Friday, September 20, 2013

Late Summer's Larger Blooms

Now that summer is nearly over I thought I would do a run down of some of the showier native plants that I have around the property.  Most of these are found naturally in Maryland.  A few are true wild flowers that have arrived on their own, though most of these have been introduced to this site.

The most common wildflower to this area is Wingstem, Verbesina alternifolia.  It is tall (4-6 ft) in full sun, though shorter in shadier locations.  The bright yellow compound blooms have been evident since the beginning of August.  In this area it is currently the dominant roadside wild flower.

This wildflower was just fading out at the beginning of October last year and I could not figure out what it was.  The northern edge of it range is in New York state, so it would be uncommon in the Boston area.  The form of the plant is similar to Sneezeweed (Helenium) but the shape and quantity of the petals are different.  Sneezeweed has wedge-shaped petals tightly arrayed around the center disk.

The arrows point out the winglike appendages
on the stems, hence the common name.  

Before the Wingstem was in full bloom, Common Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis, was dominating the roadsides.  This is a true biennial.  It spends the first year as a low growing leafy rosette.  The second year the flower stalk shoots up to 6 ft or more with spikes of yellow blooms.  Each flower opens in the evening and only lasts a day (maybe a little longer if it is cloudy).  I have a bunch of these growing around our patio, while the flowers are nice and bright, they have unsightly lower stems.  For this reason I would banish them to the background.  The biennial lifecycle is well adapted to highly disturbed environments.  The seeds need an open sunny area to germinate and for the low-growing rosette to get plenty of sunlight.  So this is a good plant for open roadsides that get cleared once or twice a year.  But not so good for an area with an established dense undergrowth.

Evening Primrose gets way too leggy
to use near the front of a border.

I noticed that the Japanese beetles were eating a lot of the Evening Primrose leaves.  I collected quite a few in my soapy water jug (aka, Jug of Death).  Could these plants be used as a magnet to draw the beetles away from more desirable garden crops?

This next group of wildflowers are native to Maryland, although I am pretty sure they are not indigenous to our little valley.  New York Ironweed, Veronia noveboracensis, is scattered around our house, but I have not seen it growing in the woods or along the roadside.  The deep purple flowers are long lasting and provide a wonderful contrast to all of the yellow flowers that are dominating the gardens at this time.  In protected areas these wildflowers can get quite tall, more than 6 ft.  In open areas the deer have pruned them back to 2-3 ft tall, but they have still managed to bloom.  At this smaller size they actually fit in better to the garden scale.

This Ironweed was not eaten back by deer and
grew to about 5 ft in partial shade.

Speaking of yellow flowers, there are lot of Yellow Cone Flowers, Rudbeckia fulgida, growing in the neighborhood.  Probably most are the 'Goldstrum' cultivar.  They all grow to the same height and bloom at the same time, making a definite statement in the garden.  As a advocate for native annuals and biennials (i.e. short lived, freely seeding plants) I have been using more of the Black-eyed Susans, Rudbeckia hirta.  These have a more relaxed habit and a longer blooming cycle than the more common cone flower cultivars.  (note some variation to the flower shape).

These Black-eyed Susans were raised from seed this year.
They are not all identical, note the double-side blossom on the right.

In the shadier areas of the garden I have added them more demure Brown-eyed Susan, R. triloba, and the shade tolerant Elm-leaved Goldenrod, Solidago ulmifolia.  This is the first year that this goldenrod has bloomed.  It is an early bloomer and really brightened up the shady area, but the color only lasted a couple of weeks.  I just planted in some Bluestemmed Goldenrod, S. caesia, to beef up the appearance.  I just read that these two species can hybridize - so I guess that the bloom times will be similar.

This plant was eaten back once.  If unpruned
it would reach 304 ft tall.
This is an early blooming species of Goldenrod
that does well in shadier locations.

I found that I had problems with the deer and possibly rabbits eating back both the Rudbekia and Solidago.  I gave these plants a little assistance with some hot pepper spray (cayenne pepper) and some scent-based deterrents like 'Repels-All.'  I need to get on a regular application schedule with products because waiting for the plants to be eaten is usually too late.  I have also gone too far with over application on new plants resulting in killing much of the tender foliage with the liquid sprays.  For these plants I am favoring the pelleted products.

Partridge pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata, is a true native annual that I planted this spring.  I had better results with plants started indoors than outdoors, but much of this was due to grazing by unwelcome animals.  After a little hot pepper spray I was rewarded with stems full of loose yellow blooms.  These open blossoms were visited primarily by larger bees.  These peas need a specific symbiotic bacterium to assist with nitrogen fixation.  This was supplied with the seeds I bought.

The leaves of the Partridge Pea will fold up when it is dark or particularly windy.

In the vegetable garden I'm growing the 'Stampede' cultivar of Jerusalem Artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus.  Now that they have reached 10-12 ft they are just starting to bloom.  I selected this cultivar for its more easily harvested tubers.  I've seen Jerusalem artichokes recommended for use in edible landscaping; however, to be effective a shorter earlier maturing selection would be more appropriate.  Before I put up the deer fence around the garden these plants were being grazed down to the ground on a regular basis.

These towering blooms are supposed to have a chocolaty scent.
I will need to pull some down to find out.

The color of the bracts ranges from pale green to pink.
On close examination  you can see the black dots
on the yellow flowers between the leafy bracts.

Among the deer resistant plants I put in around the garden were two native species of Bee Balm.  The Wild Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa, has been growing larger but has not bloomed this year.  However, the Spotted Bee Balm, M. punctata, has grown and flowered in the first year from seed.  These two plants have been untouched by the deer while the nearby Rudbeckia have been routinely munched.

While not native to the east coast the midwestern Blue Giant Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum, has been an excellent garden plant.  It is long blooming, attractive to pollinators, nicely textured and untouched by deer.  The biggest concern with this plant is its tendency to set a lot a seed.  We'll see what happens over the next couple of years.

There were lots of bluish spikes at the end of July.
These have faded to a mauve color in September,
but have maintained their shape.

In addition to these plants I have observed a number of truly wild flowers including Heal-all (Prunella vulgaris), Maryland Hawkweed (Heiracium marianum), Spanish Needles (Bidens bipinnata) and several goldenrods that I still need to ID.

As we transition into Fall there are a number of asters coming into bloom as well as a variety of goldenrods.  As I walk through the woods I will keep an eye on the ground for anything new

Friday, September 6, 2013

Stilt Grass is in Bloom

I have been watching my invasive Japanese stilt grass, Microstegium vimineum, to try and cut it down it before it started blooming.  On Sept. 2 I noticed that just about every plant starting to bloom.  (I am in zone 7a, so if you are in a cooler zone, this may be happening very soon in your area.)  My plan was to weed whack it down just when the flowers were forming so that it would not have time to regrow new flowers and set seed this season.  Since stilt grass is an annual, if I can deplete the seed bank, I should be able to bring it under control.  Several references agree that Microstegium seeds remain viable for up to 7 years.

Japanese Stilt Grass in bloom

One nasty feature of this grass is that it also has a set of self-fertile flowers hidden down in the stem.  These are known as cleistogamous flowers.  So it is necessary to cut these off as well as the upper exposed flowers at the stem tips.

A cleistogamous flower in the stem about 4 inches off the ground.

On Sept 3 I used my gas-powered string trimmer to cut down all the plants I could find growing in the woodland edges.  I made one pass to cut the tops and a second pass closer to the ground to go after the stem flowers.  Cutting the plant in smaller pieces may reduce the likelihood of an fertilized seed from maturing (I sound like a lawyer).  In some areas I found that the stilt grass would bend over, rather than getting cut on the first pass.  So the second low pass was really needed.  Where ever possible I tried to avoid any natives I saw.  These included some Panicled Tick Trefoil, Jumpseed and some, as yet unidentified goldenrods.

For some smaller areas, with other species mixed, in I hand pulled the plants.  Since stilt grass has relatively shallow roots, it comes up more easily than perennial grasses and herbs.

If I can keep this up for a few more years I may be able to eliminate scenes like this:
Stilt grass has filled area to left.  Area to the right is less disturbed
(unmown) and shows less invasion by the stilt grass.