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A SHORT LIST OF PLANTS THAT HELP FEED POLLINATORS IN HOT, DRY CONDITIONS

    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.

GROWING OLD NURSERY SELLS HEIRLOOM AND NATIVE PLANTS

     Recently my wife and I attended THE FLOWER FANTASY AT PINEOLA FARMS located near Fort ValleyThe 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 growingoldplants@gmail.com.

      

 

 

NOT ALL WAX MYTLE PLANTS ARE CREATED EQUAL

       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.

       Good luck! 

IT’S TIME TO PRUNE TRUMPET CREEPER VINES

      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.

PINEAPPLE SAGE IS GREAT FOR LATE SEASON HUMMERS AND MORE

        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.

                 Cloudless Sulphur on Pineapple Sage

       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.

ADD A TOUCH OF FALL COLOR TO YOUR YARD

If you are looking for a plant that will add a touch of fall color to your yard, sassafras (Sassafras albidum) may be the perfect addition to your home landscape.

       This native tree grows throughout the entire state.  Typically, it reaches a height of around 20 feet.  In the fall, the tree’s foliage ranges in color from scarlet and orange to gold.  While all of the leaves are attractive, I personally prefer its scarlet-colored leaves. 

       In addition, every 2-3 years female trees also produce a crop of dark-blue, oval fruits (drupes) perched on showy scarlet pedestals.

       If you look at a sassafras tree’s foliage, you will quickly notice that it is comprised of leaves shaped like mittens, eggs, as well as those displaying three lobes.

       In addition, to providing a flash of fall color, this tree is also a source of food for wildlife.  For example, it is a host plant for a number of butterflies and moths including the spicebush swallowtail as well as promethea and imperial moths.

       For a brief time in the spring, the sassafras also supplies food for wild pollinators.

       Mammals such as rabbits and squirrels consume sassafras fruits.  The list of birds that dine on the fruits includes woodpeckers, eastern kingbirds, gray catbird, eastern kingbird, eastern phoebe, great crested flycatcher, mockingbird, and brown thrasher.

       Indeed sassafras has a lot going for it; the tree is attractive, and provides for a wide range of wildlife.  It does not get much better than that!

THIS PASS-ALONG PLANT IS A SHOWSTOPPER

       The plant that is currently putting on the most spectacular show in the Johnson’s backyard is a pass-along plant known as swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolia).  As is the case with many of the pass-along plants growing in our yard, it is not a plant my wife and I had on our list of plants that we wanted to incorporate into our backyard landscape.  However, now that it has established itself, we are glad that it is a member of our plant community.

      This Georgia native is extremely hardy.  The woman that gave me the plant simply pulled a handful plants up by their rhizomes and handed them to me.  When I told her I did not have any way to keep them from drying out until I got home, she told me not to worry about it.

      When I arrived home several hours later, I soaked the rhizomes in a bucket of water and placed them in the ground.  Honestly, I did not think they had any chance of surviving.  Much to our surprise, they did not die and now, several years later have expanded into a patch some 10-feet long.

      Swamp sunflower is a perennial that reaches a height of 8-10′.  This fall-bloomer produces a wealth of 2-3″ golden daisy like blooms.

      One thing that has endeared it to us is the fact that, in addition of adding beauty to our yard, it feeds a wide range of wildlife.  For example, swamp sunflower is a host plant for the gorgeous silvery checkerspot butterfly.  In addition, it is an important source of a food for a wide range of pollinators, including honeybees and bumblebees.  Although it is touted as a butterfly plant, we see far more bees and other pollinators visiting swamp sunflower’s showy yellow blossoms than butterflies.  Despite the fact it has the reputation of providing monarchs with food on their fall migration, we have never seen a monarch on our plants.

      Once frost ends swamp sunflower’s blooming season, its seeds are relished by waxwings and other birds that feed on seeds.

      The plant requires little water and is relatively pest-free.  The only thing that I do to the plants is remove their dead stalks in winter after birds have consumed all of its seeds. 

      Since it will spread via underground rhizomes, I suspect that sometime down the road, to keep the swamp sunflower patch from extending beyond the place we have designated for it, I am going to have to remove some of the underground rhizomes growing extending beyond the fringes of the stand.

      This is one pass-along plant that might be a perfect fit for your yard.  If it is, I hope a friend or neighbor will share it with you.

 

PARTRIDGE PEA FEEDS A VARIETY OF WILDLIFE

       In our quest for native plants that are attractive and valuable to a variety of wildlife, we often overlook partridge pea.  In fact, it may already be growing in an unmanicured spot in your yard. 

       In case you are unfamiliar with partridge pea, it is a native, annual legume that grows across the entire state of Georgia.  Seven species of partridge pea grow in the Southeast.

       Its attractive feathery leaves are dark green.  The plant bears bright yellow flowers from May into September and beyond.  After the flowers bloom, a crop of flat, pea like pods appears.  Encased inside each pod are 4-20 black seeds.

       Since the hard seeds persist into spring, they are a source of seeds for northern bobwhites, turkeys, songbirds, and even small mammals.  One reason the seeds are so valuable is that they provide wildlife with a source of food throughout the winter, a time when seeds are often scarce.

       Unfortunately, we often overlook the fact that the plant is the larval host for moths and butterflies like the io moth, gray hairstreak, cloudless sulphur, and sleepy orange.

       Partridge pea also draws a host of nectar feeding insects.  It is interesting to note that this hardy native’s blossoms produce pollen but not nectar.  Nectar is generated in what botanists call extrafloral nectaries located at the base of its leaves. 

       Many pollinators are attracted to the partridge pea.  It is especially important to the honeybees.  In fact, beekeepers often plant partridge pea near their hives.  Other insects that dine at partridge pea include a variety of native bees and wasps, ants, and even the so-called velvet ant, which is actually a wingless wasp.

      It is unlikely you are going to find partridge pea plants at a nursery at this time of the year.  However, if you take a walk about your yard, you just might find partridge pea plants living along the fringes of your yard.  Since plant grows in a variety of soil types, you might find it in places where little else grows.

       If you locate it, don’t cut it down.  All you have to do help ensure that it will not disappear is leave it alone.  With a little luck, it may reseed itself next spring.     

       If you cannot find any partridge pea plants growing in your yard, one way that you can get it started is to collect some seeds pods from plants growing along a highway.  When the pods ripen, they will split open and release the seeds.  Then scatter the seeds on the ground during the fall.

       Keep in mind this plant will spread from where it was planted.  Consequently, carefully choose the places you want to try to establish it.

THE JUNIPER HAIRSTREAK CAN BE SEEN IN OUR BACKYARDS

       The juniper hairstreak is one of our more elusive butterflies; in spite of the fact, it ranges across most of the state except in portions of Southwest Georgia.  This is unfortunate because this small (wingspan roughly one-inch), butterfly possesses unique beauty.  When you see a juniper hairstreak, the thing that jumps out at you is the jewel-like olive green color that covers most of its wings. 

       Juniper hairstreaks are often difficult to find anywhere, let alone in backyards.  However, last summer I saw more juniper hairstreaks in my yard than I had seen in my entire life.  My good fortune is appears linked to my transplanting mountain mint plants in four locations in my backyard.  During much of August 2020, I could consistently find juniper hairstreaks nectaring at the mountain mint’s tiny blooms.

       Prior to last summer, I would only occasionally find juniper hairstreaks nectaring on the blossoms of white clover in my backyard.  However, I would often go a year or more without seeing one.

JUNIPER HAIRSTREAK ON MOUNTAIN MINT

       I did not understand why this is the case since several large red cedars grow in my large backyard.  Red cedar is the juniper hairstreak’s host plant.  It seems juniper hairstreaks do not venture far from the trees, preferring instead to spend the majority of its time in the trees aromatic foliage. 

       In fact, I have often read that the best way to see a juniper hairstreak is to flush one by shaking a limb or tossing a dead branch in the into the canopy of a red cedar.  Although I have tried this trick many times, it only worked once.

       The juniper hairstreak nectars on a variety of flowering plants, although for some reason, I have never seen a juniper hairstreak feed on any of the large array of nectar-bearing flowers in my yard.  That is until I planted mountain mint.

       If you long to see a juniper hairstreak and red cedars grow nearby, you might want to plant mountain mint in your yard.  The native is hardy an easy to grow.  If you do add this plant to your yard, set it out in a place where it will not compete with other nectar plants, as it will spread.

       Once you spot the first juniper hairstreak in your yard, you will wish you had made its acquaintance a long time ago.

DON’T FORGET TO DEADHEAD BUTTERFLY BUSHES

       Butterfly bushes are truly butterfly magnets.  However, if you want them to continue blooming from now until migrating monarchs pass through out state months down to road; you must deadhead the plant’s spent blossoms.

       For reasons I do not understand, this spring my butterfly bushes have been covered with the largest clusters of flowers they have ever produced.  Unfortunately, few butterflies were around to enjoy them.  However, lots of bumblebees, honeybees, and carpenter bees constantly visited the nectar-rich blossoms while they were blooming. 

       Fortunately, butterfly bushes can be encouraged to produce a bounty of flowers throughout much of the growing season.  All it takes is deadheading the bush’s flower clusters before they go to seed.

         Butterfly bush w/spent blossoms

       Recently I deadheaded my butterfly bushes for the first time this year.  From experience, I know I will have to repeat this procedure many times.  However, I realize that, if I am diligent, countless butterflies and other pollinators will benefit from the food produced by crop after crop of fresh flowers.  In the past, I have been successful in prolonging the butterfly bushes’ blooming until the monarchs en route to their wintering home in Mexico.  When they use my yard as a stopover area on their epic journey it is not uncommon to see anywhere from four to eight monarchs on a single butterfly bush.

       When deadheading a cluster of flowers, remove the spent cluster down to the spot close to the point when the main flower stem joins two side branches.  If this is done at the right time, the two side branches will quickly produce flowers too.  When the blooms on the main branch and side branches have already turned brown simply, cut the stem just above the next juncture of side branches and the main stem.

       This is definitely a case where a little time spent cutting back spent flowers will produce a beautiful bush and remain a source of nectar throughout the summer.