Monday, August 27, 2012

Welcome to Maryland

We just closed on our new property in Maryland.  It is in what I consider to be a pretty rural area near Harper's Ferry.  This is a new experience for me, since I have always been living in more or less suburban areas.  We have a mix of mowed lawn, unmown/early successional meadow and woodland edge.  Over the next couple of months I will be trying to ID the plants on the site and then deciding how to use the spaces for creating new gardens, plant production and possibly just letting go.

In this posting I'll share some of the plants and insects I've ID'ed so far.  There are a lot of Box Elder, Acer negundo, but they are all growing in thickets and don't stand out too well.  One of the easiest trees to pick out was this Tulip Tree in the mown part of the yard.  The leaves have a distinctive tulip-like shape.  I'm guessing it's about 20 years old.

There are a number of what appear to be ornamental cherries on the property but these are in need of some TLC.  What I'm pretty sure are the native Pin Cherry, Prunus pensylvanica, looks a lot healthier, despite being in a less managed area.

I think this is a Pin Cherry.  The fruits were in small clusters,
rather than on racemes as found on Choke Cherries

Further in the back or the property I noticed the distinctive leaves of a Paw Paw tree.  This small tree/shrub has large drooping leaves.  I did not notice any fruits, but I understand that they are favored by the wildlife, so I may never get a chance.  I did see some Zebra Swallowtail butterflies which use the Paw Paw as a larval host.

The upper wings of this Swallowtail were in constant motion.
Another small native tree/shrub I found appeared to be a Carolina Silverbell.  This was in a shrub border close to the house so I don't know if it was planted or naturally occurring.  I would not have noticed it if it weren't for the winged seed pods.

The previous owner planted a wonderful assortment of flowering plants near the house, including a bunch of Butterfly Bushes.  I will probably replace some of these with native alternatives, but for now we will enjoy the variety of insect pollinators they attract.

I found the website Gardens with Wings to be very helpful in IDing these butterflies.

There are also a number of invasive plants that I will need to deal with.  One of the first we noticed was a displaced mid-western native Catalpa Tree.  These huge leaves really make the seedlings stand out along the roadsides.
This tree is no more.
 Some of the more insidious invasives to deal with are Japanese Stiltgrass and Mile-a-Minute vine.  The annual stilt grass is pretty easy to pull out, the key will be to keep it from reseeding and spreading.  Mile-a-Minute vine is pretty nasty looking and will require more work, and protection, to remove.
Stiltgrass can be recognized by a silvery line
along the mid-vein on the top of the leaf.

I started to pull at this vine, but then I noticed
the barbs all over the plant.  This will have to
wait until I have my gloves on.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Native Plant Firsts....and Lasts

This past month I have celebrated several firsts!  After trying for a number of years I finally brought along several native plants from seed to maturity.

American Lady butterfly may be laying eggs on its host plant?

The American Lady is distinguished from
the similar Painted Lady butterfly by the
colored swath on the outside of its wings 

The first plant is Pearly Everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea.  I have been able to get these to germinate well, but they languished after transplanting into the garden.  I had success last year by planting them into the bark mulch surrounding the raised vegetable beds.  I think the rather sterile conditions there favored this plant that is common to 'old field' conditions.  (I have had similar disappointments with a related plant Sweet Everlasting, Pseudognaphalium obtussifolium).  The double bonus was that, not only did I get blossoms this year, the plant was visited by an American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis).  Pearly Everlasting is a larval host for that species of butterfly.

The second first, as it were, was having the Woodland Sunflower, Helianthus divaricatus, come into bloom under my Norway Maple.  These plants were not particularly difficult to grow, it just took a long time to find a commercial seed source.  These did take a year in the ground to get established before sending up blooms this summer.

Brown-eyed Susan growing 3-4' tall in a sunny flower bed.

The Brown-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia triloba, was easier to find as seed but they were more difficult to get to germinate.  Moist stratification in soil-less mix for 60 days gave better results than using damp sand for a similar time.  (Since two methods were tried in successive years, cold storage for a year may have helped as well.)  These Rudbeckia did take a year to get established before blooming.  I have them growing in both sun and shade (Norway Maple), and in a pot; they are all doing well.

The easiest plant to bring along was the Partridge Pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata.  This annual germinated well after moist stratification and treatment with a bacterial innoculum that gives this legume its nitrogen fixing capability.  I have these growing in dry sunny to partly sunny locations, and they are all doing well.  This plant may be a solution to a road-side bed that I have been working with.  They tolerate dry road-side conditions and as an annual, they should be resistant to the effects of snow plows!

The yellow Partridge Pea here is holding its own with the
crab grass and inhospitable conditions

While not a first, we were thrilled to see this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail drop by our deck plantings yesterday and I wanted to share this action shot.    This butterfly was the first native insect I've seen to go after the Lantana and totally ignore the Mealy-cup Sage.

The reason that all of these firsts are also 'Lasts' for me is that we are in the process of moving south, down to Maryland.  This is an exciting move for us.  We will be getting quite a bit more land.  There will be room for larger native plant gardens and hopefully the opportunity to do some limited production of underutilized native plants that I can used in my design business.  So as we go through this transition I will be blogging about my new environs, the native plant communities there and the new challenges to establishing new plantings in the woods.