of April (didn't have my camera handy).  At that time it was feeding on nectar from the purple deadnettle, Lamium purpureum, that shares space in our lawn and woodlands.  When gathering nectar it is usually vibrating in a sort of feeding frenzy and it is hard to get a good photo.

A shutter speed of 1/40 is too slow to still those fluttering wings.

Yesterday while working around the pool I spotted one of these, most likely in search of moisture.  It was moving a little slower, so I could get some clearer photos.  This is the first time that I noticed it with its wings folded up and being relatively still.  

The tips of the swallowtail look like the antennae of the pseudo-butterfly.
The striped body is pretty cool, too.

What hit me here was that, when folded up, the wing shape of this swallowtail looks like another butterfly pointing in the opposite direction.  That has got to come in handy when predators are about.

Friday, May 23, 2014

New Seedlings and Sprouts

While a few established plants did not make it through this past winter most did and are performing quite well now.   A number of plants that I put in last fall which I had written off as lost 'suddenly' reappeared in the middle of May.  These include a Passion Vine,  some New York fern and False Goatsbeard (Astilbe biternata).  It was very fortunate that I left the plant tags in the ground otherwise I may have totally missed these late arrivals and possibly removed them as weeds or planted something else on top of them.   The False Goatsbeard is an excellent example.  This was a new plant for me so I did not know when it would resprout or what it would look like.  As the photo shows the new shoot could easily be mistaken for a dead twig.  Now that it has leafed out it looks like what I would expect for and Astilbe.

The new shoot comes up reddish-brown with tightly curled leaves.

Astilbe biternata is the only North American species of Astilbe.  It grows to over 3' tall.

The intensity of the red markings on the leaves is variable in the wild type plants
I have mentioned many times before that we are on a mission to remove the Garlic Mustard from our property.  In addition to improving the biodiversity it is giving us the opportunity to closely observe the other plants that were growing under the mustard canopy.  The other day after pulling some garlic mustard I found a patch of Jumpseed, Persicaria virginiana, (formerly Polygonum virginiana) that was growing in an unmanaged area.  I wanted to compare this to some red-flowered Jumpseed that I got from a nearby nursery.  

These Jumpseed from a nursery have a similar number of leaf veins,
but the shapes of its leaves is variable.
 Because most Jumpseed blooms with whitish flowers I was uncertain whether the red flowered plants were North American (var. virginiana f. rubra) or from an Asian species (var. filiformis) which normally has red flowers.  These varieties have different leaf shapes and number of veins on the leaf.  See this link for the original publication.  The characteristic leaf shape for the Asian species is obovate with an attenuate or cunnate base.  The nursery-grown plants have similar number of veins as the wild type (5-9 pairs), but the leaf shape is variable with a single plant having leaf shapes that match either species description.  Bottom line... I'm just not sure.

No garlic mustard in these Mayapples, but there
was woodland phlox and some galium species mixed in.
Another thing we noticed was that there was a large patch of Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) that was nearly devoid of garlic mustard.  I don't know if the Mayapples are actively defending against garlic mustard invasion or if this area has just not been invaded yet.  It does support the practice of having a good dense ground cover to shade out/exclude invasive species.  

I am seeing seedlings returning from 2 native annuals that I set out last year.  I am finding large masses of American Pennyroyal, Hedoma pulegioides,  near where I had planted them last year.  The seed that I sowed last spring did not germinate well last year (only 1 or 2  plants).  But seeds that had over-wintered are germinating like gang busters.  So despite what the seed packet says, some cold, moist stratification or fall planting of this species gives much better results.  I am encouraging these in my vegetable garden because they are reported to repel crawling insects due to the strong aromatic scent.  I am hope that it will have a similar effect on mammals as well.
These seedlings look similar to those of some Salvia species;
however, they can be distinguished by their strong aromatic scent even at this age.

The other annual that is coming back is Partridge Pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata.  Last year I started most of these indoors after  2 weeks cold, moist stratification and pretreatment with an rhizobactrium innoculant.   These germinated quite well both indoors and out.  This spring I am seeing many new seedlings near to their parent plants. 
The leaflets of Partridge Pea will fold up at night and when briskly jostled.

These blooms have just opened, the white petals
doubled in length a couple of days later.
As I was coming back from pulling more garlic mustard I stumbled upon another plant that I did not see last year.  I believed that it was Robin's Plantain, Erigeron pulchellus, because of the larger flowers and the spatulate basal leaves.  On digging a little deeper I realized that this was Common Fleabane, E. philadelphicus.  This species is indicated by the clasping leaves on the flower stalk. While not a beautiful garden plant is a pleasant surprise in the woods.  Most of my plants are actually growing on the path on the more compacted soil.  Perhaps I didn't see them last year because they had gotten trampled before they could bloom.

Just a note on the invasives front:  The garlic mustard is starting to go to seed now (late May), so we are trying to bag it up right away; also Mile-a-minute vine is starting to grow and the stilt grass is about an inch tall now.  It is really best to pull the mile-a-minute now before the thorns develop later in the season.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Getting into Spring: Wildflowers and managing Ticks

I have been fortunate not to have been bitten by any deer ticks so far.  One of the actions I am doing to keep that streak going is to put out homemade tick tubes twice a year.  These are paper tubes with several (5-8) cotton balls heavily treated with permethrin.  The idea is that mice will collect the cotton and use it in their nests.  There the permethrin will kill the ticks on the mice and break the deer tick life cycle early on.  Check out this link for more information.  We also spray our work clothes with a dilute solution of permethrin to deter ticks and especially chiggers.

I usually put out one batch of tubes in Mid-March, targeting a time when mice begin building nests.  I put them near brush piles and other places where mice might nest.  I use an orange flag to hold them in place and mark the location.  If there are still cotton balls left over I look for a different location to put the tube.  I also put out another set in the fall with the idea that mice will use them for their winter habitats.   
This springtime tube distribution also gets me out in the woods when the spring wildflowers are going to town.  This year has been more exciting than last.  It may have been the cold winter, or that my wife and I have been removing large quantities of garlic mustard, but the quantity of native wild flowers appears to be up. 
The flowers of Bloodroot only last a couple of days.
One plant that I missed entirely last year was Blootroot, Sanginaria canadensis.  In fact, I ordered a few of them to put into the garden, thinking I had none.  But an early March walk in the woods revealed that we have many of these plants.  One possible reason I missed seeing them before is that each plant has a very short blooming period, maybe 3-4 days, and I just wasn't in the right place at the right time.  

The three stem leaves on this Cutleaf Toothwort
are easy to see here.

Another early bloomer is the Cutleaf Toothwort, Dentaria laciniata.  The highly dissected leaves are a helpful clue to identifying this plant.  Also this Toothwort has three leaves on its flowering stalk, unlike its close relative D. diphylla, which has only two. These species have been moved over to the genus Cardamine and now it appears that the currently accepted name for the Cutleaf Toothwort is Cardamine concatenata.  

This was the only pink-tinged Dutchman's Breeches that I found.
One of the most common spring wildflowers in our woods is Dutchman's Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria.  Its flowers last longer than those of bloodroot.  Most of them are bright white.  However, a few plants have flowers that are pinkish.  Of the hundreds of plants in our woods I only found one with a pink coloration.  

Mayapples open like little umbrellas on the woodland floor.
These leaves will expand to 8 inches or more.
While they will not be blooming for a month or so, the leaves of Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum, are appearing throughout the woodland areas.  Having a healthy layer of native ground covers like these should help in our battle against invasive species like garlic mustard and stiltgrass. 

I am trying a number of native ground covers like these under some pine trees
to replace the Vinca minor.
The Labrador Violet that I planted last season needed to be uncovered from a heavy layer of pine needles.  After a couple of days of exposure the leaves expanded and the first blooms opened up. 

I noticed that these blooms open the widest when the sun is at full strength.
In my last post I noted that there were many Spring Beauties and Spicebush beginning to bloom in the woodland areas.  I was asked whether these species would do well in full sun.  I do know of one or two Spicebushes that are growing in full sun in rather damp soil.  Then just the other day I noticed some Spring Beauties growing in the middle of the lawn in full sun.  So I guess the answer is yes; however, full sun is not their preferred habitat.

Needed to use my hat to get the flowers to be visible.
Last fall I planted several small Yellowroots, Xanthorhiza simplissima.  These plants flower just before the leaves open up.  It is very easy to miss these small maroon colored flowers.  The primary landscape use of Yellowroot is as a medium tall, fine textured ground cover.  

The pubescent flower stem is an identifying feature
of this species of Saxifage

My newest find while distributing the tick tubes was  Early Saxifrage, Micranthes virginensis.  These were growing at the base of a Beech tree mixed in with some white Spring Beauties.  The unique flower growing out of a basal rosette of bluntly lobed leaves stood out as something different from the other flowers in the area. 

The last wildflower that I spotted last week was a Dogtooth Violet, Erythronium americanum, growing near our house.  I had seen some growing near a stream but I was surprised to find this in an upland area.  It may have been planted there by the previous owner.  My wife spotted this as she was pulling out Garlic Mustard.  It is most easily recognized by the mottled foliage.  The flower is only present for a relatively short amount of time.

This Trout Lily started blooming about 2 weeks after the Bloodroot.  
This flower is on the pale side for E. americanum, it could be different species or a variation. (On looking more carefully, this is E. albidium, based on the spreading tip of the style; it's united in E. americanum.)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Spring is making an Appearance

With all the snow and low temperatures the Winter of 2013-14 seemed like it would never end.  But looking back at photos from this time last year, native plant growth is only a week or so behind 2013.  I almost did not venture out into the woods for an informal survey, but I'm glad I did.  While only a few native species were in bloom, many have broken ground and are forming flower buds.  Here are some photos of the highlights.

When walking through the woods, it pays to look up once in a while.
Many of the native spring wild flowers most active while the tree canopy is open.  Now they have have enough light to photosynthesize and store up energy.  Once the trees leaf out there is not enough light for these plants to continue to grow so many of them shut down for the summer.  These plants are known as the spring ephemerals.  

The first plants I noticed were the Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica.  These first appear as purplish-gray buds through the leaf litter.  If last year is a guide they should be blooming in about 2 weeks.
As the leaves of these Virginia Bluebells mature they lose the purplish blush.

I was surprised to see the Spring Beauties in bloom.  There are only a few of them now.  Their number should continue to increase into May.  These grow from corms, so technically they are native bulbs.  If I happen to dig up any later this spring I will move them up into the bulb gardens closer to the house.  
These blooms are mostly white, pinkish ones appear later in the season.

The finely divided foliage of Dutchman's Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria, is also making an appearance.  I don't know if this species can be distinguished from Squirrel Corn, D. canadensis, just by the foliage.  I am making the assignment based on only seeing the former species last year.

The new foliage of all 3 eastern Dicentra species is very similar.
Off to the right are some leaves from Spring Beauties.

White Avens, Geum canadense, will bloom until later in the summer, but it is producing fresh foliage now.  It is recognizable by its deeply divided gray-green foliage.

One of the large basal leaves of White Avens  is at the lower right in the photo above.  

I saw a lot of leaves of Toothwort, Cardamine diphylla, and a few with flower buds. I also saw some leaves of cut-leaved Toothwort, C. laciniata.  These have similar coloration, but the leaves are deeply cut into five or more fingers.  These species were formally classified in the genus Dentaria.

You can see a mauve-colored flower stalk just left of center, above.

I purchased a couple of Golden Ragwort, Packera aurea, at a native plant sale last fall.  You can see that they over wintered well and it looks like they have already begun to spread.
Golden Ragwort should produce yellow daisy-like flowers on
long stems through spring and summer.

It's amazing that these little flowers will go on
to produce a couple of hazelnuts

The new growth was not limited to the perennials.  The shrubs are also beginning to bloom.  I got this American Hazelnut, Corylus americana, last fall.  It was bearing several nut clusters which grew to maturity last season.  This spring I only noticed the small red female flowers.  There were no male catkins on the shrub.  I don't know if their absence is due to the cold, or the deer.

I would have missed seeing the buds forming on this Yellowroot, Xanthorhiza simplicissima, if I had not remembered where it was planted.  The tops of the plant had been 'cut' back a bit.  Again, I don't know if this was from frost damage or deer browse.  
The flower buds of Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, are about to burst.  The flowering time of Spicebush is similar to Forsythia, but the color of the Spicebush is much more delicate.  In a week or so this area will be in a yellow haze of Spicebush flowers.  
Close examination of a Spicebush branch shows that the flower buds occur in pairs.
This helps with plant ID.

 All the new activity in the woods was not limited to the plants.  A small red speck racing along a a branch caught my attention.  It measured about 1/4 inch long and is 8 legged, like a spider.  Comparing images on a Google search for 'little red spider' led me to tentatively identify this as a Velvet Mite.  This is a predatory species feeding primarily on Arthropods.

This looks like it could be a Red Velvet Mite.  It moved very quickly for an insect so small.