Honeybee NectarFlow-Black Locust Trees

Black Locust bloom

Planting peas by St Patrick’s Day is an American farming tradition that goes way back and I can remember my father relating this age-old practice. He spent his childhood on a farm and knew all the old-time ways. I didn’t have any beekeeping relatives, but if I had I am sure they would have told me to super my hives (adding extra storage boxes for nectar) when the Black Locust blooms. Beekeepers, like farmers, still look outside in the natural world to gauge how to manage their honey crop.

The lower large box is a brood box, where the queen lays eggs, and the upper boxes are supers

The Black Locust tree, Robinia pseudoacacia, is famous for producing a fruity and fragrant light green honey. Native to the Eastern United State, I always look for this tree to bloom in the spring as a sign that “honeyflow” or “nectarflow” is starting for my honeybees.

Honeybees love native Black Cherries that bloom at the same time

An abundance of nectar sources blooming in profusion means a nectarflow is starting with the bees collecting excess nectar. When bees bring in more nectar than they need or can use, that is when a beekeeper rejoices and can remove the extra stored honey for themselves. Contrary to widely held opinion, bees only produce excess honey in the early spring or occasionally in late summer, and beekeepers harvest in July for much of the United States. In southern states, where native flowering is much more abundant over a longer time period, beekeepers can get two harvests.

Honeybee nectaring from a late nectar source-Dahlia

The Black Locust tree is native to eastern and southeastern North America, but has spread throughout the United States and much of Canada and can be invasive. They grow quickly on roadsides and fields and now the creamy heavily scented branches are hanging heavy over a road that I travel every day. Most people would zip by and not pay any attention at all to these beautiful trees as the blooms are usually high up in the canopy. But I stop and whip out my camera to zoom in on these beautiful blossoms!

The flower racemes pull down the branches of the tree

Last year, because of the fickle weather, Black Locust didn’t bloom in the great abundance that I see this year, so I am hoping for a good honey harvest. But this spring we have had lots of spells of rainy cold days when the bees can’t fly and that might cut short the nectar flow.

A warm and sunny spell during honey flow means that a strong hive can fill a honey super with nectar in two days! Remember…. that is nectar. Ripe honey has had its water fraction reduced greatly by bees fanning nectar to increase water evaporation to produce the sugar concentration necessary to produce honey. Once honey is ready, the bees cap over the top with wax.

Ripe honey cells are capped by wax in the upper left hand side; on the lower right are growing brood

Blooming for about 10 days between April and June, here in the mid-Atlantic, the racemes of blooms of Black Locust opened in early May. Even before the flowers opened, the bees started collecting pollen from the tree which they need to feed their growing brood or larvae. Worker bees will flock to the flowers for the abundance of nectar that they produce, once the days turn warm and sunny and browse from other flowering trees and vegetation, like the Black Cherry. With the onset of blooming, bees start producing wax which requires several times more nectar than honey. And bees need honeycomb built first before storing nectar. The purpose of a spring flow, for the bees, is to provide food for the rest of the year, not honey for the beekeeper!

The racemes of the Black Locust flowers hang down 8 inches

After this big burst of native bloom, there is usually a summer dearth until goldenrod, asters, and other late bloomers appear. That is why gardeners should plant summer bloomers to supplement their diet. Plant those Zinnias, Sunflowers, etc. Go to Plant These For The Bees.

Plant These For The Bees poster available at TheGardenDiaries Etsy Shop


Asters are an important late season nectar source for all pollinators

Healthy hives may produce queen cells in preparation for swarming, as the spring nectarflow builds; their normal method of making new colonies. The old queen and a large swarm of bees will go off and begin a new hive. See Swarming of the Bees.

Producing more queens prior to swarming

Bee swarm in my backyard tree

Interesting and Surprising Facts About Black Locust

  • Abraham Lincoln, as a young man, built up his muscles splitting logs from Black Locust trees for firewood and fence posts

  • Extremely hard wood, one of the hardest and rot resistant in North America, the wood is valuable for floors, boats, fence posts, and furniture

  • A member of the Fabaceae (pea family), the tree has nodules of nitrogen-fixing bacteria on its roots which make it an excellent species for re-vegetating poor or damaged soils

  • Newly cut wood has an offensive odor which disappears with time

  • The flowers are eaten in Japan, France, and Italy, battered and fried as beignets or in tempura

  • The bark, wood, and leaves are toxic to livestock and humans, so farmers remove them from their fields

  • Black Locust blooms along with privet, multi-flora, blackberries, honeysuckle, and other native vegetation to produce the abundance of available nectar for pollinators; so even invasives play a role in supporting pollinators

  • Black locust is an interesting example of how one plant is considered an invasive species even on the same continent it is native to

  • Racemes of flowers can hang 4-8 inches long and intensely fragrant smelling like an orange tree

  • Highly tolerant of pollution, the tree is planted in Europe and produces the acclaimed ‘Acacia Honey’

  • One of the best woods for burning in wood stove, it has little or no flame and can burn when wet, burning at a comparable temperature as coal

  • Compounds in the heartwood allow the wood to last over 100 years in soil

 

 

 

 

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Fuzzy, Fragrant, & Ferny; Deer-Proof Plants For the Garden

The scourge of most people’s gardens, deer are cursed by everyone who plants a pricey carefully selected gem, that overnight becomes deer salad on the buffet line. Using fences, sprays, loud noises, and other innovative controls to some effect, deer will always find a way to get to a freshly planted tender morsel one way or another. Frustrating is not the word! Gardeners feel that they are under attack and throw up their hands in defeat against their Bambi foes.

The best defense against this concerted garden attack is to plant things that deer rarely if ever eat…. Kind of like putting out a liver dish for most people. But if you are unsure about the resistance factor, consider if the plant is fuzzy, fragrant or a fern… animals (deer and bunnies) tend to leave them alone.

Sometimes rabbits are worse than deer

On the other hand, don’t plant the big three-hostas, daylilies, and tulips. Plantings of any of these will entice deer to your property, like “M and M’s” scattered around that will draw deer in to your property. Or inviting them to a party! Instead, you want to put up “keep away” signs with your plant choices.

Yes, I love daylilies also, but deer will clean you out!

Tulips are like candy to deer

List of  Plants That are “Usually” Deerproof (Some Always!)

Usually is the key here. I thought that Epimedium was a stalwart deer proof plant until someone sent me a picture of a stand of chewed up Epimedium from deer. Some of these plants are understandably resistant like lavender or nepeta, both being very pungent. But Shasta Daisy? This seems very juicy and succulent to me but I find that deer never touch it. Here’s my list from experience:

Achillea, Yarrow

Aconitum, Monkshood

Agastache, Anise Hyssop

Ajuga

Alchemilla, Lady’s Mantle

Allium, Ornamental Onion

Angelonia, Annual

Armeria, Sea Thrift

Arisaema, Jack in the Pulpit

Artemisia, all varieties

Aruncus, Goatsbeard

Astilbe

Asclepias, Butterfly Weed, all varieties

Baptisia, False Indigo

Barberry, can be invasive

Bleeding Heart, Dicentra

Borage

Boxwood

Brunnera, Forget Me Not

Butterfly Bush

Calycanthus, Sweet Shrub

Caryopteris, Bluebeard 

Celosia, Cockscomb

Chelone, Turtlehead 

Chrysogonum virginianum, Green and Gold

Cimicifuga, Bugbane

Clethra, Summersweet

Convallaria, Lily of the Valley

Cordyline

Coreopsis-Threadleaf varieties only like Zagreb

Cryptomeria radicans, Japanese Cedar

Daffodils, poisonous and they never eat these!

Daphne

Deutzia

Dianthus, Pinks

Dicentra, Bleeding Heart

Epimedium, Barrenwort

Euphorbia, Cushion Spurge

Ferns, all kinds

Geranium macrorhizzum  ‘Ingwersens’ &  ‘Bevans’, Big Root Geranium

Globe Amaranth, Gomprhena

Grasses, all kinds

Hakonechloa, Japanese Forest Grass

Helleborus, Lenten Rose

Heuchera ‘Autumn Bride’,Coral Bells

Hibiscus

Hyacinth

Iberis, Candytuft

Iris, all kinds

Ivy

Kniphofia, Red Hot Poker

Lamium, Dead Nettle

Lantana, Annual

Lavender

Leucanthemum, Shasta Daisy

Leucothoe

Ligularia

Lupine

Lysimachia, Creeping Jenny

Mahonia, Oregon Grape

Mazus reptans

Mertensia virginica, Virginia Bluebells

Microbiota decussatta, Russian Cypress

Monarda, Bee Balm

Myosotis, Forget Me Not

Nandina, Heavenly Bamboo

Nepeta, Catmint

Pachysandra

Peony

Perovskia, Russian Sage

Phlox subulata, Creeping Phlox

Pulmonaria,  Lungwort

Pynacanthemum, Mountain Mint

Rhus ‘Gro-Low’, Sumac

Rudbeckia, Black Eyed Susan

Sarcococca, Sweetbox

Salvia, all kinds

Scabiosa, Pincushion Flower

Senecio, Golden Groundsel

Solidago, Golden Rod

Spirea

Stachys, Lambs Ears

Stylophorum diphyllum, Celandine Poppy

Tanacetum, Tansy

Teucrium, Germander

Thyme

Tiarella

Vernonia, Ironweed

Vinca

Viburnum ‘Pragense’

Vitex

Yucca

 

 

 

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Three For the Bees

Congregating on the front porch, my bees are hungry!

Pollinator container for early spring

#1

Pollinators are flying and searching for nectar and pollen to take back to their colony and the pickings are slim until the rest of the spring flowers open. Help them out with container plantings to supplement their foraging efforts.

Everything here I picked up at my local Lowes and/or Home Depot. Pick a large wide mouthed container  (18″ at least) and plant snapdragons, lavender, foxglove (digitalis), violas, and dianthus. I noticed once I potted this all up, that lots of bees, flies, and other insects started to visit immediately.

This container will remain on my patio all spring and once the foxglove, snapdragons,and violas are kaput, I will add some summer blooming plants to continue the show with the lavender and the dianthus.

#2

Another container which attracts many pollinators is the one above with primrose, scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’, heather, alyssum, woodland phlox, lilies, and yellow dogwood sticks for fun. The lilies will be the last to flower and will take this container into the summer. At that time, I will rejuvenate the container, keeping the plants that still look good and changing out the bloomed out ones. Makeover time!

Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ is a great pollinator friendly plant

#3

Violas are the star in this pollinator container. The silver ball is a great way to add “pizzazz” and amp up the impact. Again snapdragons are an important element for early spring chilly weather. The alliums will be blooming in another month to continue the color show. The cobalt blue container adds a splash of color to the composition.

Frost date for my area of the mid-Atlantic is May 12 so I am careful to plant only cold hardy plants –  no pentas, marigolds, lantana, coleus, etc.! I hold these until later in my greenhouse to fill in for my spent spring flowers.

 

For more information on the best plants for bees, go to my post, Plant These For The Bees.

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Native vs Non-Native-Which is Better for Pollinators?

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Tithonia, Mexican Sunflower, native to Mexico and Central America, is one of the top insect drawing plants in my garden

Native Vs Non-Native

Native or non-native in the garden: Which is better? Simple- everyone knows the answer to that question…Natives of course! As gardeners, we have been bombarded with information about the value to wildlife of native plants and the more natives the better. But the definition of natives has always been fuzzy to me. Are natives plants that originated within our region, state, or North America? Or things that predate Europeans settling North America? Or does it mean plants indigenous to a particular habitat or ecosystem? And how about cultivars of native plants-like different varieties of Anise Hyssop which is a North American native? There are no easy answers to these questions.

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‘Pink Panther’ Anise Hyssop is a bee magnet

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Liatris is a great native wildflower that I grow for bee value

I have always been skeptical about the native plant zeal and ready to challenge it after my observations of over 50 years of gardening experience. My blog post on the benefits of planting Butterfly Bushes stirred up some controversy. I acknowledge that Butterfly Bush provides only nectar and not foliage value to caterpillars as a host plant. But I still urge people to plant Butterfly Bush because deer won’t touch it and the butterflies flock to it and I enjoy the plant for its beauty and ease of growth. There aren’t many flowering shrubs that deer leave alone which makes it valuable as a landscape plant.

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Pipevine Swallowtail on Butterfly Bush flower

I always deferred to the experts about native plants because anecdotal evidence is not the same as peer reviewed scientific articles.  So, I had no numbers to back up my belief gained from experience. Planting a diverse assortment of flowers- be it perennials, vines, annuals, trees, or shrubs or native and non-native to provide a healthy and beautiful habitat was always what I have practiced. My decisions on what to plant was determined by whether the plant was appropriate for the location and environment, not fussy, and that it wasn’t invasive.  Invasive means that a plant is spreading prolifically and undesirable or harmful to the habitat.

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A roadside field of invasive Purple Loosestrife,, Lythrum salicaria, originally from Europe

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Invasive Japanese Beetles feeding on Lythrum

Plants For Bugs Article

My longtime observations of planting a diverse selection of plants, both native and non-native, was recently backed up by an article, “Plants For Bugs: all in the mix” by Helen Bostock, who is a RHS Senior Horticultural advisor, from across the pond. Bostock says the average UK garden contains around 70 percent non-native and 30 percent native plants. I couldn’t find the U.S average, but I think it is probably very close to that same percentage. Bostock concludes that native use is on the rise, especially with the ‘back to the wild’ environmental movement, and ongoing education of home consumers of landscapes. I see it happening in my own practice of landscape designer with more and more requests for butterfly/wildlife friendly landscapes and less requests for manicured formal gardens. Gardens are still very unlike natural habitats but have a much greater diversity of plant species than their surroundings which have been degraded with development encroachment.

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Zinnias are not native to my area but pollinators love them

Bostock’s research concludes after studies spanning four years that a mix of plants from around the world may be the most effective way to sustain pollinators. This was no surprise to me. The native bandwagon has acquired mystical connotations in the past 10 years and claims that natives use less water, are disease free, and low maintenance have been made over and over.

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I am slowly removing turf and planting meadows with native plants on my property

But what role do garden plants (both native and non-native) play in supporting wildlife?  Views differ on whether planting native plants only is necessary for the most wildlife friendly garden. This was the question posed by the Wildlife Gardening Forum in the UK and they set up a field experiment designed to test whether the geographical origin of a plant affects the numbers and diversity of insects and other wildlife.

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Pollinating fly on mint flower

Conclusions

This is what the RHS study has concluded:

• Research reveals a mixture of native and non-native ornamental plants may provide the best resources for pollinating insects in gardens
• Native plants are not always the first choice for pollinators visiting gardens
• Non-native plants can prolong the flowering season providing an additional food source

Surprising results for many!

The basis of a garden’s health and vigor is determined by invertebrates, animals lacking a backbone. The more critters making a home or just stopping by for a refueling visit, the healthier your garden is to the environment and your health and well being.

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Dragonfly on waterlily

 Findings and Messages

For all pollinator groups on all treatments, greater floral resource, either native or non-native, resulted in an increase in visits. There was, however, a greater abundance of total pollinators recorded on native and near-native treatments compared with the exotic plots.

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Allegheny Vine, Adlumia Fungosa, is an endangered North American native, closely related to Bleeding Heart

Exotics were notable in extending the period of bloom which is really important to attract insects all season long.

The takeaway here – use site appropriate native plants when possible, understanding that some are a bit more boisterous than others, but add exotics where appropriate to enrich and extend the season. Gardens can be enhanced as a habitat by planting a variety of flowering plants, tilted towards native and near-native species.

 

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Impatien Alternative-SunPatiens

SunPatiens used around a house make a big impact, image from Sakata

Sunpatien Compact Blush Pink, image from Sakata

Filling the Gap

If you have depended on Impatiens for your shady areas for years, you probably have gotten a rude awakening one day and looked at dead and dying plants littering your flowering beds.

SunPatien Compact Fire

If you haven’t heard by now, the common Impatien, Impatien walleriana, is in trouble.  Lots of shade gardeners are bemoaning this right now, and wonder what should they plant instead!!?? So don’t throw up your hands and give up gardening. Pest and diseases have been around a long time and I have a great suggestion for an alternative, that is vastly better than the common Impatien – SunPatiens from Sakata Seed.

Bold and bright blossoms from SunPatiens make a great flower bowl arrangement, image from Sakata

Downy Mildew is the Culprit

First, a little background. I found out about “massive death by mildew” when I visited a client three summers ago who gardens in the shade, and took a look at all her wilting, disgusting Impatiens, and was at a loss to explain their demise. After calling around to different help desks at county and state offices for gardeners, I found out that Impatiens are taking a direct hit from Impatiens Downy Mildew (Plasmopara obducens), a new disease that has recently has reared its ugly head in the states, and has killed off masses of Impatiens throughout the U.S. It started as long ago as 1942, with only sporadic outbreaks, but really starting getting going in 2004. In 2011, widespread kill-offs of Impatiens were reported and things aren’t expected to get any better.

Closeup of a SunPatien blossom of Spreading Shell Pink, image from Sakata

Leaving Downy Mildew Behind

This is a relatively new disease that only targets the common Impatien (Impatien walleriana), not the other Impatiens (Impatien hawkeri)like the New Guinea, Big Bounce or  the best of the lot- SunPatien. Sunpatien has been around for 10 years now and I find that people still don’t know about this great choice. A husky vigorous plant, SunPatien is way more interesting and attractive than the garden variety Impatien that you used to see planted in masses for color in the shade.

SunPatien Spreading White has gold variegated foliage, from my patio

SunPatien Compact Neon Pink, image from Sakata

SunPatien Compact Fire, image from Sakata

Symptoms

If you experienced Downy Mildew in your Impatien plantings in previous years, then this year watch out! The pathogen overwinters handily and can persist for years. Here are the things to look for:

  • Yellowish or pale-green foliage

  • Downward curling of the leaves

  • Distorted leaves

  • White to light-gray fuzz on the undersides of the leaves. There are excellent images on the web if you search for “Impatiens Downy Mildew”

  • Emerging, new leaves that are smaller than normal and discolored

  • Flower buds that either fail to form or abort before opening

  • Stunted plants

    Sunpatien Spreading White with variegated foliage on the right, image from Sakata

SunPatiens

Sounds like a horror story for any gardener who relies on Impatiens for color in the shade. And there are a lot of gardeners who plant them exclusively, hauling home flats and flats of these colorful shade annuals. Try SunPatiens instead. You will be glad that you tried them!

Here are some attributes of SunPatiens:

  • Flowers up to 3 inches across

  • Easy to grow

  • Thrives under heat, humidity, rain or shine

  • Thrives in sun or shade

  • Blooms nonstop, spring through frost

  • Downy mildew resistant!

    SunPatien Compact Fire, image from Sakata

Three Types of SunPatiens

Compact – The Compact series is bred for smaller containers and has excellent branching for a dense, bushy plant. Available in 10 colors. Great for containers. Grows 12 to 24″ tall  and wide.

Spreading or Mounding – Spreading SunPatiens have a mounding habit and are suited for basket and in the landscape where fast coverage is needed. Available in 5 colors. Can spread from 20″ to 36″.

Vigorous – Need fast growing coverage? Then Vigorous SunPatiens are the way to go. These plants cover a lot of ground quickly and provide outstanding performance where massive color is essential. Can get up to 42″ wide and tall. This is a strong growing plant.

SunPatien Spreading Salmon, image from Sakata

Available only in plant form, SunPatiens are a cross of several species that produces larger, better branched plants with bigger blooms and a much longer season of bloom. Able to thrive in full shade to nearly full sun, it is ideal for gardens that have high shade or dappled sunlight. For more information, go to Sakata SunPatiens.

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Heirloom Annuals

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Bachelors Buttons are an old favorite with the most intense blue color

Old timey annuals are back in! Pushed to the side for many years in favor of newer, supposedly better cultivars, I always remember growing these as a child and seeing them in my parents garden. I couldn’t wait to squeeze the snapdragon flowers to make the “mouth” open like a dragon when I was little. Or being fascinated by the pansy faces that I grew and pressing them between the pages of a phone book.

Pansy flower

Violas in a container

With all the new intros of flowers, people forget the old-fashioned flowers that our grandmothers grew and enjoyed. ‘Flowers with a past’, or ‘flowers with history’ intrigue me even in the face of the slant in favor of perennials in recent years. So many people when they hear that a plant is an annual dismiss it as not worth the time and money to plant. But even in a garden of plant snobs, there is room for a diverse choice of antique flowers.

Rarely seen anymore, Balsam flower is extremely easy to grow

Rarely seen anymore, Balsam flower is extremely easy to grow

Never having given up on clarkia, cleome, calendula, cornflower, and cosmos, I have never stopped growing these neglected blooms and invite other flower lovers embrace them as well. Neglected but not forgotten, all these flowers should be planted and enjoyed by another generation.

Edible Nasturtiums are easy to grow

Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums

Heirloom annuals are plants that have been cultivated for at least one hundred years, and some for much longer. Unimproved flowers that hybridizers haven’t got their hands on, antique annuals bloom profusely all season long and set seed so that you can collect them to flower for another year. Even better, many reseed to continue growing for the next season. Many are tall and graceful, not short and stocky hybrids that fit into containers and smaller gardens that are more prevalent today.

Sticky cleome is native to South America and looks spidery, hence its common name, Spider Flower

Sticky Cleome is native to South America and looks spidery, hence its common name, Spider Flower

Difficult to have something in bloom all season long, a perennial border is just shouting out to have annuals inserted in empty spots so you can have a constant parade of blooms.

Cosmos at Falkland Place in Scotland

Beautiful ruffled Cosmos at Falkland Place in Scotland

Sweet Peas at Falkland Palace in Scotland

Sweet Peas at Falkland Palace in Scotland

Closeup of Sweet Pea

Closeup of Sweet Pea

Perennial purists who will not allow an annual to cross through their garden gate are missing out on the dizzying palette of flowers that flower and die in one season. Perennial is a term that can be interpreted several ways. I have some short-lived perennials that only last two or three seasons, like lavender. The drainage issue always does this picky perennial in. So, the term perennial could mean – lasts for many seasons, like a peony… or perennial for a few seasons, like some of the new Echinaceas. Echinaceas don’t seem to last very long at all and yet they are called perennials.

I love all the new Echinaceas, but they seem to last only a couple of seasons

Poppies are one of my favorite annuals

Poppies are one of my favorite old fashioned annuals

Blue poppy

Blue Poppy

When most perennials are on their last gasp in late summer, many annuals are still running strong with little care. A bit of dead heading, sometimes staking, and an infusion of fertilizer is enough to keep them in good form all summer. Some annuals like Poppies, Love in a Mist, Bells of Ireland, Clarkia, and Larkspur are definitely cool weather plants finished by June. See my post on Cool Season Annuals.

Purple Larkspur makes a fine foil for pink Poppies

Cool season Bells of Ireland

Cool season Bells of Ireland

Unusual on the east coast, Clarkia is an annual that does better on the west coast

Love in a Mist is aptly named

Dried seed pods of Nigella or Love in a Mist

Cultivated for thousands of years in the Americas, Zinnias are a true antique classic. According to Burpee’s website, “Zinnias are undemanding annuals that simply need full sun, warmth, and well-drained soil rich in organic matter. If soil is poor, incorporate lots of compost or leaf mold”. Like many old-fashioned annuals, Zinnias do better sown directly into the garden instead of being transplanted.

Zinnias draw butterflies

Plumed Celosias are bursting with new cultivars but I really like to grow the unique Crested Celosia. I love the brain-like texture of the velvety bloom and it dries beautifully.

Good for drying, crested celosia has a fascinating bloom

Good for drying, Crested Celosia has a fascinating bloom

Blue Lace Flower

Blue Lace Flower

Blue Lace Flower, Trachymeme coerulea, resembles a purple Queen Anne’s Lace and would look good in a cottage style garden border. Coming from Australia in 1828, you can find this plant reseeding year after year into beds without any special care. Great for cutting and bringing into the house like many heirlooms, arranging with any of these long-stemmed flowers is a delight.

Larkspur and snapdragons from the garden make a fine arrangement

Larkspur and snapdragons from the garden make a fine arrangement

Annie's Annuals is a nursery that specializes in Heirloom annuals; this is one of their demo gardens

Annie’s Annuals in San Francisco is a nursery that specializes in Heirloom annuals; this is one of their demo gardens

All of these heirlooms draw pollinators in droves to their open faced flowers, with easily available pollen and nectar. To see more plants and flowers that attract pollinators, go to Plant These For Bees.

Plant These For The Bees poster available on Etsy

Mexican Sunflower is a butterfly magnet and easy for butterflies to nectar from

False Queen Anne’s Lace or Ammi majus is a great filler flower for arrangements

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A great cottage border of heirlooms Zinnias and Verbena

Love Lies Bleeding or Amaranthus

An arrangement with Bells of Ireland and Love Lies Bleeding

Heirloom Annuals

False Queen Anne’s Lace, Ammi majus

Hollyhock, Alcea rosea

Clarkia

Love Lies Bleeding, Amaranthus

Spider Flower,  Cleome

Snapdragon, Antirrhinum

Larkspur, Consolida

Cosmos

Sunflower, Helianthus

Globe Amaranth, Gomphrena

Heliotrope

Balsam, Impatiens balsamina

Sweet Pea, Lathyrus

Four O’Clock, Mirabilis

Pansy and Viola

Lobelia

Flowering Tobacco, Nictotiana

Love in a Mist, Nigella

Poppy, Papaver

Dusty Miller, Senecio

Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia

Blue Lace Flower, Trachymene coerulea

Zinnia

Verbena, Verbena bonariensis

Calendula, Pot Marigold

Petunias

 

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Hellebores-Deer Resistant, Low Maintenance, Shade Loving Perennial

A well kept secret of garden enthusiasts, Hellebores should be more widely known to serious and not so serious gardeners alike; this is a plant that is worth seeking out.

Source: Hellebores-Deer Resistant, Low Maintenance, Shade Loving Perennial

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Hellebores-Deer Resistant, Low Maintenance, Shade Loving Perennial

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Gardeners and Hellebores

Ok, drumroll here….I think I can say that Hellebores are my favorite perennial plant. A well-kept secret of garden enthusiasts, Hellebores should be more widely known to serious and not so serious gardeners alike; this is a plant that is worth seeking out. What other plant resists deer, neglect, likes shade-even deep shade, is evergreen, arranges beautifully, and has stunning flowers?  Did I mention that it blooms for 3 – 4 months of the year?  That was not a typo- Hellebores bloom for at least 3 months, sometimes longer, starting in mid February for me in the mid-Atlantic region, and soldiering on until at least April or May. Increasingly, I have seen them for sale at Trader Joe’s and other unlikely places, so I think finally people are waking up to the value of this flower. Poisonous, deer turn up their nose at these beautiful plants.

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So, why isn’t this plant in more gardens? Several reasons…First they are pricey.  Retail prices can range from $15 to $30 a piece. Second, when most people are browsing the garden centers in May, the plants have mostly finished their blooming show and people move on to fresher blooming plants. Third, Hellebore flower colors are usually subtle greens, pinks, and whites, and many gardeners want something brighter and flashier. But hybridizers are working on that with increasingly colorful flowers being released every year.

 Double hellebore, not sure of the variety


Double hellebore, not sure of the variety

 

Nearly black Hellebore

Nearly black Hellebore

'Ivory Prince' is a beautiful variety with outward facing creamy flowers

‘Ivory Prince’ is a beautiful variety with outward facing creamy flowers

For bee and nature lovers, this plant is extra important because it is an early nectar source for pollinators. There isn’t much blooming when they are in their glory in the late winter and I am sure to see the flowers filled with bees on a warmer day.

One of my honeybees visiting a hellebore

One of my honeybees visiting a hellebore

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

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Float your blooms in a bowl and they last for a couple of weeks

Another drawback other than their high price, and I warn my clients about this when I include them in a garden design; they take a while to establish. To get a nice size blooming clump, it will take about 5 years if you start with a quart size plant. So, in this day and age of instant gratification, this can be a deal stopper for some people.

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Very few perennial plants can tolerate the winter snow and wind that nature throws at them in January and February, but Hellebores emerge in late February with a welcome spring show. Some of the evergreen foliage might get burned on the edges and get tattered but you can quickly nip off those leaves for fresh to emerge.

'Wedding Party' has beautiful double flowers

‘Wedding Party’ has beautiful double flowers

The most popular varieties are the Oriental hybrid hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus ) which grow in the USDA zones 6-9.

Lenten Rose

The common name for Hellebores is Lenten Rose, because they bloom around the season of Lent. Hybridizers have latched onto Hellebores and specialized in creating a rainbow of colors, such as yellow, burgundy, spotted, black, pinks, and picotees. And the names!….Honeyhill Joy, Ivory Prince, Amber Gem, Berry Swirl, Cotton Candy, Black Diamond, Golden Lotus, Onyx Odyssey, Rose Quartz, Peppermint Ice, are just the tip of the iceberg. They sound like paint colors on a paint swatch.

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The downward facing flowers have been bred to tilt outward instead of downward facing so that you can easily see the flower show. Hybridizers have also turned their attention to the foliage, breeding for variegation, burgundy flushed stems, and silvery sheens. All these efforts must have paid off as they are flooding the nurseries and the prices are top dollar.  I have seen Hellebores for more than $50 a piece.  They are getting as expensive as some hybridized peonies!

This hellebore has variegated foliage

This hellebore has variegated foliage

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Culture

The culture of Hellebores is so easy that if you just plant them in a shady or partly shady spot, you’re done! I have some in sunny locations here in Maryland, but in more southern states, like Florida, plant them in full shade. In particular, Lenten Rose is a valuable player for dry shade, the nemesis of many gardeners. I use them as a ground cover under large trees where deer are prone to browse. For more shady ground cover choices, go to Made for the Shade.

A flock of Hellebores!

A flock of Hellebores!

Hellebores will set seed all around the plant and when the seedlings appear, dig them up and scatter them around. You will have large clumps in no time that last for years and years.

Seedlings surround the mother plant

Seedlings surround the mother plant

As I noted earlier, if you nip the older outer leaves in late winter, so the new stems and leaves can come up in the center.  That is it for maintenance!

A large clump of Hellebores in late February that needs to be trimmed

A large clump of Hellebores in late February that needs to be trimmed

Clump transformed and showing flowers better once trimmed

Same clump transformed and displaying flowers better once trimmed

 

My advice for buying these beauties is to buy them in bloom so you know what you are getting as the colors can vary widely. Take a nursery shopping trip in late February and early March to get the best pick. For people who live near me in Central Maryland, go to Happy Hollow Nursery off of Padonia Rd in Cockeysville, at 410-252-4026. Tell them TheGardenDiaries sent you!

Hellebores covering a bank

So, gardeners of the world-Are you listening?  Tell all your friends and neighbors about this plant. It should not be a secret any longer.

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The Great Backyard Bird Count

Blue bird perching in my Sycamore tree observing my bird feeder

Blue bird perching in my Sycamore tree observing my bird feeder

The 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) starts Friday, February 17, through Monday, February 20, 2017. Visit the official website at birdcount.org for more information but continue here for the events highlights:

I love feeding and observing what happens right outside my window

I love feeding and observing what happens right outside my window

A citizen science event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations, the GBBC is a great activity for kids and adults. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, or anywhere in the world. Sounds easy… and no stress? Just count your bird sightings for 15 minutes and you have contributed to the backyard bird statistics that scientist use for their research.

Falcon

Falcon

Citizen Science is trendy now for good reason. People feel empowered when they can contribute to the data base that scientists from all over the world can use in their studies of bird migrations. And what better research than backyard bird behaviors and numbers? This part of the natural world is very visible and of interest to many people.

Bird feeding in winter

Bird feeding in winter

Observe Birds that Visit Your Feeders

We are a nation of “bird feeders”! More than 52 million Americans feed wild birds or other wildlife around their homes according to The Bird Watching Daily.  Some statistics:  “Two-thirds are women, and nearly 60 percent were between the ages of 45 and 64. On average, participants had been feeding birds for 18 years”. Wanting to bring nature, therapy, education, and beauty to their backyard, many bird feeders are passionate about birds and spend big bucks on this multi-million industry. Suet, nectar feeding, bird feeders, houses, and baths can be added to this list along with the more mundane birdseed.

Red headed woodpecker in my bird feeder

Red Bellied Woodpecker in my bird feeder

Another important fact on The Bird Watching Daily: “Participation in the wild-bird-feeding hobby” they write, “may be an excellent catalyst for engagement in greater levels of outdoor recreation and greater stewardship of the natural world.” Amen! We need more outdoor appreciation and engagement of our natural world in this digital age.

You might be luck enough to spot a snowy owl!

You might be lucky enough to spot a snowy owl!

How to Count The Birds

  • Count birds anywhere you want. Inside observing your bird feeder, or outside on a hike for at least 15 minutes. Keep track of the numbers and species and the time length.

  • Make an estimate of how many birds you saw of each species. Flocks of birds are tough, but use your best guess.

  • Enter your list online at BirdCount.0rg, after first establishing an account. You can start recording your bird sightings at midnight local time on the first day of the count from anywhere in the world.

Turkey vultures are the ugly but necessary scavengers of the animal world

Turkey vultures are the ugly but necessary scavengers of the animal world

  • When you enter your information, you will see a list of birds that could be in your area in February. If the bird you see is unusual, there is a checklist of “rare species” that you can use. Compiled by local bird experts, bird lists should be comprehensive. But if you enter a species of an unusual bird, you get a message asking you to confirm the report and another check box will come up.

    Ducks count too!

    Ducks count too!

    All of these unusual sightings go to a volunteer in the area who reviews these reports and who might even contact you to get more details. Adding photos is especially important for unusual species.

Cardinal

Cardinal

Why?

Bird populations are always shifting and changing and in 2014, Snowy Owl sightings spiked in the northeast and mid-Atlantic, which were recorded on the GBBC. Like a bellwether, climate changes such as warming weather also shows up in these bird counts. More southerly birds are migrating further north, or birds are changing their routes, shortening or completely cancelling their journey as a result of changing temperatures.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Some birds, such as winter finches, appear in large numbers during some years but not other species. Scientists can learn from the different patterns exhibited from year to year.

Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl

An estimated 163,763 bird watchers from more than 130 countries participated in the GBBC in 2016, with the U.S. the top participant followed by Canada and India. To see the summary of results for 2016, go to GBBC Summary for 2016 and see the top sighted birds. Even if you can’t identify all your birds that you have observed, if you look at these lists and photos, you are sure to spot your birds.

Not seen in February in my state of Maryland, the ruby throated hummingbird could be seen in California

Not seen in February in my state of Maryland, the ruby-throated hummingbird could be seen in California at this time of year

I love observing and photographing Peacocks, but like chickens, they are a domesticated bird

I love observing and photographing Peacocks, but like chickens, they are a domesticated bird

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Knives, Trugs, and Gloves: Tools of the Trade

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Meredith, a professional gardener at Ladew Topiary Gardens, sporting practical and stylish garden fashion

Visiting gardens around the country is a passion of mine and I always look for the gardeners who maintain these places. Gardening full-time, these garden warriors have tried many things over the years and come up with practical and winning solutions for gardening in comfort.

Women in particular are inventive and sew up some innovative accessories like the apron above. Meredith, who is a professional gardener at Ladew Topiary Gardens, in Monkton, Maryland, sewed her tough utilitarian apron out of upholstery fabric from an apron pattern that she modified to have deep pockets. How many times are you in the garden and you pick up something and have nowhere to place it? Or maybe to stuff gardeners twine into? Or a nifty pouch to hold your phone?

Soil Knife

A gardener at Chanticleer is using a soil knife like a pick ax to make divots

A gardener at Chanticleer is using a soil knife like a pick ax to make divots

A requirement for every gardener in the field is a utilitarian sharp-pointed soil knife with a cutting serrated edge which Meredith holds in her hand. Replacing the old-fashioned trowel, the soil knife slices through soil and saws right through tough roots.

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Some old-fashioned trowels

 

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Variety of tools includes a soil knife – my indispensable tool

Using a soil knife like a miniature pickax, a gardener can make small divots in the ground to plant plugs or small bulbs quickly. It slices and dices and has become my most useful implement in the tool shed.

Using a soil knife, I can cut through old roots in containers

Using a soil knife, I can cut through old roots in containers

Trugs and Gloves

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My friend Gretchen is using an old plant container from a nursery for a trug-sturdy and with handles; her gloves are inexpensive nitrile rubber-coated gloves

Trugs galore

Trugs galore

My set up in a rolling cart; red West County gloves, trug and soil knife

My set up in a rolling cart; red West County gloves, Felcos, trug and soil knife

Why spend a lot on trugs and gloves? There are tons of fancy and expensive gloves specifically made for gardeners. You could drop a lot of cash on these necessities in the garden but there are too many high-priced gloves that don’t last long. I usually won’t spend more than $5 to $8 per pair as I like to rotate what I am using and I go through them fast as the fingers always wear out on my right hand. If I could buy just ‘right hand’ gloves, that would be perfect!

My West County gloves are a couple years old

My West County gloves are a couple years old

Cheap gloves that are coated in the nitrile rubber coating work just fine. I do break down and buy  some very good pairs that I might spend $20 on –  namely ‘West County Gloves’. Using them for cold wet weather, the West County gloves are tough and hold up to lots of abuse. I have had some for several years that are still wearable.

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I like utilitarian gloves for a variety of purposes

Washing them is important once in a while but this seems to shorten the life so I try to do it infrequently.

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Mesh back gloves are good for hot weather

 

Handled trugs are essential equipmentl

Handled trugs are essential equipment

Hoses

High on my list is a good garden hose. I am really tough on my tools and need something nearly indestructible. Dramm makes the ColorStorm series and it is crackless, resistant to kinking and extremely tough. Plus, it comes in an array of colors! I really appreciate when my equipment looks as good as it is useful.

Dramm makes hoses in a rainbow of colors

Dramm makes hoses in a rainbow of colors

The most hated job on my gardening list is wrangling cumbersome hoses that tangle and kink. And I always used to run over my hose end with my car and end up with a flattened fitting. No longer with the Dramm hose –  it won’t crush under the weight of my car. Plus there is a lifetime guarantee. Made in the U.S.A, this is the only hose I use now.

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The blue Dramm hose is my favorite

 

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