Fall is for Planting

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Most of the summer, I looked at this dead tree. It was a star magnolia. It went into last winter without a problem, but it didn’t form its buds, as magnolias do. Perhaps that should have been my first clue that there would be a problem this spring.

Sure enough, this spring, when all the other trees began to flush leaves or blooms, this magnolia did nothing. The Spoiler, ever the optomist, kept saying, let’s just see what happens. By mid-July, it was obvious even to him nothing was going to happem

So we finally cut it down. It is in morning sun, so that gives me some nice options.

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I left the self-sown goldenrod on one end of the bed.

In the rest of the bed, I put my “test” plants that had been accumulating all summer. There are 6 veronica (3 blue and 3 white), 2 pink perennial pelargoniums, and 2 smaller hydrangeas.

I also put a dwarf joe pye weed in, and I left some self-sown asters as well. I need some pollinator plants, after all (although the bees loved the veronica all summer, even in pots!)

Generally planting in fall is much better for plants because the soil is still warm. For those of you who live near any type of water, you know how long the water takes to warm in the spring–soil is similar.

Likewise, in the fall, water stays warmer longer than the air–that’s why maritime communities get frost a little later. Again, soil cools more slowly than the air so planting into the fall actually aids the plants by settling them into warm soil.

I will want to watch these–& perhaps mulch them once the ground freezes–so that they don’t “heave up” out of the soil. But otherwise, no other special care is needed.

I still have some bulbs to add here, but nature hasn’t been my friend on the timing–as usual, the rain on the weekend isn’t conducive to bulb planting.

Transition

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Here in the United States, today is Labor Day–a day that many folks think of as the “end” of the summer season. Students go back to school (if they haven’t already) and the “carefree” attitude that many adopted in July and August seems to evaporate.

As much as I try to hang on to a summery attitude–at least until the official start of autumn on September 23 this year–nature doesn’t always cooperate with me. This is what I am seeing.

The plumes of that “annual” pennisetum in the above photo are already more brown than red. In fact, birds have harvested some of the brown stalks completely, a sure sign of coming autumn.

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And of course, here are the ubiqutous maple “noses” although these are only half formed. These are the seed pods of various maple trees–in this case, my neighbor’s Japanese maple. There were some double podded ones–the ones that gives them the name “noses,” but their color wasn’t nearly so pretty.

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My common milkweed, going to seed.

In my town, we go back to school tomorrow but most of the towns around us went back last week in a heat wave (unlike most of the country, we here in Connecticut do things by town not county. So the next time you think your state government is inefficient, remember that we have 168 of them in the 3rd smallest state! Ugh!)

But back to school is definitely the “end of summer” for a lot of people. So savor today!

Sterile versus “Fruitful” Flowers

We all think about planting for bees and other pollinators most of the time, I think. It’s constantly in the news that our pollinators are in trouble, so if we have the choice of planting a shrub, perennial or even an annual that will provide some nectar, why wouldn’t we?

At first glance, these two flowers seem fairly similar, don’t they? Yes, one is a single form and one is a double. One has green leaves and one has variegated leaves. Those are the obvious differences.

What’s not so obvious–and what took me a few years to figure out–is that the flower on the right–the double variegated form (Sugar Tip Rose of Sharon or hibiscus syriacus ‘America Irene Scott’) was sterile–in other words, it made no pollen for the bees.

This is a double edged sword because for those of you who know the characteristics of a typical rose of sharon, you know that unless you deadhead them after bloom, you will have fields of seedlings to contend with. And they root deeply too.

But the bees–and even hummingbirds–do love them. That pollen laden cone (made up of anther, stamens and filaments), in the center of the flower is generally covered in bees. This particular variety even has a red eye to draw in the hummingbirds. (This variety is Lil Kim, or
hibiscus syriacus ‘Antong Two.’)

So what to do? Does that mean you shouldn’t plant Sugar Tip? Well, obviously, I wouldn’t be taking my advice if I said “no!” I planted it in a spot where I clearly didn’t want a lot of self-sowing seedlings from another sort of hibiscus and that’s worked out quite nicely.

It does sort of break my heart when I see the bees visiting, though, looking for nectar that I know they won’t find.