Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Here's another great plant for attracting bees - Biokovo cranesbill geranium!

Almost three years ago, I published a blog post extolling the virtues of perennial cranesbill geraniums as groundcovers.

At that time, I did a little kvetching about the fact that the cranesbill geraniums didn't seem to do a great job of attracting pollinators (which is always a high priority for me).

Well, I've added more cranesbills and they've expanded their territory and this year, for the first time, I noticed the 'Biokovo' variety of Geranium x cantabrigiense attracting a lot of bees - both bumblebees and honeybees!

The other cranesbills that I have - 'Rozanne' and a couple cultivars of Geranium sanguineum - don't seem as attractive to the bumbles or the honeybees, but they do seem to generate some interest from teeny-tiny pollinators (probably some sort of hoverfly or tiny wasp).

Anyway, there's no way that my camera is good enough to capture a video of the hoverflies, but I was able to shoot this short film of a bumblebee buzzing his way among 'Biokovo' flowers.


PS - Over time, I've changed my mind on a lot of groundcovers (and other plants). but I still think cranesbill geraniums -- especially the 'Biokovo' cultivar -- make excellent groundcovers, at least in my Tennessee garden!


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Monday, June 13, 2016

Class of 2016 -- Pycnanthemum muticum, short-toothed mountain mint

Honey bee on Pycnanthem muticum flower cluster (photo by John Baker)

Why I'm growing Pycnanthemum muticum in my garden...

1) It's native to Tennessee, as well as scattered sites across the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and New England from Texas all the way to New Hampshire

2) Richard Hawke, Plant Evaluation Manager at the Chicago Botanic Garden, told me that he has seen P. muticum flowers attract at least a dozen types of bees, wasps, flies, moths and butterflies!

3) Hawke also mentioned that short-toothed mountain mint is considered to be deer-resistant.

4) Holly Scoggins, PhD, Assistant Professor of Horticulture at Virginia Tech, told me that P. muticum grows tallest (up to 4 feet) in moist soil, but that it also seems to be drought-tolerant.

5) The foliage has a nice minty scent.

Note: Despite their common name, mountain mints are not true mints (which are in the Mentha genus). In fact, according to the sources I consulted at the Nebraska Regional Poison Center (NRPC), Pycanthemums contain a chemical called pulegone that can be toxic to the liver. Pulegone does double-duty as an insect repellent, and NRPC does say that it is safe to apply small amounts of the plant externally to skin or clothing to ward off insect pests.

Also, some sources I consulted say that mountain mints can spread aggressively, others say they are much less rampant spreaders than 'true' mints. Either way, if mountain mint is happy where you plant it, you should probably expect that it will try to expand. That may not be an issue (especially in its native range) if it's planted with trees, shrubs or other robust perennials, but you may want to think twice about planting it next to any demure or delicate prized perennials.

Do you grow short-toothed mountain mint? If so, what has been your experience with this plant?


Friday, June 10, 2016

Anybody Know Who's Bugging Me?

Found these two interesting bugs in the garden the other day. Anyone know what they might be?

Looks a little like a milkweed bug or a boxelder bug, but the coloration, patterns and overall shape don't seem quite right to be one of those...
Maybe an emerald ash borer? (Let's hope not.)

Have you seen any new or unusual bugs in your garden this year? In addition to the ones shown here, I did spot a leaf-footed bug on my window a couple of weeks ago. That was pretty cool!


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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Pollinators Galore!

It's June and the pollinators are buzzing.

The last two posts on lavender and blanket flower have covered some of the buzz, but there's more to come...

This could be a bumblebee, but I think it's a carpenter bee on hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)

Bumblebee on creeping germander (Teucrium chamaedrys 'Prostratum')

Some sort of tiny bee or maybe an ant on 'Natchez' crape myrtle - just starting to bloom on June 2nd.

Small bee on yarrow (Alchillea millefolium 'Paprika')

Fly on yarrow

Hoverfly on wildflower (I believe this is daisy fleabane - Erigeron annuus)

Small bee (I believe) on 'Carefree Beauty' rose

Indian pinks (Spigelia marilandica) are flourish this year as never before. In previous years, an herbivore (rabbit?) would nibble them down to the nubs repeatedly. Last year, they didn't get to flower at all, and I thought the rabbit had nearly killed two of the three clumps. But they eventually all came back and seem to be flourishing -- this is a clump that I thought was toast just a month ago. It doesn't quite fit with theme of this post as I haven't seen any pollinators on it yet, but it should attract hummingbirds with its long, tubular, red flowers with yellow throats.

Look closely and I believe you'll see two hoverflies mating on the leaf of this 'Golden Jubilee' Agastache foeniculum

Bumblebee hanging on to Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop)

Which is fuzzier - the bumblebee or the 'Fuzzy Wuzzy' lamb's ear (Stachys byzantina)?

Small bee on Coreopsis lanceolata (lanceleaf coreopsis)

No pollinators in sight here, but the seedpods swelling suggest that something has succeeded in pollinating this redwhisker clammyweed (Polanisia dodecandra). Recent research from the University of Alberta suggests that redwhisker clammyweed provides both nectar and pollen resources for pollinators.

Perhaps the culprit in the destruction of the smooth asters (Symphyotrichum laeve)?
Where there be pollinators, there be spiders...

Can you spot the spider here?
(The spider's camouflage is enhanced here by my inability to focus correctly. Sorry about that.)

The small bee on the Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) in the foreground is packing a lot of pollen on its legs!

Which plants are attracting the most pollinators in your garden?


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Monday, June 6, 2016

Put a Blanket On It!

Looking to attract more pollinators to your garden?

Consider blanket flower - in this case, the hybrid Gaillardia x grandiflora, a cross between G. aristata (native to the Western U.S.) and G. pulchella (native across the Southern U.S. all the way from Arizona to North Carolina).

I believe this is a green metallic sweat bee (Agapostemon genus)

A bumblebee visits a blanket flower.

A small bee and an even smaller bee share the same blanket flower.

This big guy (or gal) is a carpenter bee - like a bumblebee, only bigger, shinier and buzzier.
See those fuzzy balls in the background? Those are the spent flowers! They're so adorable that there's no need to deadhead. And besides, I believe the seeds are attractive to little birds (e.g., goldfinches). Blanket flower has a reputation of being a little short-lived, but in my garden, I've found that it reseeds gently , which helps it persist and even expand over time.


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Friday, June 3, 2016

Bumblebees love lavender!

Ya can't argue with evidence like this...

PS - If you'd like to read a detailed write-up on lavender instead of watching the video above, you can find my 2015 paean to lavender here.


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Monday, May 30, 2016

Class of 2016 -- Foeniculum vulgare ‘Rubrum’, bronze fennel

Black swallowtail caterpillar on bronze fennel (photo by John Brandauer)

Why I'm growing Foeniculum vulgare ‘Rubrum’ in my garden...

1) Cornell University calls fennel drought tolerant and says that its flowers attract beneficial insects including bees, parasitic wasps and hoverflies.

2) Cornell also notes that fennel serves as a host plant for swallowtail butterflies!

3) Fennel seeds reportedly have a sweet anise flavor and can be used for seasoning, while fennel leaves can be added to salads or used as a garnish. There are many sources on the Internet, including The Herb Society of America and Mother Earth Living, that provide advice on using Foeniculum vulgare in the kitchen.

Two warnings / cautionary notes:

1) Fennel is native to the Mediterranean and has become a seriously invasive weed in some parts of the world, including California and Washington. I would not recommend planting this herb on the West Coast, but I can't find any indication that it's running rampant in the Southeast. For instance, I don't see it on the lists of invasive plant species in TennesseeNorth Carolina, Alabama or South Carolina. In general, before adding non-native plants to your garden, it's a good idea to do your own research, consult local experts and err on the side of caution if there's any indication that an exotic plant could disrupt native plant communities in your region.

2) Tempted to nibble something that looks like fennel? Keep in mind that fennel bears some resemblance to poison hemlock (Conium maculatum). As its common name suggests, poison hemlock is reportedly really, really poisonous. Per the USDA: "People may be poisoned by eating any part of a hemlock plant. Often, poisoning occurs after the victim confuses hemlock root with wild parsnips, hemlock leaves with parsley, or hemlock seed with anise. Whistles made from hollow stems of poison-hemlock have caused death in children." King County, Washington notes that the toxins in poison hemlock can even be absorbed through the skin. Please exercise caution and don't ingest anything unless you are certain you know the identity of the plant.  

Do you grow bronze fennel? If so, what has been your experience with this plant?


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Monday, May 23, 2016

Class of 2016 -- Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki', false holly

Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki', false holly, the small reddish leaves represent new growth, while the older leaves have green and yellow variegation.
Yep, Goshiki offers pretty a whole rainbow of colors in a single plant!

Why I'm growing Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki' in my garden...

1) I like the fact that it is a broadleaf evergreen shrub. There are not that many broadleaf evergreens that are reliably hardy in Tennessee, but Fred Spicer of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens says that O. heterophyllus should be "rock-hardy" even in USDA zone 6a.

2) Spicer also notes that false holly has excellent drought tolerance in Alabama.

3) Louisiana State University says that O. heterophyllus has fragrant autumn flowers. (Personally I have not seen or smelled any flowers yet on my false hollies.)

4) Rutgers indicates that false holly is fairly deer resistant ("seldom severely damaged").

5) Respected plantsman Michael Dirr says O. heterophyllus makes a resilient and virtually impenetrable hedge that can withstand heat, drought and pruning.

6) The Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute says that false holly flowers attract bees, while its fruit provides food for wildlife.

Do you grow false holly? If so, what has been your experience with this plant?


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Monday, May 16, 2016

Class of 2016 -- Coreopsis lanceolata, lanceleaf coreopsis

Lanceleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) started to bloom on May 11th.

Why I'm growing Coreopsis lanceolata in my garden...

1) Lanceleaf coreopsis is native to Tennessee and throughout much of the Eastern U.S.

2) Missouri Botanical Garden says it can grow in full sun and tolerate deer, drought, heat and humidity. (I've got all of those in abundance!)

3) I found an 1890 (!) article in The Garden magazine saying that C. lanceolata grew "exceptionally fine" on heavy clay soil during wet summers.

4) Michigan State University says that lanceleaf coreopsis flowers are very attractive to bees and other beneficial insects.

5) The Missouri Prairie Foundation says that C. lanceolata seeds provide food for finches.

Do you grow lanceleaf coreopsis? If so, what has been your experience with this plant?


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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Class of 2016 -- Oenothera fruticosa, sundrops

The sundrops have opened! Today is the second day I've seen flowers on Oenothera fruticosa.  
These are really bright, cheerful flowers that are visible way across the garden.
And the red buds provide extra appeal alongside the flowers.

Why I'm growing Oenothera fruticosa in my garden...

1) It's native to Tennessee and throughout much of the Eastern U.S. from Mississippi and Florida in the south all the way up to Michigan and New Hampshire in the north.

2) Virginia Native Plant Society calls it drought tolerant and deer resistant, able to grow on hot sites in poor dry soils with diurnal flowers that attract butterflies

3) Nicole Selby, a Gardener at The Scott Arboretum in Pennsylvania told me that O. fruticosa (which is also known as "narrowleaf primrose") seems to be a good plant for wildlife with insects visiting the flowers to feed on nectar, birds eating the seeds and mammals nibbling on the roots.

(That last bit about mammals eating the roots could be worrisome, but since O. fruticosa has a reputation of spreading both by seed and roots, perhaps the mammals just help keep the plant in check?)

4) Asheville Botanical Gardens says that sundrops can bloom for two months, attracting pollinators including sphinx moths, hummingbirds, honeybees and bumblebees. The foliage may have an evergreen reddish presence in winter. 

Do you grow sundrops? If so, what has been your experience with this plant?


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