Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Must have fall blooming supportive players for my wildlife friendly garden

Dear friends,

The plants in my garden need to be more than just pretty faces. These three non-natives provide much needed nectar and/or pollen in mid/late fall when many native plants have gone to seed. My garden continues to be mostly native, but I believe that adding pollen and nectar rich non-natives enhances a pollinator habitat. Our growing season is long; bees that are provisioning their nests for the winter and migrating butterflies and hummingbirds need the extra blooms that they bring to the garden.

They also have very pretty faces.


Of course, you all know that the very best thing you can do for bees and other pollinators is to never, ever, ever, ever use pesticides! 

 For long bloom and a fantastic pollinator buffet, plant African Blue Basil. 
 It's a sensory treat of pretty flowers, buzzing bees and fragrance all summer long.

It's a tender perennial and blooms non-stop...Well, until a freeze stops it. It's not an easy plant to find, but, worth the trouble to locate it.
Ocimum kilimandscharicum x basilicum 'Dark Opal'
 The leaves of African blue basil are purple when young and folks claim that it makes a wonderful pesto! I'll never know because I am growing this beauty for the bees.
Oh my gosh, is this ever a buffet for bees of all sizes.

Family: Lamiaceae 
Cultivar: Ocimum kilimandscharicum x basilicum “Dark Opal”
Type: Tender perennial
Hardiness Zone:  9-11
Height: 2 feet in my garden
Spread:  2 feet 
Color:  Purple leaves. Whitish/pinkish flowers
Bloom: non-stop summer until frost
Comments: It's sterile and never sets seed, so I will take cuttings and hope they make it through the winter. It's taller than most basil plants and if that bothers you, pinch the tips and it will remain shorter and fuller. This should be in every pollinator garden...It's blooming now and has been for months.

Another must have for my garden is the late blooming Pineapple sage.

This fabulous native of South America blooms in early fall just when the garden needs a jolt of delicious red and the hummers moving south need nectar to fuel their flight. 
The Cloudless Sulphur, Phoebis sennae nectaring on Salvia elegans
Salvia elegans is another culinary plant that I haven't brought to the table! I can't imagine picking the flowers (even if they are said to be tasty in a salad) after waiting all summer for them to bloom. Once they bloom the Cloudless Sulphurs are all over them. That's one reason they're in my garden. The other one is that they are attractive to hummingbirds and are blooming when they migrate through middle Tennessee.
I think of Pineapple sage as a hummingbird and butterfly plant and was surprised to see this bee nectaring.
Pineapple sage are fast growing, but slow to bloom. I tuck them into the Susans Bed and patiently wait for the fall show. The 3 inch plants I planted in spring are 3 foot tall and 2 foot wide with bright green leaves that are a foil for the scarlet red flowers. In a sunnier garden with moist soil they can reach sub-shrub size. This season there have been butterfly, hummers and bees nectaring on the scarlet blooms.
Critters beware! A Crab spider is lurking.
Family: Lamiaceae
Genus/species: Salvia elegans
Common Name: pineapple sage
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Zone zones 8 to 10
Height: 3.00 to 4.00 feet
Spread: 2.00 to 3.00 feet
Bloom Time: August to October
Color: Red
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Comments: An easy peasy plant for middle south and southern gardens. Folks gardening further north might have to move it inside to appreciate the bloom. They may bloom too late for hummers, but, you can enjoy the beauty and add the flowers to your salads. I have been known to cover them when a frost is forecast and warm weather is expected to return.  
Attracts: Hummingbirds, Butterflies and bees

Salvia x 'Mystic Spires' is a third must have supportive player for my wildlife friendly garden.
Bombus pennsylvanicus is my guess, but it is only a guess!
This is a stunning blue flower that looked wonderful with the Golden Asters that bloomed in September. I don't plant this in the garden, but into containers that I strategically place in the garden.  The nectar rich flowers attract a variety of pollinators including hummingbirds, butterflies, and a variety of bees, but especially bumblebees in my garden.

A month of 90+ weather didn't stop 'Mystic Spires' from flowering. I expect it to flower until we have a freeze. You can be sure I will cover this one if warm weather is forecast to follow a freeze or frost!  I am hoping it will overwinter, because this is a fantastic plant for a critter friendly garden. 

Family: Lamiaceae
Salvia x 'Mystic Spires'
No common name
Parentage: (S. longispicata and S. farinacea)
Type: Perennial in zones 7b to 10b
Height 3 ft. to 6 ft.
Spread 1 ft. to 3 ft.
Light Full Sun
Bloom: Early Summer, Late Summer, Summer
Color: Deep blue, incredibly showy
Comments: Is happy in a container. Might overwinter if winter drainage is good in  Zone 7. If it looks scraggly or needs to be refreshed, just cut it back, more blooms will follow.
Wildlife: Attracts Butterflies, Bees,  Hummingbirds

PS  Now make this garden blogger smile and pop over to May Dreams Gardens, where our delightful hostess, Carol, has set up the Mr Linky magic carpet ride to take you to more Bloom Day posts than you can imagine.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Wildflower Wednesday: Desmodium paniculatum

Panicledleaf Tick trefoil is a sprawling member of the pea family that is native to most of Eastern North America. It's truly a plant of the woodlands or wilder areas in our gardens. Somehow, it has comfortably established itself in my garden....It's especially happy in the wayback Garden of Benign Neglect. Honestly, it's taken awhile for me to open my heart to them, but, after a half dozen years, we are getting along fine.

©David J White

I can't promise you that this dainty flower will wow your human garden visitors, but it will make the many critters that live in or visit your garden happy.

It's a host plant for one of the sweetest little butterflies to visit our gardens...the Eastern Tailed Blue. But that's not all.  According to Illinois Wildflowers: Bumbles, and other long tongued bees like leaf-cutting bees and long-horned bees feed on the pollen. The caterpillars of Hoary Edge skipper, Silver-Spotted Skipper, Southern Cloudywing skipper and Northern Cloudywing skipper feed on the leaves and the caterpillars of the Gray Hairstreak butterfly eat the flowers and developing seedpods. Other insects include: many kinds of beetles, and some species of thrips, aphids, moth caterpillars, and stinkbugs. The seeds are eaten by some upland gamebirds (Bobwhite Quail, Wild Turkey) and small rodents (White-Footed Mouse, Deer Mouse), while the foliage is readily eaten by White-Tailed Deer and other hoofed mammalian herbivores. The Cottontail Rabbit also consumes the foliage. 
Photo ©David G Smith
Even if you've never noticed the sprawling plant covered with dainty pink flowers, I bet you've spent time pulling it or another Desmodium's velcro seeds off your socks and pants after a hike in the woods or through a field.

If you want seeds, just let me know! I've already gotten a good head start on collecting them.
©David J White
I look forward to the dainty blooms at the end of the summer. Dainty is the operative word; the flowers are about 1/4 of an inch and they bloom in a panicle at the end of the stalk. They open bottom to top and it's not unusual to have buds, blooms and seedpods all at once. Desmodium paniculatum is a pioneer plant, which accounts for the abundance of seeds it produces. If you have one plant, then you'll soon have more.

The origin of the word Desmodium is Greek and means "long branch or chain", which makes perfect sense when you look at the fruit/pod. Those sticky seedpods (loments) cling to the fur of animals and the clothing of humans and are carried far from the parent plant. I am pretty sure that's how they landed in my garden.

I've come to appreciate the masses of tiny flowers, the cool looking seedpods and the enormous wildlife value they bring to my garden. But, would I recommend you add them to your space?

©David J White
I think you need to figure that out for yourselves. I will be glad to supply seeds.

The particulars

Fabaceae (Pea Family)
Range: native to eastern and southern North America
Common Names: Panicled leaf tick trefoil, Narrowleaf tick trefoil 
Duration: Perennial
Bloom Time: Summer
Flower: pink pea like flower about 1/4 inches
Fruit: Pod. Their fruit are loments, meaning each seed is dispersed individually enclosed in its segment. The leaflets of this species have hairs which will slightly cling to clothing or fabric
Height: 24” to 48”
Spacing: 15” to 18”
Light: Full Sun to shade
Habitat - Thickets, dry upland woods, rich woods, ravines, prairies, glades, ridges, moist ground, roadsides, railroads.Woodlands
Soil Moisture: Medium to Dry
USDA Zone: 4a-8b
Wildlife value: See above!
Comments: Panicledleaf Ticktrefoil enriches the soil through nitrogen fixation. Desmodium paniculatum is a pioneer species (first species that grows in an area after a disturbance). So, you're likely to see it in areas that have been cleared by fire, flooding, logging or construction. The roots of Tick Trefoils have been used medicinally in the past by the Houma Indians. It has more
Landscape use: Massed in a native plant garden. Plant with grasses (Panicums, Chasmanthium) for support. It makes a nice ground cover in a wilder area of the garden.

Thoreau wrote in his journals "I can hardly clamber along one of our cliffs in September in search of grapes without getting my clothes covered with Desmodium ticks. Though you were running for your life, they would have time to catch and cling to you -- often the whole row of pods, like a piece of a very narrow saw blade with four or five great teeth. They will even fasten to your hand. They cling by the same instinct as babes to the mother’s breast, craving a virgin soil -- eager to descry new lands and seek their fortune in foreign parts; they steal a passage somewhere aboard of you, knowing that you will not put back into the same port."

 Wildflower Wednesday is about sharing wildflowers all over this great big beautiful world. It doesn't matter if we sometimes show the same plants, how they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. I hope you join the celebration...It's always the fourth Wednesday of the month! Add your link and comment below!

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

Friday, September 22, 2017

What's wrong with Goldenrod?

Absolutely nothing! 
Goldenrods put on a beautiful flower show in early autumn and any insect that needs pollen and nectar is sure to be found visiting. That's why I refer to them as landing pads of deliciousness.

Let's get the objections over with first! 

Goldenrods have a bad reputation for two reasons.

*They have been misidentified as the cause of hayfever suffering. They are not responsible for any allergy symptoms you or I are having this fall. The tiny grains of wind blown pollen from ragweed is the culprit. Goldenrod is insect pollinated and the pollen grains are too big to be blown about. Pass that along please!

*They can be aggressive spreaders. Goldenrods are rugged and adaptable. They grow were many wildflowers cannot survive and they can spread quickly where there is no other native plant competition. Those that have been problematic propagate by a rhizomatous/spreading root system that can quickly take over a small garden. If you want to plant them, but fear their nature, look for clump forming cultivated beauties like  Solidago 'Solar Cascade', Solidago caesia/Bluestem Goldenrod, Solidago odora, Solidago rugosa 'Fireworks'.  My favorite clump former for shade is Solidago flexicaulis/Zigzag Goldenrod.

Zigzag Goldenrod
Long time readers know I have a love affair with rough and tumble, take care of themselves, colonizing wildflowers. If you stop by my garden today, you'll see Tall goldenrod/Solidago altissima duking it out with New England ex-aster/Symphyotrichum novae-angliae in the sunnier parts of the garden.
Next to oak trees, goldenrods may be the best wildflower for hundreds of insects
You'll see pollinators, especially bumbles, dancing from aster to aster, goldenrod to goldenrod and back to their nests. All day long.
Lichen moth

Although, it was the bumbles that led me to wildflowers and gardening for wildlife; it is the hundreds of other critters that visit and live in my garden that keep me committed to planting native wildflowers. Even when those flowers are thuggish! 
Ambush bug waiting for unsuspecting critters
Bumbles, song birds, spiders, flies, beetles, hoverflies, moths, butterfly and ambush bugs will always have Goldenrods to feed on at Clay and Limestone. Our native bees rely heavily on collected pollen and nectar found in Goldenrods to provide food for the winter brood's survival. Migrating butterflies stop by for the nectar to help them on their long flight and the seeds are needed by chickadees, finches and pine siskins during the winter.

Goldenrods don't scare me! I hope that I've been able to show you that there's much more good than bad in these golden beauties that light up our fall gardens and provide for critters.

PS If you want to provide for fall pollinators you must plant landing pads of deliciousness like Goldenrods and you must never, ever, ever, ever, ever use pesticides in your garden. I mean never!

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


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