Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Woodland Find - American Germander

This is the pinkish flower spike that I first noticed.
The other day I was walking along a wooded edge in the backyard bemoaning how much stiltgrass (Mircostegium vimineum) there was to remove and I spotted some pale pink spiky flowers that I had not seen before. Since these flowers looked so tight and upright,  I thought these might have escaped from an old garden rather than being a native plant.

The stems are square with oppositely arranged leaves and the flowers were kind of tubular with a long tongue.  So I figured they were kind of mint (Lamiacea family).  After going through the identification keys in Gleason and Conquist several times and then looking at a lot of pictures on-line, I finally ID'd this plant as American Germander, Teucrium canadense, an actual native species!  In retrospect, a feature that really stands out in germanders is that the 4 stamens stick out above the flower petal(s).  This same arrangement is found on creeping germander, T. chamaedrys, a common garden plant.

Here you can see the unique form of the flower.  The arrow indicates the upright stamens.
10 days later, the flower spike has elongated and blooming is
continuing up the spike.  Maybe another 10 days of bloom.
Here the shape of the toothed leaves is more easily seen

While it is a member of the mint family the leaves are not fragrant and the leaves have a bitter taste (reportedly).  They are not bothered by grazing animals, i.e., deer.  The flowers are frequented by long-tongued bees and hummingbirds.

American Germander grows in moist soils in full to partial sunlight.  Habitats include moist meadows, thickets and along water courses.  The plants I found are on consistently moist soil with about 4 hours of morning sun, in the middle of summer.

Plants spread by rhizomes and will reseed effectively, creating large colonies under favorable conditions.  In a formal garden they would be considered weedy, but in a natural edge with lots of competition they are under control (so far).  I would love for these to push out the stilt grass, but I think they will need my help.  

This clump of American Germander has probably been here for awhile.
I'll make a more concerted effort to clear out the stiltgrass from around here
to give this plant more opportunity to spread.
Just a reminder, Stiltgass will be blooming soon in Maryland so you need to take action soon to keep them from setting seed.  I will continue pulling for now, but come the end of August I will weed whack down as much as I as can reach.  This should  take out the flowers before they can set seed and be late enough in the year to keep flowers from regenerating.  Check out the Mircostegium link above for more information.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Pollinator Border

When I planned my new vegetable garden last year I included a double fence design to help keep out the deer.  At the outer fence I planned for a border of pollinator-friendly native plants.  This border would help attract pollinators to the garden and also provide shelter for predatory insects to hang out.  By providing cover for the predators, damage due to insect pests is significantly reduced without the use of pesticides.

The border around the garden has a variety of native plants.  A bluebird is currently nesting in the box,
I try to avoid walking by, but it happens

The plants for this border need to provide pollen or nectar for the pollinators, be low maintenance, bloom sometime during the growing season and be somewhat to very resistant to deer browsing.  I also looked for plants that might deter smaller mammals that could burrow into the garden.  The garden location is in full sun and can get dry. 

Plants that are native to the area are the best choice for a pollinator garden.  These plants are natural food sources for the native insects that will be doing most of the work.  It is nearly impossible to find a single plant that will bloom the entire garden season, so a mixture of plants with staggered blooming times will provide some food for insects throughout the season.  The Xerces Society has guidelines for creating a pollinator friendly garden.  

When I put in the garden last year, most of the pollinator plants I put in were liners or seedlings.  Being young and of small size, they did not mature enough to bloom.  With a year in the ground they are really looking good now.  Here's a listing of plants I used in by pollinator border.

The earliest blooming plant in the border was Wild Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis.  The nodding red and yellow flowers are attractive to hummingbirds.  Blooming period is typically April through May.  The seeds are held loosely in the upright pods.  

I did not get a photo of my Columbine this season, but here you can see
the seed pods mixed in with some Black-eyed Susans.  I need to shake out
the seed pods to get more plants for next year.

Last year I planted both black-eye and Brown-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta and R. triloba).  The deer were constantly eating the flowers and leaves of both species.  This year only the Black-eyed Susans returned.  I have been more diligent about spraying them with hot pepper solution, which seems to work.  While not as upright as Yellow Cone Flower (R. fulgida) I like the extended blooming season of R. hirta, lasting from June through September.

Here's Spotted Beebalm in a mixed border of Black-eyed Susans and False Pennyroyal.
The flowers are actually small yellow tubes hidden by the large pinkish bracts.
Spotted Beebalm, Monarda punctata, was grown from seed and actually matured enough to bloom the first year.  This year it really went to town.  Peak blooming season is June and July.  This plant is very resistant to deer browsing and attracts mostly bees and wasps.

This is a short-lived perennial so it needs to set seed to maintain a presence in the garden.

The flowers of Wild Bergamot are more exposed than Spotted Beebalm's
 making it easier for large butterflies to access them.
Another member of the Monarda genus in the garden is Wild Bergamot, M. fistulosa.  This is a much taller species, easily over 4 feet in this garden.  The flowers attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  The bloom time is from early July through August.

These two Monarda species do well in dry to medium soils.  If the soil were moister Oswego Tea, M. didyma, would be a good choice, as well.

I had a difficult time with deer munching on the young Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa, plants last year.  This year they are doing much better and are coming into full bloom now (early July).
I have not seen any Monarch butterflies around these milkweeds,
mostly small greenish bees (Sweat bees?)

I have established a dense hedge of American Pennyroyal
 along one edge of the garden.
We'll see if it keeps out the moles, etc.
One of the first native annuals I put around the garden was American or False Pennyroyal, Hedeoma pulegioides.  This diminutive member of the mint family has a strong minty scent when touched.  It can act as a repellent for some insects, possibly mosquitoes.  I am interested to see if it will also discourage deer and small mammals from entering the garden.  Direct seeding in the garden last spring gave few plants, but these seeds came up in full force this year.  Despite what it says on the seed packet, fall sowing of some moist stratification (30 days, moist at 35-40 F) helps break seed dormancy.
I'm pretty sure this is one of the Nodding Onions.
I'll know better once it reaches full bloom -
will the flower continue to droop or turn upright.

Another plant to help form a barrier to invasion by burrowing mammals is Alliums.  I planted a long row of Nodding Onions, Allium cernuum, in the border. The idea is that they will be repelled by the presence of the onion bulb underground.  I've seen a few come up in the mix of plants, but sometimes they are hard to tell from the stray grasses also in the garden.  As we get later into blooming season (June-August) they should be easier to pick out.  

In the garden there is some white Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, that just blew in.  I also added a more colorful cultivar call 'Strawberry Seduction' to jazz things up a little.  I had problems last year with deer browsing, but not so this year.  Is this due to a more mature plant, or is it random choice by the deer?

I don't usually go for the flashy cultivars, but
I wanted to add some more red to the garden
The middle of the garden provides a refuge
for the more deer-sensitive species.

In the center of the garden I put a ring of tall flowers that was meant to draw the pollinator further into the garden.  Since these are more protected from deer, they don't have to be so deer resistant.  This year I have some Purple Cone Flower (Echinacea purpurea), False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides 'Summer Sun', Beach Sunflower (Helianthus debilis 'Pan') and 'Autumn Beauty' Sunflower (Helianthus annuus).  The first two species bloom for the first half of summer and the sunflowers carry the load into the fall.

I selected the 'Autumn Beauty' cultivar of sunflower because it only grows to 6 feet, keeping it in scale with the rest of the plants and reducing the risk of tipping over.

My deer really like to eat various species of Helianthus, so I could not grow these in unprotected areas.  I'm not sure how they would treat the False Sunflower, but I'm sure they would give it a taste.  

Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron annuus) and Heal-all (Prunella vulgaris) are a couple of indigenous plants that have found a welcome place in this border.  Heal-all is edible (haven't tried it) and has many herbal/medicinal applications.  It can be used as a native ground cover, growing between 2 and 12 inches tall.

Heal-all is widely disbursed through the Northern Hemisphere.
It is a larval host for the Clouded Sulphur butterfly.

In the new part of the border I'm trying some new native annuals.  I have grown Sulphur Cosmos, Cosmos sulphureus, by direct sowing in Boston before.  It did germinate well in the border here, but has since disappeared.  I also sowed some Plains Coreopsis, Coreopsis tinctoria, in the same area.  Germination wasn't as good, but the plants are persisting.  In another area the deer sampled the Coreopsis, but did not actually eat it.  Another native Coreopsis species that could be used in the border is Threadleaf Coreopsis (C. verticillata).  It is easy to care for and fairly resistant to deer.

Plains Coreopsis starts out kind of wiry, but straightens up as it matures.

 One additional note about the border.  My outer fence is a 5-wire electric fence, but it is not energized.  If it were, it would immediately ground out because of all the plants growing on the wires.  If you have an energized fence it must be free of plants.  A flowering border should be sited well inside or outside the electrified wires.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Visit to Martha Walker Habitat Garden in Napa, CA

In mid-June we had an opportunity to return to the Napa/Sonoma valley region of California.  Most of this trip was involved with tasting some really good wine.  Between tastings we took in some beautiful scenery along the Russian River and the Coastal redwoods near Bodega Bay.   One morning in Napa we paid a visit to the Martha Walker Native Habitat Garden.  

While I grew up in California and learned something of the state's ecology, all of my plant ID skills were learned on the East Coast.  I was a little overwhelmed at first not knowing the plants that I was looking at.  I did find some plant tags to get started.  After a while I started recognizing relatives to plants that I knew from the East.

Here are some photos of some of the plants I recognized.  (There are many more that I don't.)   The website was helpful in confirming some of the ID's.

The California Poppy was in bloom throughout the region.
It does well on well drained soils.

The California Buckeye was also in full bloom in the middle of June.
The palmate leaves and large panicles of flowers are similar to the eastern species.

It was easy to spot this Western Sycamore.  Note that the seed pods are hanging in a chain (raceme).
This is different from the American Sycamore (P. occidentalis) which has singly borne pods
and London Plane (P. x acerfolia) which has pairs of pods. 

When I saw this branch I immediately thought of our Eastern Redbud (C. canadensis).
 I found the tag indicating that it was a Western Redbud.  Instead of having
heart-shaped leaves of the eastern species, these are roundish,
many with an indention at the tip (retuse).

This Spiraea looks a lot like Steeplebush (S. tomentosa),
but that species is not listed as native to California.
 It may be S. douglasii, Rose Spiraea

Here is one of many Monkey Flowers in the garden.
There are over 70 species of Mimulus native to California.
I put some Allegheny Monkey Flower (M. ringens) in my garden
at home this year and am still waiting for it to bloom.

This is one of the many oak species in California (I couldn't find a label).
This is a quintessential tree to the coastal hills and valleys.

The dappled shade under the oak tree provided a very soothing resting spot.  

I had to look on the Calflora site to learn about this Matilija Poppy.
There are two very similar species on Romneya.  These plants
were common along the highways in Napa. (Note the state bird in the background.)

This is one of a number of Sage species in the garden.  I liked this one
because of the interesting form of the spent flowers.
I can image this having an impact all through the summer and fall.

If you are in the Napa Valley area I highly recommend a visit to the Martha Walker Garden for an overview of many native California plants grouped according to their natural habitats.