As I write this column, we are well into the second week of November. Nowadays when my wife and I walk outside and scan our gardens, it is obvious that most of the wild and ornamental nectar plants that fed untold numbers of wild pollinators this fall are no longer blooming. Yet, in spite of this, a variety of insects is still hard at work collecting nectar and/or pollen. Fortunately, for them, they can still find food in some plants that my wife and I have grown in containers on our deck. These plants are now the primary source of food for a wide variety of pollinators.
Although some of the plants we grew on our deck have been nipped by a frost a couple of weeks ago, four species of plants are still blooming and attracting most the of butterflies, carpenter bees, bumblebees and other pollinators we are now seeing.
Globe amaranth has been blooming since last summer. Currently their blooms seem to be favored by checkered skippers, fiery skippers, whirlabouts, dun skippers, common buckeyes, and fiery skippers. Occasionally a cloudless sulphur or gulf fritillary we land on the plants’ colorful globe-shaped blooms. Bumblebees also visit the plants.
A single Mexican sunflower is still producing blooms that are being visited by bees and butterflies. It survived the frost because it was growing close to the house.
With each passing day, our scarlet sage plants are producing fewer new blossoms. Nevertheless, there are still enough red blossoms to attract their share of the cloudless sulphurs, sleepy oranges, and gulf fritillaries pollinators that are still hanging on in our yard.
However, beyond a shadow of a doubt, pineapple sage is the star of the show. Our pineapple sage plants are still blooming in profusion. A day ago, I saw seven cloudless sulfurs and a couple of gulf fritillaries nectaring at the same time at a blossoms produced by scarlet sage plants growing in a single large container. Bumblebees and a few carpenter bees are still feeding on the blossoms too.
We hope our plants continue to bloom for some time to come. However, we know eventually we will be left with lots of fond memories of the beauty and pollinators the plants have brought us this year.
After they cease blooming, we plan on leaving the plants in place, as we know the seeds they have produced will be eaten by cardinals, American goldfinches, house finches and others well into the winter.
We are already making plans for next year. We want to continue expanding the number and variety of autumn bloomers.
If we are successful, I am certain our backyard pollinators and birds will benefit from our efforts.
NOTE: If you would like more information regarding pineapple sage, go to the SEARCH feature on the blog and type in, Pineapple Sage Is Great For Late Season Pollinators And More. When you hit the return key, this archived blog will appear on your screen.
I am sure you are familiar with the fairy tale that tells the story of how an ugly duckling magically turned into a beautiful swan. While my wife and I don’t have any swans swimming around the Johnson Homestead, each year we witness the similar transformation of a native plant known as Georgia mint from what many would call a nondescript weed into a beautiful wild flower. Let me explain.
If you visited our yard in early summer, you might wonder why we would find room for what some folks might think is an ugly weed to grow in our yard. However if you returned anytime from late summer well into October you would discover the reason why we are so fond of it.
At this time of the year, countless pale lavender-white flowers literally blanket our stand of Georgia mint. Admittedly these blossoms are small, however, what they lack in size they more than make in delicate beauty.
In our neck of the woods, the blooming period for Georgia mint extends for weeks. In fact, the plants are still in full bloom as I write this blog. In comparison, most of our most valued pollinator plants have either ceased blooming or will soon do so. As a result, with each passing day bees (particularly small bumblebees), and butterflies are faced with an increasing shortage of flowers. Fortunately, for them, in our yard, Georgia mint serves as a life preserver.
Currently, our Georgia mint is in high demand. Small bumblebees, cloudless sulphurs, sleepy oranges, a wide variety of skippers (e.g. ocolas, fierys, whirlabouts, cloudeds and duns), gulf fritillaries and buckeyes make daily trips to forage on the petite flowers. Although In past years, monarchs have also joined the assemblage of pollinators, we have not seen any this year.
Each year, when Georgia mint becomes the most visited pollinator plant in our yard, we are reminded that anyone that has the desire to help bees, butterflies and other pollinators should make the effort to provide a parade of plants that supplies these flying gems food throughout as much of the year as possible. For us, Georgia mint is one of our most important late season nectar plants.
I am surprised that more Georgians are not familiar with the sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus). Since it bears some of the most fragrant blossoms of any of our native woodland shrubs, you would think that most folks would want it growing in their yard.
The sweetshrub’s blossoms are maroon in color and produce a pleasing aroma that my wife and I are convinced smells like apples. However, some describe the scent as smelling like spicy strawberries. Others inhale the shrub’s pleasing aroma and say it reminds them of a mixture of pineapples and bananas.
Regardless of how you interpret the pleasing odor, the vast majority of us love it. In fact, some people think so highly of it they plant sweetshrubs near their outside doors. This allows them to lean over and take a whiff of the flowers before heading out for the day.
The sweetshrub is also a pollinator plant. Although Sweetshrub blooms generate pollen used by native bees and butterflies, sap beetles are the plant’s main pollinator. However, since sap beetles are small (1.4-inch) and nondescript we often overlook them.
The way in which these beetles pollinate sweetshrub blossoms in a little strange. The fragrant flowers draw the beetles with the scent they emit. Once the beetles land on the blossoms, they crawl down inside the bloom and begin gathering pollen. Here is where this gets odd. When the beetles are ready to leave, they have a difficult time exiting the flower. As such, they often remain there until the flower matures enough for its petals to fold back enough for them to depart. Once they are on the wing, they fly off carrying granules of pollen. When they land on another sweetshrub blossom, they inadvertently pollenate that flower.
Sweetshrub is easy to grow from seed, transplants, and cuttings. While there are cultivars on the market, I have never planted any of them. If you want to be sure you are planting sweetshrubs that produce beautiful maroon blooms, a pleasing apple scent, and pollen relished by pollinators; you cannot go wrong buying plants from reputable nurseries that deal in native plants.
One of the many things I enjoy about blogging is fellow bloggers are often willing to share their wildlife experiences and gardening tips. Recently blogger Heather N. graciously revealed one of her wildlife gardening tips.
Heather wrote that each summer one of the plants that goldfinches are drawn to in her yard is anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum). She went on to say that these beautiful birds are eating anise hyssop seeds right now.
Since I am not familiar with the plant, I decided to do a little research on it. I found that it is native to the northern section of the United States and Canada. However, this perennial herb is widely planted in many parts of the country, including Georgia.
The plant produces blooms that attract a number of pollinators such as butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Its leaves produce a pleasant licorice scent. Its seeds are also consumed by a number of birds, like goldfinches.
If Heather had not taken the time to share her wildlife gardening tip, I might not have ever learned of anise hyssop’s value to wildlife. Now that I am aware of it, I hope to find a place for it in my yard.
For weeks, much of Georgia has been suffering drought conditions. If that was not enough, this past week, temperatures soared above 100ºF, and heat indexes topped out at 122ºF at my Middle Georgia home. When this occurs, it is extremely difficult for pollinators such as butterflies, bees, wasps, beetles, and others to collect enough nectar to meet their needs. One of the reasons for this is it is a struggle for nectar plants to stay alive in our backyards and elsewhere. Even if they are successful stay alive, they often either don’t bloom or produce little nectar. Here is a short list of the plants growing in my backyard that have not been phased by this year’s extreme growing conditions and have done the best job of providing the pollinators with nectar.
Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – This low-growing, hardy perennial bears clusters of white flowers. The pollinators that visit this plant are native bees, butterflies and others.
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) – My wife and I are fond of this plant because it is easy grow, beautiful, its blooms last a long time, and it is a super source of nectar for a variety of insects. Although it is often touted as a good butterfly plant, we have noticed, in our yard, it is more often visited by tiny bees, flies, wasps, and other pollinators.
BUTTERFLY BUSH (Buddleia davidii) – This introduced deciduous shrub a veritable butterfly magnet. This past week I spotted five butterflies on one of our butterfly bushes feeding at the same time. This was notable because it marked the first time I had spotted that many butterflies feeding together this year. From spring into the fall, it consistently draws more butterflies than anything else we grow. The plant feeds butterflies, moths, bumblebees and other pollinators.
Red-hot Poker (Kniphofia) – This large herbaceous perennial sends up an abundance of large spikes topped with clusters of long tubular flowers. We find the blooms are more often visited by hummingbirds than bees and other pollinators.
I hope you will share with me your list of nectar/pollen producing plants that have done well this year.
Recently my wife and I attended THE FLOWER FANTASY AT PINEOLA FARMS located near Fort Valley. The flower show was sponsored by the Magnolia Garden Club. The event was great and the most unusual and fascinating flower show I have ever attended. If the Magnolia Garden Club stages the event next year, prior to the event, I will describe what makes the flower show so different than any others that I have attended. This is a flower show you don’t want to miss.
One of the vendors selling plants at the event was Growing Old Nursery. The relatively new nursery is located between LaGrange and Columbus. While the owners grow and sell a wide variety of plants they specialize in heirloom flowers and vegetables, and native plants.
My wife and I bought a number of plants from them including native azaleas, butterfly weed, touch-me-nots and hollyhocks. I have found it hard to find hollyhocks that produce single flowers. Invariably when I locate hollyhock seeds or plants they are double-flowered varieties. The ruby-throated hummingbird and other pollinators prefer feeding on hollyhocks that display single flowers.
For more information regarding the availability of plants, contact Mary Ann Johnson at (706) 366-6863 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wax myrtle (Morella cerifera) is a native tree/small shrub that produces berries eaten by more than 40 species of birds as well as a number of mammals. Wax myrtle is also a host plant for the jewel-like red-banded hairstreak. The plant also provides birds with nesting sites and escape cover. Unfortunately, many people that plant wax myrtles in hopes the plants will annually bear a bounty of berries are left scratching their heads trying to figure out why their shrubs never produce any berries.
The reason why they end up with barren wax myrtles is due to the fact that wax myrtles are either male or females. According to the Lady Bird Johnson Native Plant Center, often the wax myrtles grown by wholesale nurseries are cloned. If you buy a small wax myrtle full of berries, there is a good chance it was cloned from female plants that were pollinated by male plants growing nearby. Consequently, in future years, unless a male plant is growing in or near your yard, your shrubs will not produce any berries.
With that in mind, if you want to ensure that wax myrtles planted in your yard will produce berries; explain to the folks where you buy your nursery plants that you want to purchase both female and male plants. If they cannot guarantee that you are purchasing both male female plants, shop elsewhere.
You can begin your search for male and female wax myrtles by checking with nurseries that specialize in native plants. If they stock wax myrtles, they are undoubtedly aware of this situation and probably offer both male and female plants. A good place to begin this search for a native plant nursery is to check the list of native plant nurseries listed in the Archive section of this blog.
If you cannot find a source of male wax myrtles there, see if any of your friends and neighbors grow wax myrtles. If they do, most likely they know the sexes of their wax myrtles. Since these shrubs send out lots of suckers, I am sure they will let you dig a few of the suckers sprouting beneath a male plant.
One of the keys to transforming a backyard into a hummingbird haven is providing hummingbirds with an abundance of food throughout the year. One of the plants that is often used to meet this objective is a native vine named trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans). This vine is so favorited by ruby-throated hummingbirds it is often called hummingbird vine. However, like many hummingbird food plants, it requires some care. In the case of the trumpet creeper, this Georgia native needs to be pruned annually; and now is the time to do so.
Trumpet creeper does well on trellises, arbors, and fences. However, since it grows rapidly it should never be planted near a building. To prevent this from happening, trumpet creeper vines need pruned annually. Also, pruning back the vines will stimulate them to produce more nectar-laden flowers.
As such this is one of the chores you need to accomplish before leaves begin to appear. By doing so, you will be enhancing the beauty of your hummingbird haven and help ensure ruby-throated hummingbirds will have an abundance of nectar this year.
There are at least 60 species of salvias. In addition, more than 50 cultivars of these popular plants are also available. There are so many varieties of salvias available it is difficult for Georgia gardeners to decide which are best for their gardens. If you are looking for salvia that blooms late from late summer into fall and provides nectar for hummingbirds, butterflies, native bees and other pollinators, I recommend you plant pineapple sage (Salvia elegans).
This plant is native in Central America. Here in Georgia it is either a tender perennial or annual. While it is susceptible to cold weather, some gardeners report that when mulched it can survive winter temperatures that plummet as low as 5˚F.
One of the things I like about pineapple sage is that it begins blooming late in the summer and will continue producing blooms until the frost ends its growing season. Consequently, in autumn, it is providing nectar when it is often a scarce commodity.
Although ruby-throated hummingbirds have been gone from our yard for weeks, they did nectar at the plants long tubular-shaped blooms before they left. However, the main beneficiaries of its nectar are now cloudless sulphur and sleepy orange butterflies, and native bees.
Over the years, many folks that have been lucky enough to attract wintering hummingbirds have told me that rufous hummingbirds frequent the pineapple sage’s striking red blossoms.
Pineapple sage grows to be 3-4 feet tall and 3-4′ wide. It seems to prosper in spots bathed in both morning and afternoon sunshine. Pineapple sage also needs frequent watering. In addition, they do best in rich, well-drained soil.
The plants are easily propagated from cuttings. Young plants should be transplanted as soon as the threat of frost has passed in your neck of the woods.
As you might expect, the blooming period in the southern half of the state is considerably long that it is in Middle and North Georgia. However, regardless of how long is blooms, when it is blooming it provides pollinators with a valuable source of food while at the same time adding beauty to our yards.
My wife and I bring our potted plants inside in the winter. The pineapple sage growing in our yard is mulched during the winter.
With the freezing weather forecast during the next several days, it is time for us to protect our pineapple sage before it is too late: This is one plant we do not want to lose.