Thursday, October 20, 2011

Under the Norway Maple - Part 2

As the growing season is slowly coming to a close I thought I would revisit the status of the native species I have be evaluating under my Norway Maple.  There have been some improvements and some failures and one plant that I thought I lost has returned in a different spot.  In general many of the plants continuing to grow, only slower and smaller due to competition from the mature Maple.

Maturing berries of Winterthur Viburnum start off
bright green, then turn pink, then finally dark blue.
First the good news.  After 4 years of growing with no berries, I finally got a good crop from my Winterthur Viburnum (Viburnum nudum 'Winterthur').  While it had been slogging along at the edge of the tree canopy, it produced no fruit until I brought in a native form last fall.  This year, with the cross pollination, mature berries were produced for the first time here.

Another plant the seems to be catching on is the Northern Sea Oats (Chasmantheum latifolium) that I moved in last year.  These overwintered and grew fairly well in the shade along the back fence.  I would like this grass to grow up and obscure the chain-link fence.  A new addition, that seems to be working out is the Bluestemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia).  The native habitat for this plant is in open woods, so at least this plant is used to the shade.

The Northern Sea Oats are doing well along the fence. 
The new Bluestemmed Goldenrod is in full bloom (late September)
and the Witchhazel is just getting started 

The Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) that I thought had faded away returned in a new spot and looked healthier this year than when it was first planted 4 years ago. 

I transplanted a lot of 2nd year American Bellflowers (Campanulastrum americanum, a biennial) along the back edge of the garden.  These did well though early and mid-summer until they died out after completing their bloom cycle.  The test will be whether new plants return from the seed. 

The biennial Allegheny Vine (Adlumia fungosa) did not come back with any new seedlings this year (unless they were lost in the spreading Virginia Creeper).  A new addition that I thought would work but did not do well was Canada anemone (Anemone canadensis); I will keep a eye out for this next spring.

Other plants that are expanding are:
The Rosinweed is standing tall while the Smooth Aster
and Showy Goldenrod have flopped forward toward the sun.
American Pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides, an annual returning from seed), Smooth Aster (Symphyotrichum laeve), Heartleaf Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium), Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium), Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa), Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia, now the dominant grond cover), and Wafer Ash (Ptelea trifoliata).

I should give a shout out to the Rosinweed.  While it does not have the prettiest flowers, it was in bloom all summer.  Then, I cut the spent blooms back to some new flower buds and got the second flush shown in the photo.  (Cutting back when no buds are present just leaves you with a leafy stem; I tried that last year.)

Plants holding their own:
Christmas Fern, Bellwort and Wild Bleeding Heart
have looked good all season.
 Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas), Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), Rosey sedge (Carex rosea), Alumroot (Heuchera villosa),  Black Huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata), Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), Dutchman's Pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla), Largeflower bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora), Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla), Wild Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia), Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana )

Fading or gone:
Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragariodes) has disappeared and the Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) was down to only two sprigs in the spring before it disappeared.  Hairy Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum pubescens) has been in this area for 4 years but it now seems to be in decline.  I put in a new one this fall and am hoping for its return.

Plants that should work, planned for next season:
Last year I planned to put in Labrador violet (Viola labradorica) and Maple-leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) but didn't.  I'll try to get those for next spring.  I will will also give the Canada Anemone another shot.  I also have some Large-leaf Aster (Eurybia macrophylla) that I should move over, seeing as it usually does well in dry shade.
In addition to using plants that are strong competitors that can get their share of moisture there are some maintenance practices that will help the understory plants survive under the Norway Maple (or other mature tree for that matter).  Limbing up and thinning the canopy to let in more sunlight helps a lot. Also, new plants should be irrigated deeply the first year to get them established, as well as under droughty conditions (mid-summer). I have a rain barrel with a special low pressure soaker hose to help with this.  Returning the leaf mulch to the understory area helps to build the soil.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Biennial Beeblossom

Biennial Beeblossom in mid-September
 As the name implies Biennial Beeblossom, Gaura biennis, is a true biennial, it establishes a basal rosette the first season and the sends up the flower stalk the second. This stalk can reach 6 feet or more, with clusters of small white flowers borne on the ends of wand-like stems. Flowers in the cluster open 2 or 3 at a time and turn pink with age. As with other members of the Onagraceae, or Evening Primrose family, these flowers open in the evening and close up the following day. The blooming period is from July into October. After the first flush, plants can be cut back severely; they will produce a second flush of blooms. I have also cut the plant back by up to ½ in mid-June to give a plant only slightly shorter with many more flowering stems. I have transplanted second-year plants without loss of vigor. I even had a root-bound plant in a 4” pot grow to 3 feet tall and bloom successfully.

Basel rosette of Gaura biennis form in the first season

Fresh flowers open at 9:30 PM

A bumblebee making a landing on a Beeblossom flower.

The flowers of G. biennis are pollinated primarily by long-tongued bees, especially bumblebees. When bees visit the flowers they grab on to the long stamen and crawl to the corolla to get the nectar. In the process their abdomen rubs against the anthers and stigma of the flower thus transferring pollen. Several moths also visit this plant. Two interesting pink colored species are the Primrose Moth, Schinia florida, found in the eastern US and the Clouded Crimson, Shinia gaurea, found in the western half of the US. The first 2 years I grew this plant I did not see too much insect activity, but this year there were a lot of bumblebees visiting the plant at sunrise, while the flowers are still relatively fresh (but alas, no pink moths that I have seen).

The original native range for Gaura biennis in the United States is from the Southeast to Midwest and Pennsylvania. Populations have been found further east and west the northern states including Massachusetts. The native habitat includes open and disturbed places, open woods and stream banks. It can tolerate a range of soil moisture from moist to dry and exposures from full to partial sun. Best growth occurs when there is good sun, and not too much water or fertilization provided (it can flop over when it grows too tall).

Even after cutting back in June,
this plant is approaching 7 feet.

This plant can be rather lanky. Its tall habit with long stalked flowers may make it a good candidate for creating a screen or a back-of-the-border plant. I can see combining this plant with the American Bellflower, Campanulastrum americanum, which blooms from the end of June to the beginning of August. As the bellflower dies out the Beeblossom would take over blooming for another 6 weeks or so.

Seeds are available from several sources, mostly based in the mid-west, including Prairie Moon Nursery and Ever Wilde Farms. For seed started indoors, a 60 day period of moist stratification is recommended.  In my hands this gave reasonable, though not exceptional results. My first generation of plants have reseeded themselves with moderate vigor so that I have had several plants growing consistently since 2008.

Lindheimer's Beeblossom,
Gaura lindheimeri.
The commercially more popular form of Gaura is Lindheimer’s Beeblossum, Gaura lindheimeri, which is a short-lived perennial. I also have this plant in my garden, but it does not seem to be as popular with the pollinators as the Biennial Beeblossom. The popularity of of this plant is that, as a perennial, it has a more consistent presence in the garden, a long period of bloom and at 2-3 feet it is of a more manageable size.