Saturday, December 19, 2020

2020 Year in Review

Seems like so many of my blog posts are about removing invasive species.  That is a big part of gardening and landscaping, editing out the things that don’t belong.  That said, the more exciting aspect of gardening is putting in new plants and features and celebrating new milestones.  With that in mind let’s take a look back on new things that I’ve encountered/undertaken in my landscape.

This past year I have been trying to be smarter about where I placed plants.  I’m trying to make the hard choice not to buy something if I don’t have the right conditions, or enough space, for it.  An example is wavy hair grass, Deschampsia flexulosa.  While tolerant of shade I placed on the edge of a shrub border along with some mountain mint.  I was quickly overgrown and did not make it through the season.  This year I planted it in open shade in a dry location where there won’t be much competition.    

I did start some native perennials from seed this past year.  I had good results with downy woodmint, Blephilia ciliata, both in terms of germination and potting up and planting out.  It seems to be doing better in open shade in average to dry soils. This is another candidate as a vinca replacement.  I also had good results germinating and potting up both fireweed, Chamaenerion angustifolium, and pearly everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea.  Neither of these did well after being potted up or when planted in the garden.  They seemed to have a problem with the soil being too moist, or not draining fast enough. 

A few years back I planted a ring of red osier dogwoods, Cornus sericea, around an existing clump of forsythias with the goal of eventually removing the forsythias as the dogwood got established. The dogwoods on the sunnier, drier side of the forsythias have died off.  I replaced one of these with a gray dogwood, C. racemosa, which is more tolerant of dry soils. Other woody plants added were a shadbush, Amelanchier canadensis, and a choke cherry, Prunus virginiana.  I had planted some these bare root in the past and had limited success.  This time I got larger, potted specimens and I planted them where they would get better light.

I got an American beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, and put it in the same area as some of the Asian species, purple beautyberry, C. dichotoma, which are starting to spread more than I’d like.  As the native shrub matures I’ll pull out the exotic species.  We are located just north of its native range, but with global warming, it will probably do all right here.

American beautyberry, at the top, has larger, more
oval leaves than purple beautyberry (below).

In the spring I removed a sourwood tree that never developed due to being pot bound, even after over 7 years in the ground.  I replaced it with a ‘Wintered’ winterberry holly.  I think the medium-sized shrub will be in better scale for the location, the access path between our house and garage.  I already have a couple of male winterberries in the area, so I should be getting berries to benefit our overwintering birds.

I got a pair of Hydrangea arborescens ‘Haas Halo’, a lacecap form of smooth hydrangea having many more fertile flowers than the very popular mophead cultivar ‘Annabelle’.  I expect these to be better for the pollinators.  They arrived late in the year and I put them in the ground as soon as I could.  I will need to mulch them soon to help them survive their first winter here.

I would like to get all the vinca out of this area and replace
 it with suitable Mid-Atlantic native species.  The new plantings
went in on the right edge.  The foreground is mostly established
Heuchera and Tiarella.

My big ‘new’ project for 2020 was to get busy removing a large bed of Vinca minor from under some evergreens.  I am taking a matrix approach of adding a variety of native plants, compatible with dry shade and seeing what is successful.  Here’s a list everything in the mix: Aquilegia canadense, Eurybia macrophylla (seed grown), Geranium maculatum, Heuchera villosa, Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’, Solidago flexicalis, Tiarella cv., and Viola labradorica.  Two fine bladed evergreen grass-like species are also included: Carex eburnea and Deschampsia flexicaulis.  The violet is looking particularly good in the open right now in December.  We’ll see this spring how suited these are to this dry, partly shady location.

This past spring I planted a number of small trees in the woods, particularly red maples, which I had potted up and held over the winter. I put them in areas where I had killed some mature tree of heaven, Ailanthus altissima, to get a head start on reforestation.   Being somewhat remote these trees did not get a lot of aftercare.  Not surprisingly, most did not survive.  Recently I saw this story about success of natural succession.  They observed that trees that came up from the existing seed bank performed better than ones that were planted.  Maybe adding trees to the already forested areas is more work than it’s worth, especially when there are already naturally occurring seedlings present.  On my last survey of the area I noticed a number of seedlings of hackberries, maples, oaks and tulip trees.

I’m starting to get fruits on some of the native trees that I planted.  I got my first persimmons this year.  I planted this tree about 7 years ago.  I also got some berries formed on the fringetrees, Chionanthus virginicus, but these didn’t stay on the tree long enough to ripen.  I also go some fruit on my 4 year old sassafras.

My first crop of persimmons.  Persimmons are not ready
to be picked until they are soft and starting to wrinkle.  These are ready!

The dark blue sassafras berry has already fallen away leaving
the bright red pedicel.  This effect should be more striking
when the tree has more than two berries.

Freshly planted obedient plant. 
I hope that it will spread here
and help displace the
Japanese stiltgrass.
On the invasive species front I’m making good progress against Japanese stiltgrass using a variety of methods.  The use of pre-emergent herbicides in early spring has been particularly helpful.  I also saw less hairy cress, Arabis hirsuta, in the lawn.  This reduction was probably a combination of pre-emergent treatments and early season mowing to remove flowers before seeds ripen.  By reducing the amount of annual weeds, the lawn is able to knit together more tightly.  This makes it harder for new weeds to get established.  I’ve also planted some obedient plant, Physostegia virginiana, an aggressive native species see how it does against stiltgrass in a shrub border.

For garlic mustard I am including a fall treatment with glyphosate, after most other plants have lost their leaves.  I did this in mid-winter 2020 and it seemed to help reduce the number of mature plants in the spring.

So now that the 2020 growing season is about to close, it’s time to start thinking about what to do in 2021.