Throughout this summer’s unprecedented heart wave, many of the plants my wife and I have planted for pollinators are requiring regular watering. Such has not been the case with a native plant named mountain-mint (Pycnanthemumssp.). We have not watered our three patches of mountain mint a single time. In spite of this, the plants in all three spots have flourished and are attracting more pollenators than other plant growing in our yard.
This was dramatically illustrated week when we participated in the Great Southeast Pollinator Count. We selected the two plants (mountain-mint and butterfly bush to survey. During the 15-minute count at the mountain mint plants, 39 individual pollinators were recorded. This list included bumblebee – 1, carpenter bee – 2, small bees – 2, wasps – 8, flies – 7, butterflies – 18, and ant -1.
We saw two juniper hairstreaks and 16 red-banded hairstreaks. To put this in perspective, the day before I surveyed butterflies on the Annual Fall Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area Butterfly Count. In spite of the fact that the team I was assigned to spent 7.5 hours in the field and walked some 2.2 while visiting a number of sites scattered across much of the eastern side of Monroe County and a small piece of Jasper County, we spotted only three red-banded hairstreaks.
The value of mountain-mint to wild pollinators has been long recognized. For example, Penn State conducted a research project to determine the value of a number of pollinator plants o wild pollinators found mountain-mint to be the plant most attractive to these special insects. In addition, it tied with stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida) for the top spot for its ability to attract the greatest diversity of pollinators.
This fragrant plant grows up to six feet tall. The plants blooms appear in clusters of small white to lavender tubular-shaped flowers arranged on a button-like base. Each flower cluster is surrounded by a cluster of bracts (modified leaves) that appeared to be covered with flour or powdered sugar. In addition, it blooms for weeks during the summer.
Mountain-mint is easy to grow. Like most folks that have it growing in their yards, a friend gave me, a handful of plants several years ago. They did not produce any flowers the first year they were in the ground but have bloomed ever since.
Keep in mind that the plant spreads rapidly, so place put it in a spot where it has room to spread. If they do venture into areas where you don’t want them, they can be easily controlled.
Like so many plants, they seem to attract more pollinators when planted in large groupings. This is in partly because a large number of plants are more easily seen by pollinators. In addition, larger patches of plants such as mountain-mint produce scents that can be more easily detected by potential visitors. This appears to be particularly true in urban areas suffering from air pollution.
If you do not have a friend or two that is willing to give you a few mountain-mint plants, I am sure that a nursery that deals in native plants can provide you with all that you need.
A few summers ago, I posted a blog concerning how American goldfinches tore zinnia seed heads apart trying to get to the seeds they contain.
Recently, in response to this posting, a blogger named Erin posted a possible method that allows goldfinches to eat zinnias seeds without destroying all of the blossoms growing in containers placed on decks. I thought that anyone experiencing a similar situation might benefit from it too.
Erin wrote, “Try overplanting your zinnias so there is enough for them to feast on before they get to your deck. Try planting a border of them near your deck as a “trap” so they will stop before they get to your deck. Farmers apply this method to their crops as pest control; it can be pretty effective.”
If you would like to read my original blog, go to the Search Bubble on the right of your screen and type in GOLDFINCHES ARE ATTACKING ZINNIA BLOSSOMS. Press the return key and the blog should pop up.
For quite some time now, I have been letting you know when somebody recommends a nursery that deals in native plants. Here is a new one.
At this year’s Fantasy of Flowers staged by the Fort Valley Garden Club, I met the folks that run Everyday Farm and Garden (Josh and Nikki Perry). They were one of the vendors at this year’s event. They were selling a variety of ornamental and wild plants. They also sell plants that they say are neonicotinoid-free. As you know there are not enough folks that can boast that their plants are free of these systemic pesticides. This is great news for wild pollinators and other backyard neighbors.
Here is the contact information for this retailer:
My recent post concerning trying to grow heal-all in containers prompted one of our fellow bloggers, Margaret Molyson, to share her more extensive experiences with this wonderful plant. I was so impressed with her comments; I felt that they should be shared with all of you.
Margaret wrote, “I love the heal-all plant but have found it somewhat quirky to establish. I saved seeds from two plants growing in part of our yard that did not get mowed. The following year I grew them, then planted the seedlings outside; they bloomed the first year! I loved them. Once again, collecting some, but not all, of the seeds. I did the same process again but planted the seedlings in another area. They did wonderfully there last summer. Now, there are no plants in the original place where they were planted, the second area planted is about half, but the walkway, which is wood chips, next to both plantings is loaded with plants! It might not be able to compete with other plants well.”
Margaret, I cannot thank you enough for sharing your experiences with all of us!
One of my favorite spring flowers is heal-all (Prunella vulgaris). Over the years, whenever I have participated in the Annual Spring Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area Butterfly Count my count team always find butterflies nectaring on this stunning wild plant.
Two years ago, I rescued a few plants from a spot that stood the chance of soon being destroyed by a bulldozer. I rescued a few of these plants and my wife planted them in a large container. Under her skillful care, the plants survived and flourished.
The next year the plants sprouted and grew far larger than they had been the previous year. In fact, they spread and filled the container. To top it all off, they bloomed creating an incredibly beautiful bouquet of light lavender blossoms. The flowers also attracted butterflies.
When the flowers and plants eventually withered during the summer, she scattered seed she had collected from these plants and scattered them in another container.
This spring heal-all plants reappeared in the original container. In addition, the seeds sown in the second container sprouted. Those plants are rapidly growing. We hope that they will bloom this year. Meanwhile, some of the plants growing in the original container are already beginning to bloom.
It does appear that heal-all is one of the many wild plants that thrives in containers. By growing them in pots, my wife and I have enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the plants themselves, as well as the butterflies, and other pollenators that visit them. This would have been much more difficult if we had to rely on occasional observations made when stumbling across heal-all in the wild.
Our next experiment is to see if we can establish a stand of heal-all on our property. I hope I will be able to report the success of our efforts next spring.
For more information on this fascinating plant, go to the search engine bubble on the right side of the blog page and type in Heal-All. Immediately the blog I wrote concerning this plant will immediately appear.
If you are searching for an attractive shrub that attracts hummingbirds, you should give serious thought to buying a weigela (Weigela x Florida); it produces a crop of long-lasting, red, trumpet-shaped blooms. The blossoms grow singly and in clusters.
The shrub’s blooming period extends from late spring into summer.
This shrub is capable of becoming 6 to 8 feet tall and 9 to 12 feet wide. However, none of the weigelas my wife and I have grown in our Middle Georgia yard has ever grown that large.
The only weigela we have planted also goes by the name Old Fashioned Weigela. This variety bears red flowers. A dozen or more different varieties of weigela are on the market. While they may attract hummingbirds, I personally cannot vouch for them.
Weigela produces the most flowers when planted in full sun, however, it also grows in partial shade. Once this shrub is established, it is quite drought-tolerant.
If you have a problem with deer pruning your plants, you will be pleased to know that weigela is not high on the white-tailed deer’s list of preferred browse plants.
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.
By this time of the year the zinnias in my gardens have, in large part ceased blooming. While there are scattered colorful blossoms here and there, most of my once beautiful flowers and plants have been nipped by an early frost. All that remains of the zinnias are brown stalks and the withered remains of the flowers they once displayed to hungry pollinators.
When each of us is faced with this situation, we must decide if we should go ahead and cut or otherwise remove the drab remains of these garden favorites. Many gardeners immediately remove the dead plants in an attempt to beautify their garden. However, I am one of those backyard gardeners that leave the plants standing.
This is done because I realize that a number of birds dine on zinnia seeds. Here is a list of some of the birds that eat the seeds of dead zinnias: American goldfinch, chipping sparrow, house finch, purple finch, cardinals and pine siskins.
I keep an eye on this unorthodox food source and remove the dead plants only after the birds have extracted all of the seeds they harbor. When this occurs varies from year to year.
DEAD ZINNIA SEED HEADS
With that in mind, I hope you will refrain from rushing out and removing your zinnia plants as soon as they are killed by cold weather. If you leave them, you just may catch a glimpse of a bird feeding on the seeds located in the withered remains of the past summer’s zinnia blossoms. If you do, you might find the dead zinnias not as unattractive after all.
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.
In the fall, the seeds of countless plants are more abundant than at any other time of the year. Some argue that none is more pleasing to the eye than the buckeye. While it is largely shunned by wildlife, it is coveted my many Georgians.
I have a red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) growing in my yard. Each year this small deciduous tree produces a crop of large reddish brown seeds called buckeyes. Each plum-sized buckeye appears to be hand-polished. The seeds get their name from the round grayish scar (hilum) found on one side of each seed. To many, this area (where the seed connects to the husk that covers the nut while it is developing) resembles the pupil of a deer’s eye.
When you gaze at a buckeye, it looks like it should be a great wildlife food. In truth, the vast majority of wildlife species don’t eat buckeyes. In fact, squirrels are the only native species known to dine on buckeyes on a regular basis. White-tailed deer, for example rarely do more than nibble on them. However, feral hogs are said to eat them.
Why isn’t it a wildlife favorite? The answer is the buckeye contains a chemical known as glycoside; a derivative of glycoside is known to be poisonous. For some reason, this poison does not affect gray squirrels. However, it is poisonous to livestock and humans. Deer will usually avoid buckeyes but will occasionally nibble on them.
On the other hand, many people covet buckeyes.
According to a number of folktales, buckeyes can do amazing things such as bring good luck and even cure diseases.
Consequently, some say that carrying a buckeye will a person good luck only if it is carried in the right pants pocket.
According to folklore, rubbing a buckeye will cure asthma, headaches, arthritis and rheumatism. However, if you want a buckeye to cure your rheumatism, you must carry it in your left pocket of your pants.
If you have a buckeye tree that produces a bounty of buckeyes, don’t sell them as good luck charms. If you do, technically speaking, you might be charged with false advertising. This is because supposedly, if you sell a one of these magical seeds, it loses its power to provide the buyer with good luck.