They Are Back

bee

Right there on that purple bee balm – a big fat bee! I love my buzzing buddies. My garden as I’ve noted before is full of butterfly/hummingbird and bird attracting plants. Now I am not an expert on identifying what kind of bees they are – I just enjoy hearing them buzz around

It is fun to be right in the midst of dozens while watering or deadheading. Not once have I been stung. Its as if they know my intentions. I have read that an average bee will visit 5000 plants in a day. So it’s hardly like my place is the only location they stop at! I feel so used…..

Unfortunately this year the numbers are down. I’m not an expert but I think the extremely mild winter we had didn’t do them any favors. That is just a guess, but here we are in early July and I can tell we are off in numbers considerably

They are not alone. Butterflies are down as well. They are probably more noticeable in low numbers that bees. They are simply not here. It is worrisome. Small eco changes like that are never good. The small always indicates what is coming to the big.

I love my “mess” of a garden. There is no rhyme or pattern to it. Which is exactly my purpose. When butterflies are in the wild they do not see overly organized and plants arranged by color – they see a jumbled mess of plants, weeds, grass, vines…so I try to duplicate that by not overly organizing my garden. It really is a Golden Corral for butterflies, hummingbirds and bees.

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This just happened!! A hummingbird visit my black and blue salvia!

I am not a fan of summer. I don’t like the heat, don’t like pools and beaches. And the one thing I used to love about summer (Reds baseball) is no longer accessible to me. My new guilty pleasure has been watching nature enjoy what I stuff in the ground for her to enjoy!

 

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Am I Greedy?

May is here, and with it comes plenty of blooming flowers. We had a dry March and April – but both were above normal for their temperatures. Because of that, plants broke ground early. As of this morning here is a view of my garden:IMG_0361Lots of flowers, mostly butterfly and hummingbird focused, are bursting and ready to give us their colors

I’m happy right? I am jumping for joy. Well…….

If you look near the center of the picture you will see a bare patch. Nothing is growing. Last year I had a beautiful lantana plant growing there. And behind it I had a Russian Sage. This is what they look like right now

IMG_0360Just woody gnarls. For some strange reason they didn’t make it through the winter. For the past month I have kept a close eye on them waiting for either to show something green. But here we are in early May and nothing. This means they died.

In total I have close to 30 flowers in the ground. It is looking like I lost 4 this winter. These two and a Gaura and Tropicana Cana Lilly plant. That is actually a terrific success rate. But those losses bugged me. And I think deep down it is greed.

When it comes to landscaping/gardening, winter kill is to be expected. Even the best horticulturists lose plants to the winter. I have lost plants in the past. A plant will cost ~$10, so in total I lost $40. Not a big deal. But this has gnawed at me for weeks.  I wanted every plant to return. Is that greed?

There is the story in the bible about the lost sheep. The man had 100 sheep in his flock and noticed one missing. He drops everything and goes and finds it. Peter Kreeft, the wonderful Christian scholar out of Boston College, has pointed out that for Jesus 99 was too few and one was too many. A classic Christian paradox. No number other than all (100) would suffice

I would like to say that is my dilemma, but that would be to mock the parable. Truth is I am greedy. Instead of enjoying the 90% of flowers that returned and simply replacing the dead ones, I became infatuated with the few that didn’t make it

Later today I head to the nursery for replacements.

 

April Showers

Call we weird, but I love rain. I don’t necessarily care for driving in it (I had a hydroplaning accident in May 2009). Rain gives me a calming effect. I like to sit underneath a covered patio and just listen to the rain fall.

Some of my best memories fishing was in the rain. I have seen small creeks, maybe 3-4 foot deep, swell outside of their banks in a few hours due to a storm that had rolled in. As a kid when my buddies and I would go to Reds games, we loved rain delays. 75% of the fans would leave which turned the stadium into a playground for us youngsters.

I don’t see kids playing in the rain much anymore. As if a rain cloud is going to kidnap their kid, or if they get wet and muddy….well that stuff might not come off.

Yankee candle has a freshly fallen rain scented candle. They have had this scent for years which tells me I am not the only guy out there with an emotional attachment to rain.

Rain is often looked at unfavorably. The late Keith Whitley spoke about “I’m No Stranger to the Rain.” rain of course representing angst and struggle. We might say someone is a “black cloud”. This meaning they don’t bring light/brightness with their presence. And I get it. But that doesn’t work for me. I love rain.

Right now….it is raining, but it is supposed to move out this morning bringing sunshine. And then I am going to get out and start working in my butterfly garden. Because the soil around my home is red clay – and wet – it is going to be a disaster! I am going to be covered in red muck from head to toe. My wife will scorn me. Kids will make fun of me. And I will be loving it.

The forecast doesn’t call for rain again until Thursday

 

Suggested Butterfly Flowers

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So far I have isolated various butterfly and hummingbird attracting plants. This time I want to include several on this posting. Some you probably have heard of, others not so much. Typically these are best grown from plant, and not seed (unless you are really good at what you do)

Black Eyed-Susan’s – a classic. You’ve seen them everywhere, and it is a plant that easily transfers from the wild to your personal garden. Also known as Rudbeckia, the blooms on BES last for quite a while, making it a low maintenance plant. It also grows to be a strong bushy flower taking up a few feet in diameter and ~30” tall. Great for cut flowers to use in vases around the house. No need for watering unless signs of wilting begin.

Hyssop – comes in many varieties. I suggest going to a quality nursery for the best choices. Hyssops with trumpet shaped blooms will attract hummingbirds. This plant is also a magnet for bees (which is a good thing!). Be sure to read about and understand how to take care of which hyssop plant you get because each has a different standard for care

Coneflower – another classic. This plant grows and performs very similar to Black Eyed Susan. Wise to sometimes remove some of the bushy leaves within the plant so more blooms can grow. Another flower that is great for cutting. Blooms early in the season, and continues well into the fall. Ideal for dividing after a few years. Great for all varieties of butterflies

Fennel – yes the herb. These perennials get very tall and strong with bushy yellow blooms in the summer. Just leave it alone and let it do its thing.

Milkweed – a plant in high need. This is the primary host plant for the famous Monarch butterfly. It grows to about 3-4’ diameter and 4’ tall. Take the pods that will develop in late summer, remove the seeds and refrigerate. After late the first significant frost plant the seeds to continue populating the plant

Phlox – go with dwarf or garden phlox. There is a mounding variety that blooms for a couple weeks in spring then is gone. Dwarf phlox will grow about 18”. Garden phlox can reach 4’. Great from the back edge of your garden – or idea for filling a small plot with one plant. Phlox comes in many different colors and will continue producing blooms throughout the summer.

A few more suggestions: Lantana, Sedum, Catnip, Ironweed, Aster, Mallow and Butterfly Weed (not bush)

Each of these are winners in any garden and for the most part low maintenance. As with all plants, make sure to know in advance how much sunlight is required, what color the blooms will be, and just how big it will grow.

Russian Sage

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Mature Russian Sage

Monrovia.com uses the following description for Russian Sage “Tall, airy, spike-like clusters create a lavender-blue cloud of color above the finely textured aromatic foliage. This vigorous, hardy, heat loving and drought tolerant plant resists deer and pests. A superb companion for perennials, succulents and ornamental grasses.” That pretty much sums it up.

This bushy perennial has nothing to do with Russia by the way, but is a favorite amongst butterfly gardeners. Very low maintenance. If anything too much attention (like watering and fertilizing) can have a negative effect on the plant. Russian Sage enjoys plenty of sunlight and soil that is not overly soft. It is a plant that will do well in clay based soils so long as there is sufficient drainage

Like Salvia, it is wise to not plant Russian Sage near a downspout or low laying area in the garden. If Russian Sage gets too much water, especially early in the season, the woody stems will not develop and the plant will droop and lay on the ground like a cluster of purple noodles

Russian Sage has hard, woody stems that should be cut back in the fall. However, during the blooming season (May – September) the plant does not require any trimming or deadheading. The aromatic purple blooms will take care of themselves.

Bees and butterflies both love Russian Sage. I have seen as many as 30 bees hovering around one plant at a time. I would not call this a hummingbird magnet. After owning Russian Sage for two years I am yet to see a hummingbird feeding at one.

Expect the plant to get about four feet tall and four feet wide – as early as the first year when planted. Russian Sage can also withstand most winter weather.

I like to pull my fingertips gently across the purple blooms and smell the pungent aroma. It has a very distinct and strong smell, like rosemary

So if you have the room and are looking for a lovely plant to add to your garden that requires little attention, and is very forgiving to gardener errors – the Russian Sage is for you.

Available at any nursery or large home improvement store.

Salvia

I have never taken a poll, but I would imagine most people will go through a whole year without seeing a hummingbird. For those who do see them, it is typically an isolated event – right place, right time. Well, not to brag, but I can see as many as six in a half hour. And most days I do

A lot of plants are labeled “hummingbird magnets”. Large home improvement stores to mom-n-pop nurseries will have these must have plants throughout their inventory. But one stands above them all for hummingbirds. It is salvia.

There are several varieties of salvia, and most will work to draw hummingbirds to your garden. The one I have had the most success with is the Salvia Black and Blue. This particular plant can be purchased at any large improvement store for as low as $8 per plant.

When planting salvia, I recommend no less than a three foot circumference to the nearest plant. As you can see in the photo below, black and blue develops into a bushy plant. Very full and robust. Plant it in an area where it will receive an abundance of sun throughout the day, and in soil that drains well. This is not a plant that will thrive in overly wet soil, so avoid low laying areas in your garden, at the exit of a downspout or in a location where runoff from the roof will oversaturate the plant.

The most important thing is to plant salvia in a highly visible area. I suggest off a patio or porch. Hummingbirds are not overly timid, and will come within a few feet of people to feed at a salvia plant. I have a chair on my front porch pointed directly at my salvia plant. Nothing like the brrrrr sound of a hummingbird’s wings as he pulls up to the bush and starts feeding

Salvia is hardy, meaning it can take low winter temps in most planting zones. Salvia can be slow to start in the spring. Be patient with it each year, however, if you do not see new growth in mid-May chances are good your plant did not survive the winter.

Salvia has a black-blue trumpet shaped bloom that lures hummingbirds in. Blooms appear in June and can continue blooming all the way into September. These blooms will often drop after a hard storm or wind, but in no time new blooms will appear.

One of best features of salvia it that it is a low maintenance plant. It requires little to no attention. just plant and stay out of the way! The plant doesn’t require deadheading and as noted earlier, isn’t in need of watering too often. It is suggested to cut the plant back to about 6” above soil once blooming season is over (fall)

So next year, buy a couple Salvia in mid-April, get them in the ground and enjoy countless hours of hummingbirds bouncing around!

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Salvia Black and Blue

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Hummingbird feeding at Salvia Black and Blue

Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed (not yet in bloom)

Joe Pye Weed (not yet in bloom)

This big guy is the centerpiece of my butterfly garden. It is called Joe Pye Weed. It is considered a wildflower in many states and butterflies love to eat the nectar it produces. Joe Pye is considered a weed (as I understand it) because it is invasive. In other words, if not properly managed it will take over your garden. Please note, many preferred butterfly attracting plants are considered “weeds” (Butterfly weed, Goldenrod, Milkweed, even Bee Balm).

The picture at the head of my blog is of monarch butterflies feeding on Joe Pye Weed blooms.

In the south, you can see Joe Pye growing alongside the road. Even along expressways! In late summer you will see it, along with Goldenrod coloring the sides of the road.

But, Joe Pye isn’t for everyone or every garden. For one it is a towering beast. Healthy Joe Pye can reach over 10 feet tall. Mine was transplanted from someone’s private property last fall. When I transplanted it, I had only 3 plants and each stood about 3 foot tall. After just one year of growth, 3 plants has turned into about 8 and my tallest plants are close to 7 feet tall! Clearly not everyone wants this in their garden. Even the most enthusiastic butterfly gardener may shy away from Joe Pye

While coneflower and black-eyed Susan’s are fan favorites because of their classic pattern and color, Joe Pye has this somewhat awkward long “Jack and the beanstalk” appearance. It’s long green trunk, which is actually a thick hard stem, has many broad leaves hanging from it. I have found these leaves serving as resting spots for bees and butterflies.

Joe Pye itself doesn’t bloom until late summer. The picture below shows the buds at the top, The blooms vary in color but most common is the purple/pink variety. Blooms will last several weeks, as summer begins to fade.

Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed in bloom next to stream

Care and maintenance: because of its height, it is good to have a solid structure behind Joe Pye. It is not uncommon for a strong summer wind to snap these plants in half. Also consider staking them in the spring. Joe Pye is hardy and can handle many different types of soil. However, due to its height and need for a strong root anchoring, you are going to want soil that drains well.

When October rolls around and the blooms have dropped, it is suggested to cut the plant back to about 6 inches above soil. This is also an ideal time to divide the plant or even relocate it.

If you are unable to get wild Joe Pye, I recommend going to a reputable nursery to get your plants. You may pay a little more but the quality of the plant will be worth it (not that box stores do not have quality plants…). Plus, Joe Pye is often not sold at major home improvement stores)

So if you want something tall and magnificent, with little care necessary, I highly suggest the somewhat unknown Joe Pye Weed! Happy Gardening!