Planting for Pollinators

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I hope that by the time you read this I will be in a part of the country that’s a little closer to planting time. I am taking a week to visit family in Oklahoma City–if I can get out of the frozen north in between snowstorms, This is what it looked like when I drafted this post. Needless to say, I won’t be planting outside anytime soon!

But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t planting time where you are. And since many of you are at least able to plant something right now, I thought that I would continue my garden planning posts for a bit.

Planting for pollinators is actually a little more involved than you might think. Don’t worry! Anything you can plant–so long as it’s pesticide free– will help them.

But different pollinators have different needs. And if we are talking butterflies, you actually have to plant for two different stages: the larval (caterpillar) stage and the adult butterfly stage. More about this in another post.

Bees are easier but even bees have certain needs. Ideally you want to make homes for ground nesting native bees as well as have a watering spot for them. Again, more in a later post.

Finally, read up on and consider the “unconventional” pollinators. All sorts of flies, beetles and other insects, including ants, are pollinators. As we try to better our gardens, and plant more native plants, let’s try not to accidentally kill some insects that are actually pollinators by using insecticides indescriminently.

Spring Garden Planning

The Connecticut Flower and Garden Show a little over a week ago was a great reminder that thankfully, yes, spring will soon be coming to my frozen climate whether I personally believe it or not. And even though spring does come slowly to Connecticut–and sometimes not at all (something I often talk about when I show photos of my tree peonies. I can guarantee far above normal temperatures on the day that my tree peonies open so that they flame out spectacularly and only last for a single day. They are an over-rated waste of space in my garden–or perhaps it’s my climate), it is still something that has to be planned for in the garden unless you want to be like everyone else and just go rushing off, willy-nilly in the spring to buy the first thing you see at the garden centers.

While there’s something to be said for exuberance at garden centers (I know that I am all too guilty of that one!), at least do it with some sort of thought or plan in mind. What is your overall idea for the garden this year?

Will you be adding more natives?

Are you planting for pollinators?

Maybe you want to grow your own vegetables? Or add a few berry bushes? Or even start more simply with a few herbs (I was describing most of the Mediterranean herbs last weeks as “basically weeds that can grow in rocks.”) They’re not quite that easy–but almost!

Or maybe this is the year you start your own tomatoes/lettuce/peppers/fill in the blank from seed because you just can’t find what you like any other way.

Whatever it is, do go out and start shopping, by all means, but do it with some sense of what you hope to accomplish. You’ll be happier, you’ll have better results in the garden, and maybe you’ll even help some wildlife or pollinators as well. It’s all up to you–that’s what’s great about gardening.

Color Can Be So Subjective

So on Monday I ranted a bit about why I find succulents–and in particular, Gold Sword yuccas (although this could be true for any yucca; it just seems that all we grow here now are the “Gold Sword” variety) completely out of place in Connecticut.

While I’m ranting, let’s take on color, shall we?

And please remember, what I like (or don’t like) doesn’t matter. I’m just posting to get folks thinking about their own ideas about color.

I remember back when I first started gardening with perennials. I think I did what most people do–I chose softer colors of blues, pinks, whites and purples. It’s easy to do. There are lots of plants in that color family and many of them bloom over a long season.

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I still have whole gardens like that. My “hydrangea hedge” is primarily blue and pink–because let’s face it, hydrangeas don’t come in really shocking colors (at least not the ones that do well in my climate, anyway!)

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But as I have gotten older I find that I like colors that are a little brighter.
I will often choose colors that are near opposites on the color wheel like yellows and purples. I also love reds and purples together.

Do not, however, ask me to put red and yellow together unless orange is also part of the combination. The red/yellow thing just reminds me too much of McDonald’s.

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In fact, while you’ll find quite a lot of yellow in my garden, I am quite particular about what I will mix it with. I only like it with certain shades of blue or purple–hydrangeas are fine, coneflowers are fine but you’ll never see me mixing it with rhododendrons, for example.

But, as I said, these are my “rules” not anyone else’s. What drives you crazy in the garden?

Bloom Time

This is such a fabulous time of year! It seems that the entire word is in bloom or about to bloom.

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The Siberian Iris, above, and the one below, are around my pond. I was lucky to capture them with raindrops still fresh on their petals.

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Right now shrubs are taking center stage in my yard. In another week or two it will be roses and peonies (I hope.)

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This is one of my favorites and every year it appears here. This is a deutzia, Chardonnay Pearls. The closeup is below.

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When I took this photo, there were little beetles in some of the flowers. Not quite sure if they were pollinators or not but after last year’s “poisoning,” I am grateful for any life that I see!

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This is a kolkwitzia amablilis called Dream Catcher. It took quite some time to grow to its full potential. Now I have to stand in the street to take its photo.

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This is the closeup of its flowers.

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And this is the lovely clump of chives growing right beneath it. It makes a great combination.

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This is spirea media Double Play Blue Kazoo. Its foliage is supposed to have a bluish cast to it, but it’s in more shade than it should be so it shows up as more green. Still, I am not complaining. This is one of the plants that almost got wiped out by weed killer last year in the great poisoning, so I am grateful that it’s alive at all.

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This is the flower, closeup.

By next week, at some point, there should be a whole different set of glorious plants in bloom. This is a great time of year in the garden!

Happy Memorial Day!

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Memorial Day is usually all about the planting of my vegetable garden–something I do to honor and remember my Dad, who was a World War II veteran. But this year, that garden is still contaminated with pesticides, I fear, so I’ve had to plant flowers.

So here is that look, above.

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And here is my “vegetable” garden, instead. It’s going to have to suffice.

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At work, we plant a vegetable garden as well. It’s a little unusual because there we garden with a woodchuck (aka, a groundhog, or a whistle pig, or whatever you might call them in your part of the country.

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Interestingly enough, usually he/it/they leaves the tomatoes and peppers alone–as well as my herbs that I plant to try to protect all that (and for the pollinators, of course!)

This year, something nibbled one of the tomatoes. I think it was a rabbit. We are too “urban” to have deer, and quite frankly the nibbling was too delicate for a deer.

Whatever it was, it didn’t care for the tomato leaves. It just left them there, and didn’t try any of the others. Whew!

So I end my post with a huge than you to all who served. You are not forgotten.

Transitioning Your Outdoor Palette to Fall

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Remember this summery shot from Labor Day when I was bringing in the house plants?

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This is the same shot, taken 2 days later. Notice the difference?

Yes, some of the same plants are still there. But I have brought in others to emphasize the  autumnal colors of fall–the dark purple of the sweet potato vine, the dark stripes on my two banana plants, the fall-like colors in the crotons.

It’s a subtle shift, but it helps pick up the burgundy stems of the begonias that are nearby, and the red Japanese maple.

As we transition into autumn, how can you move some plants around to take advantage of the changing seasons?

It’s Pollinator Week–What About Plants?

On Monday I talked about the importance of native plants. I said that if you had a choice, and if you liked native plants,  you should choose them because wildlife will always seek out native plants.

For all of you who don’t have natives in your yard (& I include myself in that group because a large portion of my yard is planted with ornamental plants) I will refer you to Douglas Tallamay’s still excellent  book Bringing Nature Home. It was there that I  learned about the true importance of native plants, and that an native  oak tree will feed several hundred different types of creatures whereas some of our imported ornamentals feed none. They’re lovely to look at but absolutely barren in terms of value to wildlife.

But that doesn’t mean that all our ornamentals have no value to wildlife.  Anyone who has watched bees on Japanese pieris early in the spring knows that that shrub, imported ornamental that it is, is quite valuable to the early emerging bumble bees in my region.

Similarly, hydrangeas of all sorts are usually covered in pollinators  (at least in my yard). I have seen several different types of bees, a couple of different types of wasps,  and a few different types of flies all on my hydrangeas (yes, I have a lot of hydrangeas).

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Another non-native ornamental,  roses, also attract bees. This Oso Easy rose was full of several different kinds of bees,  none of which obligingly posed for me. I saw several smaller bees, plus honeybees and bumblebees all on this large shrub.

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Catnip (nepeta) and lavender are two more perennials that are always covered in bees of all sorts. You can see a bumble bees on the nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ in the above photo.

And speaking of herbs, we are told to plant various sorts of herbs to assist different types of pollinators: parsley,  dill, anything with an umbel flower. None of those are “natives.”

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In the heat last week,  some of my leaf lettuce went to seed. But the smaller bees are loving the flowers so I am letting those stay as well.

So if you are feeling a little inferior,  perhaps,  because you don’t have native plants, or enough native plants, or the right kind of native plants, fear not! You can still garden for pollinators and they’ll love you!