Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Seedling's Progress - New Natives from Seed

One of my goals is to increase awareness of Native Annuals and their possibilities in the garden.  A major part of that is encouraging the plants to reseed themselves into the garden.  This is starting to get complicated, especially where I have combined a number of different plants.  It behooves me to learn what the seedlings of both the desired and undesired plants look like.  I getting to the point where I can tell which seedlings are familiar, even if I'm not sure which one it might be.  Here are some photos from this spring of some native seedlings, both 'wild' and ones that I have started in pots.

Lilium seedlings are just a single blade.
The seeds that I am most excited about are for Philadelphia Lily, Lilium philadelphicum.  I wanted to get some experience with a native lily and I chose this one because it's habitat is most like what I keep at home, dry upland woods.  Since I thought that germination would be tricky, I tried several methods: cold moist sand for 60 days, moist soilless mix for 2 weeks at room temperature then 60 days in the frig, room temperature seeding and winter-sowing.  The cold moist stratification gave me nearly 100% germination.  All the other methods were about 50%.  Now it is time to pot these guys up.  I think it will be several years before these will be mature enough to bloom, but I think (hope) it will be worth it.

Partridge Pea is a native annual found in the eastern half of the US.  It germinated well after a 10 day cold stratification.  This plant is able to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere though its association with rhizobial bacteria.  The seed I purchased form Prairie Moon Nursery came with a packet of inoculum to ensure that these bacteria would be present for the new plant.  The leaflets fold together at night and when it is being roughly handled.  I have already planted out a bunch of these along a roadside, where I am hoping they will be able to reseed themselves. 

Indoor sown plants are lankier than these outdoor plants.
Another one of the new plants I started this year was Vigin's Bower, Clematis virginiana.  While it is a pretty common woodland species, I have never noticed it before.  I want to test it out under the dreaded Norway Maple.  I got excellent germination from plants started indoors after 2 month moist stratification in sand.  I also started some outdoors in mid-January, using the Winter Sowing technique.  I think I got better germination using the refrigerator-stratified seeds, but the outdoor plants are more compact.

I also started more Woodland Sunflower, Helianthus divaricatus, and Crowned Beggarticks, Bidens coronata, using the Winter Sowing method.  Germination was moderate, but the resulting plants are of good size and require no hardening off before transplanting.  This was probably a poor year to really evaluate the winter-sowing method.  Since it was quite warm and relatively dry, the covered containers did not get very much moisture in through the pour-spout, making them warmer and drier - not what you want for cold stratification of seeds.

Random Seedlings: 1. Sulfur Cosmos (blunt leaf tips); 2. Annual grass
(single blades); 3. Oxalis (3 leaflets); Tomato (hairy stems and smell)

When you are counting on plants reseeding themselves in the garden, weeding and maintenance become a big issue.  In this photo of random seedlings I can recognize some of these as desirable and other as definite 'weeds'.  Possible desirable seedlings here include  Agastache 'Navaho Sunset', Bidens coronata, Cosmos sulphureusMonarda punctata, Salvia coccinia, and Rudbeckia hirta.  The largest seedling in the photo is most likely a Sulfur Cosmos, though it could also be a Bidens.  This is a keeper.  The easy to ID weeds are the grasses and Oxalis.  The grasses have only single leaves (monocots) and the Oxalis has a 3-lobed clover-like leaf.  All of the desired plants in this area are dicots, they have two cotyledon leaves.  This makes them easy to distinguish from the grasses.  Where it gets tricky is all of the tomato seeds that come in with the compost.  (I know, I don't cook my compost hot enough.) These seedlings have a tomato smell when bruised and the stem is covered with little hairs.  At this juncture my strategy is to remove only those weeds I'm sure about (grass, oxalis and tomatos) and watch to see how the others develop.

These seedlings are about an inch tall, but strongly aromatic.
One of my favorite Native Annuals that is catching hold around the house is False Pennyroyal, Hedeoma pulegioides.  It's a small plant that will grow on poor soil and in the gaps in the sidewalk.  It is most easily recognized by it powerful aromatic/minty scent.  Usually just lightly touching a leaf is enough to release the scent.

This is the second year these have managed come back on their own.
Red-whisker Clammyweed, Polanisia dodecandra, is naturally found in gravelly soil along creek beds.  I had a hard time getting it to grow under cultivation (I think it resented being transplanted), but now it is showing up in other potted plants which had been nearby the previous season.

These rosettes may be from fall-germinated seeds
American Bellflower, Campanulastrum americanum, has gotten pretty well established since I first started it in 2009.  The first year rosette will stay small all year and take off, growing to 4+ feet, in year two.  I have a few second year plants that are 2 foot tall already.

Fresh shoots from a plant that was started last year.
While I have the feeling that everything is coming early this year I nearly tossed out some pots that I thought were empty.  Just before I did, I found that the Flowering Spruge, Euphorbia corollata, was sprouting in good form.  Another late riser is Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa.  While one plant has been up for several weeks, a second, less established neighbor, is just now sprouting.

Now the watching continues.  Will there be more seedlings coming up?  Will I figure what's what before it's too late?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lazy about Lawns

There was a great article in last Sunday's Boston Globe business section (5/13/12) titled 'Lawn Care for the Lazy' that really summed up my position on lawn care.  The original source is the May 2012 edition of Consumer Reports.  Since I can't give you a free link to the article, let me summarize.

1. Let your yard go brown during long, summer dry spells.  This is a natural event of your lawn coping with the weather conditions.  It will green up again when the weather turns cooler and wetter.  Forcing it to stay green will use a whole lot of water.  Also when watering, a weekly slow soaking is better than daily spritzes.  When the soil is moist several inches down, the roots will follow.  Deep roots can tap into a much larger reservoir of moisture.  Eventually lawn watering will be the exception rather than the rule.  I do not water the established parts of my lawn anymore and digging recently the roots of the grass were about 6-8" deep.

2. Fertilize less frequently.  I used to fertilize several times a year, then I realized that meant I had to cut it much more often.  Fertilizers with high amount of water soluble nitrogen will green up a lawn quickly, but not do so much for the rest of the plant.  Also that fast growing green lawn will want more water.  An overfed lawn will also encourage more lawn eating pests.  They are just going after the feast that has been provided for them.  Also consider that runoff from an overfed lawn contains a lot of excess nutrients that are a major source of water pollution.  So if you follow the x-step approach you may be overfeeding the lawn, which requires more labor and watering.  Also to combat the insects feeding on the excess, you apply pesticides.  Many of these lawn chemicals then run off and contribute to water pollution.

The Consumer Reports article recommends only 1 or 2 fertilizer application using slow-release (water insoluble) nitrogen for long slow feeding of the lawn.  In past posts I have talked about using mown-in leaves as the fall fertilizer and have personally gone to zero applications of lawn fertilizer each year.

3.  Mulch your grass clippings.  By using a mulching mower and putting the cut grass back where it came from you can cut down on fertilization as well.  The green grass clippings are a good source of nitrogen for the lawn. As they break down they feed the lawn.  Also, using a mulching mower saves on the time spent collecting the grass and transporting to somewhere else for disposal or composting.  I would again add, mulch in your leaves in the fall!

4.  Let the grass grow longer.  Taller grass shades the soil better, cutting down on evaporation and making it harder for weeds to get established.  The CR article says that you can cut grass by 50% or more without damaging the plant.  The common rule is that you should cut no more than a third of the blade at a time.

5.  Live with certain weeds and pests.  Some common weeds are innocuous or even beneficial to your lawn.  Clover was once a standard component of lawns.  It has the added benefit of fixing nitrogen into the soil.  But clover is not compatible with the broad-leaf herbicides used in many fertilizer formulations.  So now it is considered a weed.  Dandelions can improve soil aeration.  Crabgrass is a problem, however, and is best combated by a preemergent herbicide, or better, by overseeding bare spots to create a thicker turf.  Note that a preemergent herbicide works by inhibiting the development of seedlings.  So if you use one of these products, do not count on any grass seed to grow.

A patch of  Ecolawn(TM) fine fescues
to repair a hole in the lawn
6.  Give low-maintenance grasses a try. There are several low maintenance grasses available.  Most of these are blends of fine fescues.  These grasses have lower fertility and moisture needs than Blue and Rye grasses.  Also these fescues tend to be slower growing, so there is a longer period between mowings.  They do not take traffic as well as standard turf grasses, however tall fescue is a coarse-textured, low maintenance grass for high use areas.  

I tried out a sample of EcoLawn™ on a portion of my lawn where I had a plumbing line replaced last fall.  I planted it into a mixture of the churned up sub-soil with about an inch of compost mixed into the top.  It did take over a week to germinate and it grew to about 2-3 inches by the end of fall.  Now is is a dense deep green mass of fine textured blades.  As seen here it does stand out from the original mixed turf grasses.

It makes a more subtle contribution in places where it has been over seeded into bare spots.  Here between the street and sidewalk I've overseeded to see if I can suppress the annual attack of crabgrass.

Fine fescue was overseeded into the sparse turf of the 'Hell Strip.'
Following these six tips is an easy way to save time and money on lawn care and to reduce water usage and environmental pollution.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Remembering Bloom Times -my Gardening Oops

The first of every month is Gardening Oops day at Joene's Garden blog.  There she describes a recent garden miscues with the goal of educating other gardeners.  This month I found a garden oops of my own to share.

Early Tulips:  Added Apricot Emperor Tulips
to a large mass of early yellow Tulips and Daffodils
While I work primarily with native plants, I have also been doing more and more bulb plantings.  The intense color of bulbs in the spring brings a welcome end to winter.  I've tried to make things interesting by putting together some less common color combinations.  In addition to working out colors, you also need to consider bloom times to get those combos to show up together.

Putting in a few orange tulips was pretty effective for adding a little more interest to a nearly all yellow bed.  These also went well with the few grape hyacinths scattered around.

Late Tulips: Orangy 'Dordogne' with purple 'Cum Laude'
and some mid-season 'Purple Prince' in the background.

Another combination I thought long and hard about was combining orangy and purple shades.  In this example I used late season varieties (normally blooming in May).  Some late season Daffodils in the background crank up the color intensity of this combination.

I really like the color of the 'Dordogne' tulip.  I got a bunch of these bulbs and used them in several clients gardens.  I had a few left over so I decided I should use them in my own yard.  This is where the Oops comes in.   Since I don't have too much extra space I looked hard for a place to put them.  I finally settled on putting a few clumps under the Moss Phlox in the front border.  This seem to be the perfect space.  I imagined these beautiful tulips coming up through the mossy green foliage of the Phlox.  At least that what I thought when I planted them in October.

It turns out that this tulip blooms at the same time as the 'Emerald Blue' Phlox.  This is not a combo I would have consciously put together.

'Dordogne' with blue Moss Phlox,
not the prettiest picture.

OOPS.  Not what I expected last October!

But if you zoom back a little further on this scene, you can really get assaulted by adding in the intense red of this Azalea.  So while I did find a great place in space for my new tulips, it turned out to be the wrong place in time, considering the colors of the existing plants.  

Other options for planting tulips in front of intensely colored shrubs are to use bulbs that aren't blooming when the shrub is in flower, or to better match the color of the bulbs to the shrubs.  Perhaps an all white tulip or one with red streaks in it would work better.

Well, when it gets too intense in the front yard I can always head around to the back yard where the native ephemerals paint a much more calming scene.
Fiddleheads of Christmas Fern unfurling in front
of some Large Flowered Bellwort and  Twinleaf