Invasives

 

The blue circle surrounds one of the worst invasive plants in North America, Celastrus orbiculatus, commonly called Asian or Oriental Bittersweet. It can destroy the crucial habitat zone at the edge of woodlands, where native shrubs and wildflowers typically gain a toehold outside the shade of the deep woods, and where many species of animals live dependent on this mini-environment. Bittersweet grows rapidly, girdling trees as it climbs, often killing them. Its roots outcompete everything nearby, and its shade prevents seeds of other plants from sprouting.

The berries are eaten and spread by animals, and by humans attracted to their crafting potential. Since crafters are nice people, we can fairly assume they only perpetuate this vine from a lack of knowledge. Wherever you see Invasive Bittersweet, remove it.

I have another patch under my hornbeam, that I’m wearing down with constant clipping, but it still tries to sprout. As will often be the case, this one’s roots are too deep and extensive to dig up. The technique for that is monitoring, and starving the vine by removing all green parts. 

The lime circle shows my garden’s worst weed, Wintercreeper Euonymus (Euonymus fortunei). This too makes berries attractive to birds, threads itself all over the place, and sprouts like crazy in the flower beds.

The yellow circle shows a Callery pear. Even with the parent cut down, I will have to get rid of these for a long time. And for proof of how active birds are in delivering seeds, in this same little spot under the oak (no more than a foot in diameter), you can see American Holly, poison ivy, wild grapevine, and Virginia Creeper.

 

If you’re digging volunteer plants from your beds or lawn, and they come up in company with grasses and weeds, here’s a tip. Fill a shallow container with water, and soak the roots until you can tease out just the ones you want. This also helps with badly potbound plants from the nursery.

Unfortunately, that nice-looking erigeron (center left) got dug up by a critter after I planted it, and I didn’t see in time to keep the roots from drying out. Raccoons this time of year are the culprits for many gardeners. They are looking for beetle grubs, to snack on them before they turn into less tasty adults.

A design tip… (A neighborhood cat snuck herself into this photo.) When you’d like a rock feature, but can’t lift and place anything large and heavy, buy some concrete flagstone pavers, at Lowe’s (where I bought these), or any garden center that carries them. Then stack them in an irregular pillar, and top with garden art or a birdbath. 

You might not believe it, but these are hostas. This tiny variety is called Munchkin Fire. The dark heuchera is one I grew from seed, and the chartreuse and burgundy heucherella is named Solar Eclipse.

Finally, here’s a simple and great combo for small hanging baskets like this pair. The golden flower is a Supertunia called “Honey”, that starts chartreuse, as you can see upper right, and matures yellow-gold. The other plant is a tomato-red, black-leaved wax begonia—and if you’ve been a big spender this season, these are very inexpensive. 

Weather, and a Disappointed Woodpecker

 

Through April our weather came in a pattern, of warm, bright days early on, then midweek below freezing. I still planted out my perennials, which can take temperatures in the 20s, but had to keep trucking the annuals, and a new hydrangea, out and back inside the garage. (Hydrangeas are basically hardy, but their big leaves can’t take frost.)

Below is a picture of some interesting light, shining under a block of cloud, very dark.

All during earliest spring, a red-bellied woodpecker was making a nest hole. I saw him on the trunk of my sugar maple drilling away. And cleverly, he had chosen a spot just under a shelf mushroom, so the opening was almost impossible to see. But somehow after all his labor a pair of starlings moved in. The woodpecker has been going up and down and calling—I don’t know if he’s harassing them to get his own back.

What do we do about starlings? Nothing. I mentioned in another post that starlings are the best natural answer to Japanese beetles; they love to eat the grubs out of the lawn, and will also eat the adults, so on the whole it’s good to have them. Not every invasive species helps eradicate another one. The trouble, for the woodpeckers, is shrinkage of habitat. We would do better these days to stop thinking of habitat as “out there”, and recognize that a lot of what is left for plants and animals to exist in, constitutes human habitat. Humans dominate three types of environment: urban, suburban, and rural. Species that are well adapted to live in human habitats outcompete wild ones that live among us for lack of choice.

Common woodpeckers have made inroads in our world, but they need “snags”, dead boles of trees, to craft their holes. Most human spaces don’t preserve dead trees, because of the hazard of falling limbs. Woodpeckers among us have to compete with starlings, but even in the wild they can’t always avoid their nests being stolen, by squirrels, among others.

In short, more woodlands, and more connected woodlands, should be our goal, rather than motion sensors, firecrackers, and other ideas people have had for scaring off starlings.

 

 

Here’s the way I’ve got the dripline area under the roof at the back of my house improved. Pea gravel is pretty cheap, and looks good for pathmaking. Year to year, you will have to top it up, but in a sheltered, compacted area like this it lasts longer. Worms have a lot to do with the sinking into earth of gravel. The blocks against the garage wall are for cactus and agave.

 

The stick fence defines this bed and makes a little habitat for garter snakes, salamanders, moles. I haven’t seen any garter snakes, but I hope I have one or two! This is a shade-to-sun bed, where I have heuchera at the edges, moving into some lupine and the only delphinium I have that came up from the seed I planted. And you can see the lilies with some deer baffling to keep them uneaten.

 

More Plants on the Way

 

My cats Ed and Chester get to go outdoors once a day, on their leash. This is a huge excitement for them, and both guys run around the kitchen begging, until I’m finished with lunch and coffee, and the time comes. They’re a classic pair of brothers, Chester big and easy-going, Ed small and full of mighty schemes—so Ed gets his treat first, since Chester can wait and he can’t.

The worms are waking up now, and the moles in the garden have been rooting just under the leaves. Even a human can watch their tracks and hear them rustle.

The other day Ed pawed at one until he managed to extract it, and pick it up in his mouth for a second. Then he dropped it, and we both saw an amazing thing. The mole leaped off the ground to escape, went gliding down an incline (using loose skin to soar like a squirrel, I have to assume), for a distance of 15 feet or more. As soon as it hit the ground, it burrowed in. Ed spent a good while trying to recover his prey where last seen, but the fun ended with being picked up and put indoors, as always.

The first picture above shows my heucheras, started in the fall from seed, now full-size plants. I couldn’t guess anything about their progress, because the whole idea was an experiment. The best gauge of when hardy perennials (whose foliage can take temperatures below freezing on occasional nights) can be planted, is when their counterparts in the garden have put up strong growth. These new heucheras can go in the ground in April.

Another group that have got too large are the verbascums, from seed I collected from Southern Charm, a pretty peachy variety. They took off right away, while most perennials take a few weeks to germinate. But my garden verbascums have a good rosette already, so my new ones will soon be hardened off enough to plant.

The second photo shows the leggy impatiens and coleus, also alternanthera, from a winter spent on shelves by the patio door. I chopped them this week, to make two flats of new ones out of rooted cuttings. 

The third photo shows some charming spotted trilliums, five out of six of which I’ve found, sprouted from bulbs I planted last fall.

 

 

Little Finds

 

Above are some volunteers, seeded from garden fixtures, or annuals I grew last year. 

The petunia sprouted up in one of the pots I brought in from the patio. It stayed small for a long time, by the drafty patio door, and even struggled when I took it up to a windowsill and overwatered it. I wasn’t sure yet what plant it was. Finally, it got to be time for seed-starting, and putting up the lights and shelves. Once the petunia was warm and pampered, it took off. I usually buy petunia seeds in watercolor patterns, that have the pretty veins. This one looks true-to-type.

In the lower half of the second picture, you can see an impatien that seeded itself, and had picked up genes from both the red and pink ones. It’s producing a Rembrandt tulip effect, with marbleized streaks of color, so that each flower is different. But the overall effect is a coral.

The third picture is of hellebore seedlings. Seemingly, every seed that dropped last year germinated. I have hundreds of them, and literally removed more than a hundred to start in pots. I don’t know what I’ll do with them all, but I can see lining paths with them. The deer don’t bother them, and they bloom in winter, so a little hellebore hedge ought to be a good idea.

 

 

The Time Is Now

Photo of springtime flowers in circular planters
Photo of emerging crocus

 

A few cheerful pictures from my old garden. I’d forgotten how nicely the trout lilies (Erythronium) spread themselves. I haven’t grown them for years.

And that is my theme today. As I said in an earlier post, I had two trees cut down, a dead ash and a Bradford pear. I have space now to add new trees, and I’ve ordered several shrubs, mostly native to the midwestern U.S. Here are the ones I’m adding: Red-twig Dogwood, Blue lacecap Hydrangea, Smooth Sumac, Elderberry, Nannyberry (viburnum), Clethra, Blueberry, Aralia, Ilicium, a climbing rose called Fruity Petals, and an arborvitae called Tater Tot.

Of trees, I’m planting two apples. I had an apple tree in my old garden. I didn’t spray, so the apples were scabby and coddled (bored by the larvae of the coddling moth), and attacked by apple maggots. But they were usable, if peeled and cut free of brown spots. I put bags of apple chunks away in the freezer, to make pies and cobblers with.

The tree was a Golden Delicious. The flavor of home grown apples is always above comparison to store bought, although store bought have improved a lot in the 21st century. Golden Delicious used to be sold at the grocery, but I feel like I haven’t seen them for years. Anyway, 2022 is a fine year to plant those things that require waiting for. If you’ve been wanting fruit trees, or blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, grapevines, whatever, it won’t help to put off planting them. You’ll only wait that many more years for a harvest.

Also, slow-starting perennials with worthwhile flowers, like peonies, or plants that naturalize and look beautiful in swaths, like Virginia Bluebells, will only get to their high point if you give them a start. Also, and most imperative, your habitat project, if you’ve been planning one.

Our world has had tough times, and the future is uncertain. In the garden at least, it’s time to get the ball rolling, so you can be pleased with yourself in two or three years, and in the meantime look forward happily.

 

A Pretty Bloom and Some Seed-Starting Info

Photo of blue penstemon-like flower of strobilanthes

 

Strobilanthes dyeriana, the Persian Shield plant common in garden centers in the summer, is native to Myanmar. Some species of Strobilanthes are grown for their flowers, but Persian Shield is used for foliage. One of mine, that I brought to overwinter indoors, has put up dozens of flowerheads. Now some of the blooms are open, and as the photos show, they come out a pretty blue-purple, and with a shape like a penstemon flower, about an inch in length. (The two aren’t related; Strobilanthes is in the Acanthus family, and penstemon is in the plantain family.) 

 

I saw an article last year, in the New York Times where, discussing the collecting and sowing of wildflower seeds, a native plant expert said the Butterfly Weed, Asclepius tuberosa, is difficult to start. I’ve actually had good success with it, so I thought I’d share my method and observations.

I collect a couple of pods, which as you can see gives more than enough seed. I put them in an open container in my garage. When they split naturally, which takes some months, the seeds will puff out from the expanding floss. The floss, once the pods have opened on their own timetable, pulls loose from the seed easily. That makes sense. The seed wants to root itself somewhere, not be carried by the wind forever.

My intuition is that the cold of being in the garage in winter, while it probably matters, is less key to germination than letting the pod reach the stage of splitting, and planting seeds that need no tugging to remove the floss. I sow them like most others, upstairs in my cat-proof room with the lights and shelves, just tucked under the surface of the medium, and I get several new plants going that way.

Late Season Sights

My front-yard azalea seems much happier since I started raking out from under it in the fall. It used to be a brown mess, eaten to pieces by azalea lace bugs. Now there’s not too much damage, though spots where the leaves have been eaten still show. I’ve never seen an azalea produce this much fall color.  

This is the outer wall of my garage. I’ve got several things in the nursery, all cuttings, divisions, or dug-up volunteers. With the exception of the foxgloves, in the square pots, right, that seeded themselves. (If you have a perennial that’s reliable for self-sowing, you can place a pot underneath, topped with potting soil, and the new starts will arrive.) I dug up a couple of good columbines, and divided my goatsbeard. I also have a buttonbush, some Russian sage, Baptisia australis, and some actual mountain laurel cuttings. They should root themselves over winter, enjoying this spot where the warmth from the garage keeps them above a hard freeze. It’s my theory (probably not mine alone) that plants evolved to go dormant in the winter and wake in the spring need weather cues and shouldn’t be wintered indoors. The windowbox in front is just there to provide insulation. 

Some plants, in late fall/early winter, go into a growth phase. The upper photo shows the primroses, putting on lots of new leaves. The lower photo shows a hellebore that seeded itself from the parent plant. Fingers crossed that it will bloom in ’22 and I’ll see what kind of flowers it has. They can only be different from the parent if they’ve reverted in some way, though the parent is a fancy hybrid. But I only have one hellebore, so only someone’s else’s could have provided new genes.

Wishes for next Gardening year

Above, a hart’s tongue fern, and its interesting way of sporing. The second photo shows how the callery pear tree, that had a section of bark cut out by a yellow-bellied sapsucker, has coped by growing the same sort of collar a tree makes when it loses a branch. I had a fledgling sapsucker, in its juvenile plumage, come to my suet feeder this year. So, the callery pear may be an invasive foreign species, but it does provide sustenance for one type of bird.

I cleared away the pile of brush that was stacked under my sweetgum tree, and the area left, that has very rich soil, I plan to build into an understory habitat, with shrubs, small trees, and wildflowers. I’ve planted lots of jumbo daffodils around my path edges. One thing I decided, based on observation, is that daffodils are better planted along borders than inside beds, because their foliage lingers for a month or so after they flower, and takes up good planting space you want to use for other things. Of bulbs, I’m adding crocuses, tulips in containers, anemones, ranunculus, hyacinthoides (bluebells). 

Next year, I want to plant some conifers, a blue spruce for color, and a mugo pine for its nice size, even thought neither are native to Ohio. I do have a small white pine that appeared in the yard by itself. I have several things in pots, that I’m wintering sheltered against the garage wall, cuttings from shrubs and perennials. I may get a genuine mountain laurel, a second button bush, a cypress, and an azalea—the last two started from root layering. I have a few perennials potted, some columbines, hellebores, goatsbeards, and baptisia. I’ve moved several coneflowers from the front bed to new ones I’m building out from the sides of the paths, turning more of the yard into flower gardens, less remaining lawn.

I would like to get a caryopteris, an Itoh peony, and a blue lace-cap hydrangea. For perennials, I need more pulmonaria (I saw a great, inspiring, multi-variegated planting in Garden Gate magazine, that I’d like to emulate with pulmonaria and brunnera). I need more ferns of different types, and I want to add more primrose and some tiarella. I’ve collected seed of several good annuals and native perennials, but of seed to buy, I’d like to get celosia, cosmos, sweet william, viola, blue centauria, more annual phlox. 

 

 

Learned This Year

As mentioned last post, this spring I tried new annuals from seed.

Dahlias worked well; next year I want to grow the pompom style, if I find them in a catalogue.

Geraniums worked well. Most came out the typical red, though I got one hot pink.

Hens and chicks started easily, but stalled at about the quarter-inch size, and not having a good place to nurture such tiny things, I lost them.

Of tuberous begonias, I got two examples, an orange-red, and one too small yet to know what color. They didn’t germinate especially well.

I got nothing from the exotics I tried, although I scattered the remaining ginseng seeds (that stayed dormant in pots) under an oak tree, so possibly a winter will start them. The pitcher plant seeds never germinated.

I discovered it’s hard to tell what certain seedling trees are, and easy to misidentify them. From now on, unless the seedling is a distinctive species, I’ll wait longer and not share a mistaken ID. I was gifted an ironweed this year, but early on posted it as a Joe Pye weed. As abundant as ironweed is in SE Ohio, I’d always wanted one to find its way into my yard, and it never happened until this year. Now I have a few seeds to spread into my meadow area.

Meadows increase insect life, and it doesn’t matter altogether if the plantings are native. Not to say natives aren’t preferable, but where I have mostly ground ivy, I still have seen the smallest butterflies make use of the shelter. They need safe places to roost at night, as well as host plants for their eggs. 

Above, a late display of tender plants, coleus and strobilanthes, looking bright and beautiful. Being in a sheltered bed, they’ll probably keep going until a frost or two. In photo two, my small paw paw tree (not so hard to recognize, both for the big leaves, and their habit of attaching at a 45 degree angle to the stem), notably chewed up at the end of the season, hopefully bringing zebra swallowtails next spring. This reinforces the point that native trees support insects from the time they start growing leaves. You don’t need a park-size specimen to offer nature the benefits of a host tree.