Saturday, March 18, 2017

It looked like a mild winter until...

We've been having a pretty mild winter this year.  The average temperature in the U.S. in February 2017 was 7.3 F above the 20th century average.  Comparing photos I'd taken in 2014 and 2015 with this year indicates that this year we are 2-4 weeks ahead, based on the blooming of the crocus and forsythia.  On March 14th we finally got a good dose of snow in our neck of the woods (west-central Maryland).

This late snow is out of place with the forsythia that has been blooming since late-February this year.

About a week before the snow storm I took a walk around the woods to see what was starting to come up.  The first thing I checked on was the spicebush.  It usually begins blooming shortly after the forsythia.  This year, while the forsythia had been in bloom for a couple of weeks, the spicebush was just getting started.
March 10th and the flower buds on the spicebush were just opening.

The next plant I checked was the pussy willow, Salix discolor.  This native tree/shrub is one of the earliest blooming native plants and is an important source of pollen to early season native bees.  Since this species is dioecious, only the male plants are sources of pollen; however both male and female flowers have nectar.
The buds of this pussy willow are just opening.  When fully in
bloom the flower buds of this male plant will be covered
with yellow pollen-bearing anthers.

Looking down on the ground in the leaf litter I found a number of Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginica, that had just come up.  Sometimes the new leaves have a purple tinge to them, but that color quickly fades to green.  The spikes of flower buds follow quickly after this first flush of leaves.
These Virginia bluebells have just come up.

Also showing up on the ground was white avens, Geum canadense, which is pretty common in this area.  While its not particularly beautiful in bloom, it does fill in gaps in the shady understory and its wispy white flowers break up the sea of green leaves.  In the early spring it is by the light colored veins on the deeply divided leaves.
The leaf markings on this white avens rival those of some Heucheras;
however, as it matures the dominant leaves will be smaller and the veination less noticeable.
The plant to the left in this photo is purple deadnettle, Lamium purpureum.  This introduced species is scattered throughout the shady areas.  While weedy, it does not appear to be causing too much trouble with the other plants.

These violets look a little like garlic mustard, ...
Also noted among the fallen leaves were fresh leaves of some native violets, probably woolly blue violet, V. sororia.  These nearly round leaves have finely serrated margins (crenate) and fairly smooth leaves.

They can be distinguished from the over-wintering garlic mustard rosettes that have longer, slender petiole and leaves that are deeply veined and more deeply toothed serrate leaf margins.

Garlic mustard has deeply veined leaves that
look tired, having been out all winter.
Garlic mustard is not the only invasive species that is evident right now.  In fact late winter is a good time to spot some invasive species since they tend to come to life a little before most of the native species.  Multiflora rose and barberry are both leafing out now making them stand out in the woods.  Since the soil was soft I was able to pull a number of these bad guys out of the ground.  This is also a good time to spot Japanese honeysuckle growing up in the trees.  Now is a good time to  cut these climbing vines and deny the roots an early burst of energy.

Most native honeysuckles have the two terminal leaves fused together
like this just below the flower bud.

While not growing with the same vigor as the Japanese honelysuckle at this time, the native coral or trumpet honeysuckle is also leafing out. Flower buds are beginning to form, though the normal bloom season is closer to mid-spring.

Monday, February 13, 2017

New Plants for 2017: Just Getting Started

The seed and plant catalogs have been coming since late December and I've made a few selections already.  Here's a run down on seeds and shrubs that I have ordered so far.

The tubular flowers of fireweed mature into long
seed pods, as seen on the lower right.
Fireweed, Chamerion angustifolium (formerly of the genus Epilobium) is a tall perennial that puts out hot pink flowers in mid-summer.  Growing in part to full sunshine and average soil moisture this will be a welcome addition to the small meadow that I am developing.  The tubular flowers are very attractive to a number of native bees as well as hummingbirds.

Fireweed is named for its tendency to appear in great numbers after fire has cleared the competing vegetation.

The tiny seeds, ca. 1 mm long, need to be cold-moist stratified for 60 days for good germination.  The tiny seeds also need to be surface sown, as they need light for germination.  I started the stratification in damp sand last week, so I should be able to get them into trays in early April.

When stratification is done, I'll just smear the damp sand/seed mixture on top of the soil.
Another new species for me will be goat's rue, Tephrosia virginiana.  This member of the legume family likes dryish sandy soils in part to full sun light.  It has feathery foliage and puts out pink and yellow pea-like flowers in early to mid-summer.  Since this plant has a deep taproot, I will use it on an embankment that I want to stabilize.

Relative to fireweed, the seeds of goat's rue are huge, 3-4 mm long and about half as wide.  These seeds have a thick outer coating and will need to be scarified before giving it about 2 weeks of cold-moist stratification.  In addition to this I also got a packet of inoculum that contains the bacteria this plant needs to fix nitrogen from the air. I'll mix this with the seeds prior to starting the stratification process.  I think seeds will germinate with it, but not having the right bacteria can compromise their development.  

I have encountered this with another legume, partridge pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata, where I saw much better growth from seeds that had been treated with inoculum than for those sown without it.

In addition to these I got some additional seeds for rose verbena, Glandularia canadensis, and spotted beebalm, Monarda punctata.  I was pleased with the rose verbena I planted last year.  While it does not call for it, I moist stratified the seed for a month and got excellent germination rates.  It formed a nice ground cover and bloomed well with clusters of deep magenta flowers.  I purchased more seed because it is listed as marginally hardy in zone 6 and I was afraid that there would not be enough seed produced last season to produce another crop for this year.  Since our winter low temperatures this year have not dropped below 15 F, we are having more of a zone 8 winter, this species may make it through until spring.  In any case I'll have more plants to fill in and maybe share a few with others.

Rose verbena as it's looking in mid-February.  It's taken some damage,
but it's looking good close to the ground level.

The spotted beebalm I had a few years back has petered out.  I think it lost out to more competitive plants around the vegetable garden.  It is a short lived perennial and relies on having good places for new seed to germinate to continue in the garden.   For this new crop I will put it in spots with leaner soil and where its seed can germinate without being covered by other plants.

As far as shrubs, I'm just reinforcing some of what I got last year:
Eastern Red Cedar, only one from the three I planted last year was successful.  This year I'll get them in the ground sooner and do a better job of clearing away competitive plants.

Chokecherry, I'm 1 for 2 on this species.  For these I will need to clear a larger space so they can get established.  Once established they should grow quickly on their own.

American hazelnut, these are surviving well in somewhat shady locations.  I have identified several other woodland edge areas where it would be nice to have this native shrub fill in.