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

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wildflower Wednesday: Dogwood, not just a pretty flower face

It's Wildflower Wednesday and that's when I showcase my favorite wildflowers, but, today, I want to talk about my favorite flowering dogwood, Cornus florida. It plays a major supportive role in my wildflower garden all year long, as well as being a lovely Spring showoff!
Flowering dogwood is the most popular understory tree in my part of the gardening world! I have several in my front garden and my favorite grows in the shade of a Bur oak and Shagbark hickories. It has the most appealing and graceful tiered and horizontal branching and the lower limbs tickle the Golden ragwort and Mayapples growing beneath it.
I love how the lower branches brush the woodland floor
It's that graceful look that most of us want from our dogwood trees and can only get it if we leave those lower branches alone. Too often they're sited in the middle of the lawn and all the lower branches are removed for easy mowing. Leave those branches alone and let them drape across the lawn.

No scratch that! The tree would be happier to not be in the middle of a lawn. Instead, plant them in the shade of a taller canopy tree to give them the dappled light they prefer; let those lower limbs alone; smother the lawn with newspapers covered with decomposing leaves (or pinestraw). Then plant spring ephemerals and other shade loving wildflowers.
 Voila, you have a woodland wildflower garden. All from one understory tree!

Understory trees like Cornus florida  have excellent ecological value.

  • they provide for pollinators (bees, flies, butterflies and beetles)
  • the fall drupes feed birds (Tufted Titmouse, cardinals, robins, Eastern bluebird, Mockingbird and woodpeckers) and mammals (raccoons, white-footed mouse, chipmunks, squirrels)
  • they shade and protect spring ephemerals
  • they provide shelter/cover for birds year round
  • they provide structure to the garden
  • they help create a healthy and diverse ecosystem
  • they're pleasing to humans
A flowering tree that provides shade for wildflowers, and cover and food for critters is certainly way more than a pretty flower face.



Commonly known as a flowering dogwood
Cornaceae family
Eastern North America from Massachusetts to Ontario and Michigan, south to eastern Texas and Mexico, and east to central Florida. 
Zone: 5 to 9
Understory tree 15.00 to 30.00 feet by 15.00 to 30.00 feet
April to May bloom
It does best with partial shade in the south and full sun in the north. 
Moist well drained soil
Showy spring flowering bracts that attract insects and butterflies
Good Fall leaf color with showy red fruits/drupes that attract birds
Winter interest~tiered branches and attractive bark
Year round shelter for birds
Can tolerate clay soil and deer do not browse mine

Disease Issues: Might be subject to anthracnose disease if grown with high humidity, poor air circulation, and heavy shade. Middle and West Tennessee tend to be warmer and drier and are less affected by dogwood anthracnose than the Eastern half of the state.

Welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Please add your url to Mr Linky and leave a comment.

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.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Bugs, they make a garden good!

 It's Golden Ragwort time in the garden.

Each spring when Packera aurea blooms there are always a few stalks that are covered with aphids! I don't worry about a few aphids since the flowers never seem to decline because of them. (The Happy Flower Trinity)

I didn't always feel that way when I saw aphids sucking the juices out of a plant! Way back when I was less experienced about the role of insects in the garden, I would grab the hose and spray them to oblivion. Now, I recognize them as an important food for predator bugs. In fact, aphids are a primary food source for predator bugs.
 the soft bodied aphids used to creep me out
Why does that matter? We want bugs in our gardens, all kinds of bugs, and we need beneficial bugs.  Beneficial bugs help keep our gardens healthy and in balance. They're "good bugs" and they eat many "bad bugs" like mites, caterpillars, of course aphids and other creepy sucking and plant-consuming bugs. Sure, they occasionally eat a good bug, but, that's all part of the cycle of life in a garden.

Assassin bug waiting on a coreopsis
Some of the "good bugs" include lacewings, lady beetles, minute pirate bug, soldier bugs, assassin bugs, braconid wasps, tachinid flies, flower flies and aphid mites.
Sweet alyssum is wonderful in containers placed among native plants
I have found that dill, parsley, catnip, goldenrod, hydrangea, daisies, yarrow, coreopsis and sweet alyssum are excellent at attracting beneficial bugs to the garden. Plant them in your native plant borders, in your woodland gardens, and, in your vegetable gardens. They also look great in containers
Adult hover fly on Gaura. The larva are known to eat aphids
A healthy garden is chock full of all kinds of bugs/insects and other critters.
Eastern Bluebirds eat mostly insects, but they have been observed eating small amphibians

Did you know, that if you want birds to live in your garden, you absolutely must have a garden that is hospitable to bugs! I love feeding the birds and keep a feeder up all year long. The birds are entertaining to watch and I feel like I am giving the smaller birds a fighting chance to survive during a cold winter. But, when nesting time arrives, seed is not enough. They need insects to feed their young! According to Doug Tallamy, entomology and wildlife ecology professor at the University of Delaware, a single pair of breeding chickadees must find as many as 6000 caterpillars to rear one clutch of young.

That's a lot of bugs and that's just for one bird family in a garden.

What's a gardener to do:

Plant more natives. Include trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. (Winter annuals in a native garden)

Plant pollen and nectar rich non-natives to attract beneficials and other insects. (Gardening for wildlife)

Stay away from native plant hybrids and cultivars that are double flowered. They are sterile and have no pollen or nectar for insects and no seeds for the birds. If possible plant “true open-pollinated native wildflowers”.

Don't be in a rush to clean up the fall garden. Leave plant stalks and seed heads standing all winter. Leave those fallen leaves or as many as you can tolerate! Insects over winter in the fallen and decaying leaves.

Build habitats that attract toads.

Dig a pond and wait for the damsel flies and dragonflies to arrive. They will eat mosquitoes which make gardening in the summer a nightmare.

Stack fallen brush, cut tree limbs, broken pots for ground beetles. Ground beetles are excellent at eating "bad bugs'. They're also good bird, toad and small critter food.

Rethink what you consider a pest. Spiders are important predators and bird food!

Learn to tolerate damaged plants. Imperfection is the new perfect.

If a plant shows signs of aphid distress~twisted, curled or swollen leaves or stems spray with water
Of course, you know what comes next!

Never, ever, ever, ever, ever use pesticides/insecticides in your garden. I do mean never! Your pollinators, beneficial insects, spiders and insect eating birds will thank you by visiting and setting up house in your garden.


In case you wondered about Golden Ragwort:

The small daisy like golden flowers on tall stems are chock full of pollen and nectar for small bees, flies and butterflies. There are no cultivars of this beauty, the straight species is perfect! (Pollinators and their friends)

Family: Asteraceae
Native Range: Eastern North America to Texas
Zone: 3 to 8
Height: 0.50 to 2.50 feet Spread: 0.50 to 1.50 feet
Bloom Time: April Bloom
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Pollinators: Small bees and butterflies

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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