Planting for Pollinators

Annual container

Today begins Pollinator Week, a week devoted to the plight of declining Pollinators in the United States. You can find out more at Pollinator.org, and see some neat posters and other things on offer (if they are still available).

Generally accepted wisdom is that native plants are best for pollinators. I don’t disagree. However, since I just lost many of my native hollies (while interestingly my non-natives survived the drought just fine. So much for the idea that natives are adaptable to climate change–at least in my yard!) I am kind of holding off on replanting anything right now while I see what’s what.

But of course I still want a little color for the summer.

So I have noticed that the bees are loving this purple verbena.

And of course our lawn has plenty of clover for them to enjoy as well.

They are also enjoying my flowering herbs, particularly the oregano, lavender and chives.

So yes, I still do love native plants–so long as they survive in my yard. Friday I will post about my late season garden for pollinators.

We have to try to do what we can when we can–at least I think so.

Swallowtail

Swallowtail caterpillar

To paraphrase the old movie saying, if you plant it, they will come. This caterpillar managed to find the container of parsley that I have outside our door–the one that I really planted for cooking purposes.

Oh well, no matter. Anyone who has been reading for awhile knows that I would never begrudge a plant to hungry larva, especially butterfly larva.

And there’s more parsley in my herb garden if I need it, if the rabbits don’t find it first.

But that is what gardening is about: the challenge, sometimes literally, of growing your own food with these competing interests. You can stress, you can be grateful you’re not doing it for a living (or needing to survive on this through the winter without the benefit of a local grocery store), or you can be grateful there will be one more butterfly because of your container of parsley.

I will take the butterfly.

Another look

Rose Time

Roses by mailbox

I came home from the hospital to discover that I had completely missed my peonies this year but that’s okay because the roses are putting on such a glorious show that it’s hard to be disappointed.

Closer view
Another view

The decaying bulb foliage is for the colchicums that will be back in September.

A different garden
And yet more!

So it’s hard to be sad about missing the peonies.

Let’s not talk about the weeds, however.

The Point and Place Gardener

Sadly, I have gotten to that age where my cast iron back has given out. My knees gave out long ago. And my ankles are shot too. So for all but the most trivial gardening projects–or container gardening, my favorite type of gardening anyway–I now have to hire muscle.

Hence the title of this post. It actually came about when I was telling the Spoiler about my re-design of the gardens at work.

Work garden in full bloom, June 2019

You may remember this from a year or two ago. I had planted all this myself a few years’ back. I had bought the plants and installed them and they were flourishing–until last year when the roses came down with rose rosette disease. I understand that it is particularly bad on the East Coast–but in a pandemic year, it just made the loss of these roses sadder.

So the roses all had to go and new plants had to come in that were not roses. That was too big a job for me to handle, so as I described to the Spoiler, I had our landscape company do it. I told them what plants I wanted, I told them what cultivars to buy, and when the plants arrived, I placed them–the point and place gardener.

Late May, 2021

And this is how it turned out. Of course there’s quite a difference–and quite a lot of mulch, which normally I don’t generally use. But when the shrubs are this small, and I am not weeding because this is work and not home, and it needs to look presentable because this is a business, you use mulch.

Shady area at work

This area is shady so we used shade perennials. Honestly, I am a little nervous about this because we have woodchucks but we’ll see. I’m thinking that the hosta, especially, look like lettuce to the woodchucks. I sure hope I am mistaken!

We had no sooner gotten everything planted and the woodchuck–whom we hadn’t seen all spring–waddled out to begin dining in our grassy median.

This planting was done right before Memorial Day weekend. I am very afraid to go back to see what’s left on Tuesday.

[Update: I still haven’t been back to see it because of an emergency appendectomy on June 1st with complications. From what I understand, the plants are fine and the visitors–with the exception of our woodchuck–like what we have done. The woodchuck has decided to show its displeasure by tunneling through the mulch everywhere. I have been told there’s a pile in the corner by the steps that we could remove with a truck. Ah well.]

Peonies and Ants

Ant on a peony bud

So what’s the deal with peonies and ants? They are almost always found together–but why?

On the theory that nature doesn’t make mistakes, or there are no accidents in nature, let’s examine this a little more closely.

Clearly the ants derive something from the peonies, right? If you look closely, you’ll see little drips of what look like water near where the ants are–if it’s still even there. The ants are after the peonies’ nectar. (It doesn’t particularly show in this photo too well)

So now we have sorted our what’s in it for the ants. Is there anything in it for the peonies? Perhaps. As in other relationships, the ants may protect the peonies from other insects that may want to damage their buds.

Here is an interesting article from the University of Missouri that indicates that the ants may indeed be protecting the peonies from other insects and certainly that the use of insecticides are unnecessary.

I have found a simple way to avoid bringing ants in when I cut peonies. I cut them in the morning, shake them gently and then leave then outside in a shaded place until evening. That generally gives the ants time to leave the flowers of their own accord.

And, of course, cutting the flowers once they are slightly more open–I usually do so even just slightly past the “marshmallow” stage recommended in the UM article–also helps because most of the nectar has then gone from the flowers. Once the nectar has gone, so have the ants, generally.

By using these simply management practices, both you and the ants can enjoy the flowers–the ants outside the house and you and the flowers (minus the ants) inside the house!

More Insects of Summer

Hydrangea leaves with leaftier caterpillar inside

Here’s an insect that’s very easy to find and very easy to deal with.

Inside this crumpled up set of leaves is yep, you guessed it, another green worm. Hard to imagine that the world is so full of green worms, isn’t it?

This guy is called the hydrangea leaftier–kind of a crazy name, leaftier. Maybe it sounded like leaf-tyer to whomever came up with it. For you scientific types, it is Olethreutes ferriferana. Anyway, as you can clearly see by the photo, that’s what this little worm does–it sews itself into a little cocoon of hydrangea leaves–almost always near the top of hydrangea arborescens, or smooth hydrangea plants.

What’s lovely about this insect is that to deal with it, you just cut off the little clump of sewn together leaves and dispose of them in the trash. Don’t compost them or you will give the little worms time to hatch out into the moths which they become and start the whole vicious cycle all over again–because once you have these things, you have them forever unless you manage to rid yourself of them early.

And in addition to marring the appearance of your plants, why do you want to go around cutting off your leaves–or better yet, peeling open the leaves and smashing the little caterpillars, for those of you who like that sort of thing–every year? I know I have enough to do in the garden in the spring without that, thanks!

The Other Insects of Summer

Lately the media has been all about the Brood X cicada hatching. I am fortunate that they do not make it far enough north to trouble me (one of the very few benefits of living in the frozen north–we do not get any sort of periodical cicadas, just the ordinary dog day kind).

But of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t have insects. And Memorial Day weekend is just about the time when we start having insect damage. This year has been a bit unusual because the weather has alternated between unusually cool weather and unusually warm weather. So the cool weather insects are trying to hang on a bit and the warm weather insects are here too. It’s like an insect bonanza on the plants–although I am sure they don’t think so!

Aphids on a rose bud

For example, aphids, which are normally a cool season insect on roses, are still here. They rarely hang around this long.

Rose sawfly larva damage

And this damage indicates an insect that is just about invisible to the naked eye–the rose sawfly larva. It’s a caterpillar-like creature that is nearly the same color as the rose leaf and it sucks the juices from the leaf–that’s what the little scrapes on the leaf are.

Luckily, up here in the frozen north, we only have one generation of them a year so I do no type of organic control on them at all. They can really disfigure the leaves a bit, but it’s only for a couple of weeks, and then the shrubs put on some nice new growth and all is well.

And this cute little semi-circle is made by the leaf cutter bee. They take out the leaf parts to line their nests in hollow wood. They are native pollinators so it’s important not to use chemical pesticides on your roses–and that includes those “wonderful” systemics that they sell that do everything from kill insects to keep fungus away.

What do you think is harming the pollinators? Please stay away from stuff like that! If public rose gardens can manage themselves organically, so can you!

I find that the same insects recur at the same time yearly. Once you know what to look for, it’s almost as easy as predicting when those periodical cicadas will be back.