Putting the Container Plants to Bed

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Remember my post about fall container planting? It’s already time to bring those plants inside or to compost them.

Certainly I could have left this lovely grass outside longer. But with containers this time of year, it’s a question of annoyance: do I want to listen to the Spoiler whining about having to blow leaves around them or do I just want to compost a week or two early and not deal with it?

After many years, I just compost early. I have tried other compromises–I would sweep around the containers for example (honestly, the use of a broom in autumn is vastly under-rated. It’s quiet, and environmentally friendly and you get a gentle workout.) But this year, I have too many lectures and articles at the same time. So no time to listen to whining.

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So here are the plants that I saved. I was able to save half of them, so that’s something. The potted ones will go onto my porch, although I think the cordyline has to come in for the winter. Everything else can winter there.

The oregano is going into my edibles garden and the coral bells is going into a container on my stairs with others like it. They do winter over in containers outdoors for me.

And that container is large enough that at least I don’t have to listen to whining from the Spoiler about blowing leaves!

Bird and Nature Planted Plants

Probably 10 or more years ago now, I heard a talk by Larry Weaner. At the time, I didn’t realize how influential it was going to become in my gardening style.

What he said was that it’s important to manage invasive plants and then to let the land show you what wants to be there.

I am not sure that I will ever be “done” managing invasive plants, particularly with the number of birds on my property. Fine.

But the land certainly has shown me what wants to be here and it’s goldenrod. But it’s also lots of other things as well.

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This is a plant called boneset (eupatorium perfoliatum). I have quite a bit of it. Pollinators love it because of the tiny, multi-part flowers. It’s native for me.

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This huge patch of asters is just one of several types–all natives– that appeared here by chance and grow beautifully in my heavy wet clay. They’re great for pollinators and go nicely with the goldenrod in this bed.

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This aster prefers more shade so it grows on the edge of our woods.

If I were weed-averse–or less likely to let something bloom to see if it is a weed or a wildflower–chances are I wouldn’t have half these plants. My garden and my pollinators would be poorer for it.

Solidago Acres

I have always wondered about folks who named their houses. How on earth did they come up with their names? When you look at the names–because inevitably, if you name your house, you put it up on a plaque over the door or out on a post by the road–most of them seem very appropriate.

There is one that befuddles me. There’s a large stately house with “Margate” out front. The only thing I can think is that it’s a family name. I can’t imagine what “Margate” has to do with an giant white colonial style home otherwise.

But other than that, names seem to fit homes. I’ve never been into that much until this year when my garden finally got away from me and I am completely over-run with goldenrod. It’s just everywhere. Mind you, I am delighted about it–I could be over-run with some noxious weed!

So as I was walking back to the house with the dog the other day, I said to her (and yes, I chatter to her a blue streak the entire time we’re walking), “Amie, we have to call this house Goldenrod Acres. No, let’s make it Solidago Acres.”

And thus, I have become one of those people who names a house. But no, you will not see me putting a plaque up on it–or around it–anytime soon.

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How did all this goldenrod–the solidago–get here? I have no idea. I suspect this first patch was brought in–as all my plants, wanted and unwanted are–by birds. I have a very robust bird population.

Why it suddenly exploded this year beyond this patch to almost every other garden I have–including some that are literally almost an acre away (yes, I garden on almost an acre of property–but not acres!) I have no idea. Did birds, bees or butterflies spread it? Something must have. Or did other birds drop in new populations? That could be the more plausible scenario for the “rogue” clump that is literally almost as far from this original patch as you can get.

So far as I am concerned, like my “hibiscus hedge,” it can take over a lot of this property. it’s good for wildlife and it’s pretty. And it doesn’t spark allergies. So, as I always say, what’s not to like?

Fall Containers

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In the past, I haven’t done much with containers in the fall. There’s no point, really. “Fall” is a very short season for us. Our first frost comes early in October and much of what goes into a container would be killed by that.

But this year, I have two lectures in October that needed containers. One was a lecture on container gardening itself and the other was a lecture on house plants.

In both my house plants and container lectures, I always like to talk about–and feature–both house plants and succulents. Why? First, because you can’t go anywhere without seeing them. Next, because I like them and I think that, despite the fact that they’re so popular, they are very versatile and great plants for a lot of gardeners in many situations (provided you have sun). So showing them–and talking about how to care for them–is important. Lots of beginning gardeners think that succulents and cactus are the same–because they are sold together. So a little education there is necessary too.

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This is my “house plant” container, where I play off the colors in the croton with the color of the flowers in the kalanchoe and the color of the sedum foliage. This type of planting is called “complementary.” It’s the same design principle as using throw pillows to pick up the color from a painting or a rug, say.

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And this is a late season herb planter with primarily tender perennials. The golden oregano at the front (my “spiller”) is hardy, even in my climate. The tallest plant, the variegated basil is ‘Pesto Perpetuo,’ a tender perennial basil, although I have never successfully over-wintered it without it succumbing to scale. The rosemary (the “filler plant”) will generally winter in my unheated sun porch unless we get a very cold winter–in which case I bring it into the house.

All of these, along with Wednesday’s show stopper ornamental container, will be traveling with me to my lectures in the next few weeks to illustrate some container design principles (as well as some fun fall containers).

I hate the see this year’s gardening season end!

Missing Petals?

I used to have a border of rudbeckia in my wildlife garden. But as in any monoculture, it gradually became a habitat for four lined plant bugs that disfigured the foliage. When other insects started chewing the petals off the bright yellow flowers, I ripped the whole thing out.

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Of course a few have self-sown, but because there is no monoculture, and because they are mingling nicely with other plants (if not actually being overtaken by my supposedly dwarf hibiscus syriacus) I don’t have the problem with insects anymore.

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Interestingly enough, the insects that eat the flower petals seem to have found a container with some annual daisies in it. Almost as fast as the daisies open, their petals are gone.

Here’s a closer look at the damage.

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What’s causing this? In my case, I am sure it is earwigs. They are about the only pest of the numerous possibilities that I know that I have in abundance.

If you are seeing this sort of damage and aren’t sure what might be causing it (and don’t think earwigs are a possibility for you) some other possible causes are the notorious Japanese beetle, or believe it or not, striped or spotted cucumber beetles, which are pests of far more than cucumbers.

I did find a cucumber beetle of the striped variety in my vegetable garden (where I am not growing cucumbers) but 1 beetle is not doing all my damage, surely. I think he ventured over from a neighbor’s yard and probably went right back.

And as for Japanese beetles, this year, I haven’t seen beetles of any kind: not our “June bug” types, nor the asiatic garden beetles or the Japanese beetles. It’s a little odd. (But I am not complaining!)

New England Stone Walls Tell a Story

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We’re famous for our stone walls here in New England. Many of us have them on our properties, but often you’ll find them in our woods as well or see them alongside our interstates as you drive by–remnants of long ago homes or farms that no longer stand.

When I was doing my yearly weeding of my slate walk last weekend, I noticed the lichen on the stones. This year, there’s so much yellow, it almost looks as if we painted them with paint that has now weathered off.

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But notice something else (once you finish looking at the lichen in the above 2 photos). I also realized that the walls contained my “gardening history,” so to speak.

In the top photo is a tiny succulent that escaped from a container long ago. I no longer have the container or the succulent, except in this stair crevice.

The next photo shows my begonia grandis alba. This still does come up in my yard, but it has sown itself into the wall as well. I love that.

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Here’s sedum Angelina, from a nearby planter.

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This creeping lysmachia came from a planter years ago. Now it pops out of the wall and the steps at random intervals.

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And this is a blue campanula. It pops out of the wall in 3 places. I had it growing up on top, but the Spoiler hated it so he had me compost it. The plant apparently had other ideas, and popped out through the wall. I always think of this as the plant that thwarted the Spoiler!

So that’s my garden history in my stone wall.

Ants and Peonies Work Together

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Back when I was working in retail gardening, I confess to telling a little white lie: if I thought someone was likely to douse their peonies with heavy doses of insecticide to rid them of the ants that always appear before (and perhaps just shortly after bloom time as the above photo shows), I would say, “Oh no, please don’t do that. The ants are eating the sap so the peonies can open.”

It worked like a charm and my favorite pollinators, the ants, were spared.

Of course we know that the peonies don’t need the ants to “eat the sap” for them to open. It’s more of a symbiotic relationship, akin to the way that the ants pollinate things–although this isn’t a true pollinator relationship.

What is happening here is that the ants are attracted to the peonies sugary sap. In the process, they keep other predators at bay–things like aphids, which are prevalent in this early spring, and thrips, which affect so many of our ornamental flowers. Ants might even be thought of as the peonies own natural insecticide.

You can read more about this beneficial relationship here at this fact sheet from the University of Missouri.

But of course no one wants to bring ants into the house if you want to enjoy peonies as a cut flower. There are a couple of ways to solve for this. First, cut the peonies in the evening, or first thing in the morning and leave the cut flowers in a cool place (a shed or garage) for several hours so that the ants, if any, can leave the flowers.

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If you cut the flowers at this stage–or slightly larger–you can gently shake or wash the ants off to know that you have removed them all. That way there’s no guessing. Make sure that there’s enough color showing in the bud that the flower will open. This bud is just a little bit too small yet.

Finally, I am sure that most of you won’t get to the point where you’ll rejoice when you see ants in the garden as I do. But if you see them on your peonies, thank them. They are protecting them from other insects pests–so you don’t have to!

And once the blooms are fully open, they move on. So once again, no insecticide needed. It doesn’t get any better than that!