The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

October 3, 2019

Native calico asters are the stars of fall

A fall favorite of mine is our native calico aster. It is found in all eastern US states and Canadian provinces.

Around our local area, I’m seeing more of these plants than usual. The relatively rainy growing season may have something to do with it since they prefer semi-damp environments. More frequent rain means that it will be more likely they will be able to establish themselves in spots where they wouldn’t be found in drier years.

In late summer and early fall, these asters produce a display of 5/8-inch diameter, white flowers with pale yellow centers. You often find them along hiking trails, roadsides and the edge of fields. In my yard they’re popping up around my wood chip pile, an old compost heap and other places that don’t get touched by the mower that often. They range in height from about a foot to over five feet tall depending on their location and how long they have been growing there. They are perennials.

Even though they are not known for their scent, I sometimes can detect a faint sweet smell from mine if I put my nose right up against the flowers.

Calico asters are a good source of late season nectar for pollinators. I’ve noticed many honeybees and other small pollinating insects on mine. As the season progresses, the flower centers change colors as they age adding hues of pink, blue or maroon here and there, giving it a “calico” appearance.

 

The flowers are just starting to change colors.

The flowers are just starting to change colors.

Calico asters can be confused with other similar-looking species. However, if you look closely, you’ll notice the plant has another distinguishing characteristic, its flowers grow from only one side of the stems.

Mammals such as deer and rabbits sometimes browse on the foliage. Some species of butterflies and moths do too.

The stems are strong enough to stay standing through much of the winter adding interesting contrast to otherwise empty expanses of white snow.

These likable flowers make a great addition to a wildflower garden. Plant breeders have worked with them and have come up with improved varieties that are more tame and will look at home in your main flower garden.

Bob

 

September 19, 2019

Migrating monarch butterflies

In past years, goldenrod has received a bad reputation through no fault of its own. For decades, doctors implied their patient’s allergy symptoms were caused by goldenrod pollen when in fact, the actual culprit was ragweed.

The thinking behind it was ragweed flowers are relatively inconspicuous compared to flowers on other plants. Unless you’re really looking for it, ragweed can be hard to find. Goldenrod on the other hand, with its bright yellow flowers can easily be seen by a man on a fast horse. Since goldenrod blooms when ragweed is shedding pollen, it was simply easier to tell allergy sufferers to expect their symptoms to show up when goldenrod is out. Botanists would call this a phenological event. That’s when something goes on with one species of plant that is a signal for something else.

Goldenrod flowers produce large amounts of nectar so is always eagerly anticipated by beekeepers. A large goldenrod bloom can make the difference between no honey crop or a bountiful one. It is one of the last family of plants to remain blooming after others have stopped for the year.

Honeybees are not the only ones that take advantage of the nectar bounty. It’s an important fall food for wild pollinators and butterflies such as monarchs and other species.

Earlier this week we were sitting on our front porch taking a break and noticed some movement in our wildflowers. Looking closer, we could see over twenty adult monarch butterflies feeding on nectar from the goldenrod growing in our yard.

Look closely, how many monarch butterflies can you see?

Look closely, how many monarch butterflies can you see?

Judging by what is happening in and around my stomping grounds, it looks like a good year for monarch butterflies.

The monarch migration is underway and coincides with the fall bird migration (and Michiganders heading back to Florida).

During our break we also watched a kettle of broad-winged hawks circling high in a thermal updraft. They were on their way south to their winter home. While watching the hawks, way up in the air we could see something passing by in and out of our field of vision through the binoculars. After re-focusing and zooming in on them, we discovered they were monarch butterflies!

More monarchs were flying just over the tree tops. It was a lot of fun watching them fly at those different altitudes instead of fluttering around the garden.

Pair of monarch butterflies mating in mid-September

Pair of monarch butterflies mating in mid-September

There are still quite a few caterpillars feeding on our milkweed plants too. We even spotted a pair of mating adults. That seemed late to me. The eggs will have to hatch; the caterpillars have to pupate; and the adults emerge before the weather gets too inclement for them to fly south. I’m not sure if they’ll have enough time to complete their life cycle this fall.

Bob

 

 

September 5, 2019

Be careful not to introduce invasive plants into your garden

 

It’s surprisingly easy to introduce an invasive plant into your garden. It often happens when gardeners share plants with one another.

We have a few examples of that happening in our garden. One of those is Pinellia tripartita a plant native to China and Japan. I’ve heard it called Japanese jack-in-the-pulpit, although there’s another plant goes by the same name. Crow dipper is another name. One website refers to it as green dragon, another calls it voodoo lily. Botanically speaking, it’s closely related to our native jack-in-the-pulpit.

Pinellia is a smallish plant only eight to twelve inches tall and can grow in a variety of environments as long as the soil is well-drained. In our garden it is growing as a weed in full sun. Actually, it is growing in the shade of taller sun-loving plants, it is flourishing under the peonies that we brought in from another garden.

It was present as a persistent weed in that original garden too. We thought we were very careful to remove any trace of the Pinellia when we dug the peonies – apparently that was not the case. Now six years later we are still fighting it.

Unlike the other weeds we’ve accidentally brought in, these we have been able to keep confined to one relatively small spot in our garden.

Pinellia is very well adapted for reproducing itself and is quite competitive growing among other plants. It produces both tubers and numerous seeds, making it doubly sure it will reproduce one way or another.

You can see the small tuber growing on the root. Each piece of plant will have at least one.

You can see the small tuber growing on the root. Each piece of plant will have at least one.

This past week we re-dug the peonies along with the infested soil they were growing in. The peonies we saved and replanted; the soil we bagged up and set it out for disposal in the landfill. Home composting will not destroy all of the seeds or tubers.

In some parts of the country people are planting it as an ornamental, it really is an unusual looking plant. Either it behaves itself in certain climates or it hasn’t become a big enough problem in those areas. People on gardening chat sites marvel how well it spreads without any effort on their part. In some states it is officially classified as a noxious weed.

Even though you can find reputable plant sources online extolling its virtues, I highly recommend against planting it. People say, “I’m a conscientious gardener and would never let it get out of control”. That may be the case but what happens if you move and sell your house, would the new owners be as vigilant?

There is a purple cultivar of Pinellia tripartita that is supposed to be non-invasive, I would never take a chance on that one either.

Bob

 

 

June 6, 2019

Prune off faded lilac flowers now

Filed under: Flowers,Shrubs — bob @ 9:43 am

Many of the lilacs I’ve seen have put on a nice show of flowers this spring. Some could have been even better if their owners had removed the spent flowers last spring.

Not many people are aware that deadheading lilacs is the best thing you can do for them to stimulate better flowers next year.

I don’t fault those who didn’t get around to doing that last year. If you remember, we had a wet spring last year and in the rush to get things planted, lilac deadheading was pushed far down on the list of gardening priorities.

Several years ago I was responsible for a dozen or more lilacs. My helpers and I always took the time to take off those spent blossoms and it really paid off. It’s another one of those delayed gratification things that gardeners always seem to be dealing with.

The ideal time to dead head lilacs is right after blossoming.

The ideal time to dead head lilacs is right after blossoming.

Deadheading is very easy work if you have a sharp pair of pruners. Just snip off the expired flower right at its base and let it fall. It can be time consuming on a large bush but after a bit you fall into a rhythm. To me it’s a satisfying job because you can see the old flowers accumulate on the ground as you work at it.  Plus you are aware that next year’s flowers will will be even showier.

Old lilac flowers never fall off. Instead their panicles turn brown as seeds begin to form making the shrub look messy. So taking off the old flowers also keeps your shrub looking nice and neat. To do the most good, deadhead before the seeds set. I like to do it just as the last of the flower color is left.

Don’t worry too much if can’t get around to snipping off the flowers, your lilac will still do fine without any attention. In addition to its reliable flowering habit, low maintenance is another reason why lilacs have remained popular since colonial times.

Lastly, a light application of fertilizer after deadheading will give your lilac the nutrients it needs to regrow its flowers buds.

Bob

May 30, 2019

Epsom salts for better roses

In order to grow  and flourish all plants, including roses, require basically the same nutrients. One is carbon which is supplied to the plant by carbon dioxide in the air. Another, even though we may not think of it as a nutrient, is water.

In the soil, there are three primary nutrients that plants use in large quantities: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Together the primary nutrients are known as NPK. Good garden soil usually contains much of the required NPK . But sometimes soil is low in one or more of the primary nutrients so we supplement it with either organic or conventional fertilizers.

Secondary nutrients are need but in far less concentrations. They include calcium, magnesium and sulfur.

A long time ago rose growers noticed, even though roses were growing in very fertile soil, sometimes their blossoms still weren’t as nice as roses in other gardens. After much trial and error they found by adding Epsom salts, roses blooms would be noticeably improved. The missing ingredient was magnesium supplied by magnesium sulfate, more commonly known as Epsom salts.

The same Epsom salts you use in your bathwater can be used for your roses.

The same Epsom salts you use in your bathwater can be used for your roses.

There are other sources of magnesium but some of them like dolomitic limestone can raise the soil pH. That would cause problems if your soil pH was already on the high side.

Add Epsom salts at the beginning of the growing season. For each mature rose bush apply a half cup of Epsom salts to the soil around the bush. You can do this either in dry form and water it in or dissolve it in water and apply as a solution. Do this every year to replace any magnesium used by the plant or leached out of the soil.

Bob

 

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