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I am a 'down to earth' gardener with perpetually dirty fingernails. I own a whole wardrobe of well worn and comfortable gardening duds and I am a sucker for gardening gadgets galore! I love to blog about the gardening world, it's fads and trends and have personally killed most plants at least once. I am a gardening designer by profession but there is no rhyme or reason to my own garden. If I want a plant, I buy and stick it somewhere just because I 'need' it!
Gardening is my passion and I find it leads you to other interests, such as cooking, entertaining, decorating, and flower arranging. So, stay tuned!
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• Research reveals a mixture of native and non-native ornamental plants may provide the best resources for pollinating insects in gardens
One of the most beautiful flowers, both in flower and seed pod, as well as great importance to wildlife, has been relegated to the roadside for years and virtually ignored. Asclepias syriaca, or common milkweed, is struggling and harder to find because wild areas are disappearing and roadsides are regularly mown. “Familiarity breeds contempt” is a common saying and one that I would apply to this plant. Only when something becomes scarce do we appreciate it, and I can see that happening with milkweed. But there is a sea change coming down the pike and people are being urged to plant this “weed”.
Acknowledged as a primary source for survival of many insects, notably the Monarch, people are waking up to its integral role in supporting other wildlife. See my post Monarch Waystation on the many reasons to plant milkweed for Monarch survival.
Milkweed is the only plant on which monarch butterflies will lay their eggs, and it is the only food source for monarch caterpillars
It grows in colonies that expand in size every year; each individual in a colony is one side shoot of a large plant and are genetically identical or a clone; one large branching underground rhizome connects the entire colony
Surprisingly, the flowers are extremely fragrant and you can smell a colony long before you see it
Although one shoot may have between 300 to 500 flowers that make up the umbels, only a few of these develop into pods
Vegetative and flower growth is rapid, but the pod development is very slow and held on the plant for many weeks
All pods are held vertically to the plant and hold many seeds; germination of these seeds is very sparse; milkweed more likely expands by underground rhizomes than from seed
The nectar is very high in sugar content, 3% sucrose, and the supply is constantly being renewed over the life of the flower; the flowers produce much more concentrated nectar than the many insects that feed on it could ever remove
Milkweed teems with insect life, providing food and microhabitat to hundreds of insect varieties
At least 10 species of insects feed exclusively on milkweeds, notably the Monarch butterfly caterpillar
The adult Monarch lays its eggs on the leaves of common milkweed, the larvae live on its leaves and milky sap, and the adult Monarchs drink from the flower nectar, although adults will drink from other flowers
The latex milky sap from the milkweed is extremely toxic to other wildlife and is concentrated in the tissues of the Monarch which protects it against predators
The adult Monarch migrates south. East of the Mississippi, they fly as far as 4,800 meters to over winter in Mexico, often to the same tree location
This relationship between the milkweed plant and the monarch butterfly makes the pairing a symbiosis, where they become one entity instead of two separate organisms. Most importantly, without the presence of the milkweed plant, monarchs would go extinct.
Other Varieties of Milkweed
Asclepias tuberosa, orange-flowered Milkweed below is probably my all time favorite for drawing insects and pollinators to the garden early in the season, around June for me in the mid-Atlantic. A long-lasting cut flower, I scatter it through my borders to brighten up early summer plantings. It comes in an all yellow version called “Hellow Yellow”.
Another milkweed which is a conversation piece oddity is Asclepias physocarpa, or Hairy Balls. Forming puffy seed balls two to three inches in diameter, the orbs are covered with hairs and are quite bizarre looking. Perfect for flower arranging, the cut branches are quite expensive to buy from a florist, but easy to grow. A favored host of the Monarch butterfly, I always try to grow this plant for the odd looking pods.
Tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, is commonly seen growing in Florida and has bright red-orange and yellow flowers and is also a great nectar source. The leaves are narrower and the plant produces many more seed pods than the common milkweed.
Hypertufa (n.): An artificial and lightweight stone that gardeners can create from a recipe and mold into plant containers, troughs and any other shape.
If you mention hypertufa to a non-gardener, you would probably get a blank look. But in the gardening world, it is very trendy and a sign of a serious gardener is the number of hypertufas scattered in their garden.
Perfect for planting miniatures and alpine plants, hypertufa troughs fit into any size garden, large or small. A man-made imitation of light weight tufa rock, hypertufa is a mixture of 3 things: perlite, peat moss, and portland cement. Some fiberglass fibers used for strengthening is a good idea but not essential.
Purchasing a ready-made one is always an option but pricey. A medium 15″ trough could set you back around $75, whereas the materials for constructing several will be around $30. And the fun involved is something that pulls people together for a hypertufa party, complete with wine and lots of food.
Any Excuse for a Party!
Hypertufa partying takes some planning and preparation but is worth it once everything starts to happen. Mise en place- the cooking phrase, having everything in place, is paramount here. You don’t want to be running around gathering supplies while everyone is waiting. I tell my guests that I will provide all the materials for making if they bring a mold on a piece of plywood, a face mask, and rubber gloves. Molds are simply a tupperware bowl without a lip, an old styrofoam ice chest, cat litter container, or a sturdy box.
Blue Tarps– I use a couple of blue throw away tarps to lay on the ground which makes cleanup a breeze
Face Masks and Gloves– Face masks are essential to keep you from breathing portland cement dust which is toxic; Rubber gloves keep your hands clean
Mixing Tub– I use an old cement mixing tub, but any wide mouthed plastic container will do
Mixing Tools– Use a shovel or sturdy garden trowel
Old Trash Bags– Using plastic between the container and the hypertufa mix when packed into the mold makes the unmolding process easy
Plywood Pieces– The pieces when wet are heavy and hard to transport without a study board underneath it
Portland Cement-one 96 pound bag which costs around $15; this will make lots of troughs, at least 12 good sized ones
Peat moss– 3.8 cubic feet bag will cost around $16
Perlite-one 4 cubic bag costs around $14
Mesh Fibers– These cement fiberglass fibers are a strengthening agent for the hypertufa, available at cement suppliers or on line, a 1 pound bag at $7
You can get the perlite and the peat moss in smaller sizes if you just want to make a couple of troughs, but the Portland Cement only comes in the monster size.
Using a small bucket for measuring, use 3 parts portland cement to 2 parts each of the perlite and peat moss and mix these thoroughly into a mixing tub, breaking up lumps. Add the fibers at this point, if you are using them. I find if you add the fiberglass fibers your hypertufa is more resistant to cracking in the long run.
Enlist everyone at this stage in mixing and squeezing the lumps to make a uniform mix. Next have your hose handy and start adding water in increments, mixing after each addition until the mixture will hold in a clump in your hand. It resembles wet cottage cheese at this point.
Testing the mixture
Molding – The Fun Begins!
Molding and forming the trough is the fun part. Everyone brought their mold staged on a sturdy piece of plywood so that they can transport it home easily. We covered the molds with a piece of old trash bag which greatly simplifies the removal of the mold from the hypertufa. After donning their gloves, people dove into the tub and grabbed handfuls of the mixture and start covering their mold with a two-inch layer of hypertufa mixture. It is important to have good coverage so that the walls are sturdy and won’t cave in. I had dowels ready for people to insert through the bottom of the troughs for drainage holes.
After everyone had thoroughly coated their mold and smoothed the bottom and sides, we took a break and admired everyone’s creations. At that point, the troughs are ready for curing. Curing simply means that the cement has to dry slowly to avoid any cracks forming. To do this, simply mist the container once a day and cover the trough with a piece of plastic to hold in the moisture. You can’t rush this step and it will take a couple of weeks to fully harden and cure.
After waiting impatiently for about a month, you can turn the hypertufa over and remove the mold. At that time, you can fill it with soil and plant with succulents or miniature plants. Your completed trough will last for years outside and will eventually grow moss to make it look like an antique planter.
Butterflies are flying everywhere in my yard, swooping, basking, and fluttering like graceful ballerinas in a ballet. Observing the butterflies visiting my flowers and trying to catch them with my camera is difficult at times, so I did some research about their habits to make it more likely to capture them in the lens of my camera.
Cold blooded creatures, butterflies remind me of snakes and lizards who seek out the heat of the sun for warmth, and that is exactly where you will find them. When the sun comes out, butterflies magically appear. Living for a fleeting 2 to 4 weeks, butterflies are interested in doing only two things-eating and reproducing.
Here are some factoids that will help you observe and understand butterfly behaviors and hopefully catch a good picture! Or just to enjoy their swooping antics.
Butterflies love the sun and need heat from the sun to warm their bodies, so you will see fewer butterflies on a cloudy day.
Watch where you stand when observing butterflies so you don’t cast a shadow that could scare them off.
Butterflies fly more often at 9:30 to 12 in the morning and 2 to 3:30 in the afternoon, and like a light breeze.
Butterflies are slower in their movements in cooler temperatures so you probably could catch them ‘basking’ in the sun at lower temperatures. Butterflies need an ideal body temperature of about 85ºF to fly. Since they’re cold-blooded animals, they can’t regulate their own body temperatures. If the air temperature falls below 55ºF, butterflies remain immobile, unable to flee from predators or feed. When air temperatures range between 82º-100ºF, butterflies can fly with ease. Cooler days require a butterfly to warm up its flight muscles, either be shivering or basking in the sun. And even sun-loving butterflies can get overheated when temperatures soar above 100ºF, and may seek shade to cool down.
Butterflies don’t have any chewing mouth parts, but eat by sipping nectar, through their proboscis. The proboscis is found curled neatly on the lower side of the head when not eating. When a butterfly eats, the proboscis extends like a straw which they insert deep into the flower to suck up the nectar, a behavior called ‘nectaring’. When eating they will circle around a flower for seconds at a time, making sure to drain all the nectar.
Some butterflies don’t have access to flowers, such as rainforest understories, and will instead eat the liquids from fermenting fruit found on the forest floor.
Male butterflies can be found puddling, sipping at the moisture in puddles or wet soil. They are also benefiting from the salts dissolved in the water which increases a male butterfly’s fertility.
Butterflies lay their eggs on the specific host plants and are very particular in finding the perfect plant to do this. For a great list of host plants with pictures of butterflies, go to Dallas Butterflies. This includes butterflies in my region of the mid-Atlantic as well as other areas of the United States. I am always looking at my host plants to see if I can find eggs or caterpillars. A plant stripped of leaves is a good sign of caterpillars.
Butterfly wings are transparent. Formed of layers of chitin, a protein that makes up the insect’s exoskeleton, thousands of tiny scales cover the wings which reflect light in different colors. Moths and butterflies are the only insects to have scales.
Butterflies taste with their feet. Taste receptors on a butterfly’s feet find its host plant and locate food. A female butterfly lands on different plants, drumming the leaves with her feet to make the plant release its juices. Spines on the back of her legs have chemo-receptors that detect the right match of plant chemicals. When she identifies the right plant after visiting at least several choices, she lays her eggs.
Adult butterflies can only feed on liquids, usually nectar. Modified mouthparts enable them to drink, but they can’t chew solids
Within about 10-12 feet, butterfly eyesight is quite good. Anything beyond that distance gets a little blurry to a butterfly. Butterflies rely on their eyesight for vital tasks, like finding mates of the same species, and finding flowers on which to feed. In addition to seeing some of the colors we can see, butterflies can see a range of ultraviolet colors invisible to the human eye. The butterflies themselves may have ultraviolet markings on their wings to help them identify one another and locate potential mates.
Lots of hungry predators are happy to make a meal of a butterfly. Some butterflies fold their wings to blend into the background using camouflage, rendering themselves all but invisible to predators. Others try the opposite strategy, wearing vibrant colors and patterns that boldly announce their presence. Brightly colored insects often pack a toxic punch if eaten, so predators learn to avoid them.
Plant nectar rich flowers for a steady parade of colorful butterflies to visit your garden. Go to Plant These For the Bees for ideas on plant choices which work with all pollinators. Tithonia, or Mexican Sunflower, Zinnias, and Lilies are my all time favorites for butterfly attraction and watching.
With a Perennial Plant Association conference under my belt this past week, touring “wow” gardens, and cruising the trade show aisles filled to overflowing with new perennial introductions, you would think that I have ‘perennial fatigue’. It sounds like a new disease doesn’t it? But I have the perennial bug bad. And my list of must-haves just ballooned like an Peony on steroids! Here are some perennials that I will be looking for at the nearest garden center or big box stores. The big box stores sometimes get the new intros before my wholesale nursery starts to carry them, so I will be on the hunt. Go to Plant Lust- 8 Must Haves to see some other plant acquisitions on my list.
The variegated foliage of Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Sunstruck” was an attribute that jumped out at me right away. The flower is pretty too and I think for the size of the plant (a gallon), there were plenty of them. Ultimately growing 14 to 16 inches tall with a similar spread, this is a selection of our native wildflower, False Sunflower. Forming a medium tall mound of silver and green variegated leaves with branching heads of sunny flowers in mid to late season, this should be attractive to native pollinators. Foliage beauty is very important to me since a perennial will only flower for a limited amount of time and this one has it in spades.
Echinacea ‘Pink Poodle’
Yes, I know, another Coneflower! I have Coneflower overload but this ‘Pink ‘Poodle’ was a standout in a perennial border that I visited. Introduced in 2009, but overlooked by me, the double-flowered plant features very full and fluffy-looking flowers packed with bright pink petals, resembling a dahlia. The plant habit is well-branched, strong and bushy. It is excellent for cutting, but I suspect that it won’t be as attractive to butterflies as the single flowered ones. If you are familiar with ‘Razzmatazz’, which looks very similar, this is a much better plant.
Helenium ‘Red Jewel’
I am always on the hunt for red flowers. Red attracts hummers and butterflies, and it goes with everything. This Helenium ‘Red Jewel’ attracted my attention on an estate property along a country lane mixed with other herbaceous perennials. Petal skirts of garnet red surround the brown center and look like tiny ballerinas dancing through the foliage. Tall at 4 feet and yes, it probably needs to be staked unless you have other shrubs or perennials around supporting it, the flowers attract butterflies. Requiring full sun, with a good amount of room, I imagine planting this at the back of a border and enjoying the late season color.
If you have never grown an Agastache or Anise Hyssop, go right to the nursery and pick one up. Deer resistance, longevity of bloom, attraction to pollinators, ease of growth, and fabulous scent, are just some of the attributes of this great plant. This is one of my top plants for attracting pollinators. Go to Plant These For the Bees for other good selections. Overwintering an Agastache has been a challenge for me. They sometimes make it and sometimes not, and of course drainage is always implicated when a plant fails. Only ‘Blue Fortune’ Agastache has been reliable for me, and the other varieties I treat more as annuals. But the Kudos series is purportedly hardier and also mildew resistant which can be a problem.
‘Kudos’ are shorter than other Anise Hyssops, clocking in at 17-20″ tall. So, more compact, fuller flowers, and the blooms come in an array of colors-gold, ambrosia, coral, mandarin, silver blue, and yellow. What’s not to like? I have the gold one in the ground and am very interested to see if it survives my winter here in zone 6b. The claims of hardiness are zones 5 through 9.
It is late July and August and that means plump juicy blackberries are ready and waiting. I am looking for ways to use them as I pick about a quart a day and we can’t eat them fast enough. I will freeze some but I love to use them fresh and they are classified as a “superfood”, full of antioxidants and other good stuff. I use them as a garnish for green salads, a topping for yogurt and granola, pies, jam, and cobblers.
If you have never grown blackberries, this is one of the easiest and most satisfying berry to grow. I started with one “cane” or stem of a thornless blackberry variety some years ago and it can grow to be one ginormous mass of a plant unless you train it to a trellis. The tips of the canes will root in and produce more progeny to start more plants and you can end up with a field of blackberries.
For trellising, I found that cattle fence was the perfect candidate by being both sturdy and cheap. Trained canes out-produce untrained ones in spades. And because trained ones fan out on the fence, you can pick from both sides and reach your hand through the cattle fence if you spot one nestled on the opposite side. Three sturdy metal fence posts support the 10 foot piece of cattle fence. Tractor Supply is a great source for this type of fencing.
Planting foot high suckers in early spring alongside the cattle fence about every foot or so produced a wall of blackberries a couple of months later. These are quick off the mark berries! They took off running and covered the fence completely and flowered and set fruit. Planted in partial shade next to two pine stumps. The speed at which the canes produced surprised me. The only maintenance was a pine straw mulch and tying the canes to the fence. I didn’t bother to water or fertilize. Blueberries in contrast take at least 5 years to amount to anything and you have to acidify the soil, fertilize, etc. and pick them for hours. So, ease of maintenance of these vitamin packed blackberries converted me to a true believer.
Picking Is So Easy
Picking is a snap as they slip right off the cane, are easy to spot, and with trellising, the berries are at eye level. The berries fill a bowl up quickly and I just rinse them off before use. Other berries, such as strawberries, you have to crouch down and lift leaves to spot the berries, as well as capping the berry before eating- a lot more work!
Sorbet is one of my favorite hot weather desserts so I decided to try making it with my favorite berry. Blackberry Sorbet was delicious and it used two pounds of berries. Here is the recipe:
2 C water
2 1/2 C granulated sugar
2 Pounds of blackberries (about 8 cups)
4 T lime juice
4 T Creme de Cassis liquor (optional, this is a black currant liquor which added a nice zing)
Heat up the water and add sugar and stir until dissolved. Place saucepan in fridge to chill. Process the blackberries into a puree in a food processor. Add this puree to the chilled sugar syrup and then strain the entire mixture through a fine sieve to remove the seeds. You need to press the mixture through with a wooden spoon until you get as much liquid through the sieve as you can. You will end up with a slurry of seeds which you can discard in your compost or feed the chickens.
Add the lime juice and the cassis to the mixture and place the mixture in the fridge with plastic wrap on the top to chill for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight. Once thoroughly chilled, transfer the mixture to your ice cream machine and process according to the manufacturer’s directions. It took about 30 minutes for the mixture to make sorbet in my ice cream maker. If you don’t have enough blackberries, you could halve this recipe. This recipe makes almost 8 cups of sorbet, enough for desserts for a week.
According to Urban Dictionary, Plant Lust is defined as an uncontrolled desire or craving for any member of the kingdom Plantae. Yes, I just added that to the Urban dictionary as it is a well known term to plant addicts and I fit right into this category. Plant lust or envy is a condition with no cure or treatment. A craving or appetite for unusual plants is a common condition in garden circles and you learn to live with it. See what is on my current list.
Kingdom Plantae Wish List
I have a running list of plant acquisitions in the Kingdom Plantae pegged on my bulletin board that I “must” have. Understand, that I don’t “need” any of these. I need more plants like my dog needs more toys! I compare it to clothes shopping when you are not looking for anything in particular, and then spot something so perfect that from that moment on, you can’t do without. When I visit different gardens and see something irresistible, I whip out my iphone, take a picture and look for the name tag. That happened recently when I visited Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, and my plant envy list just got longer. Here are a few things that I will be looking for next year, either seeds or plants, anyway that I can get them!
1. Pennisetum villosum ‘Feathertop’– I am not a huge grass fan, but I definitely have some favorites that I use at many of my landscape jobs. Hakonechloa or Japanese Forest Grass, pictured below, is my absolute favorite grass for shade. But I am open to suggestions for new favorites.
So when I saw this Pennisetum ‘Feathertop’, I fell in love. Yes, it is an annual for me because it is hardy in zone 8 to 10. And yes, it looks like it could seed in after reading the reviews- meaning coming up everywhere. But with its pretty, white, bottlebrush plumes, perfect for cut flowers, these dramatic plumes contrast with all kinds of perennials – kind of how a pretty scarf can ramp up your outfit. This valuable attribute helped give Feathertop the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in 2002.
2. Ammi majus or Bishops Weed- An annual that looks like Queen Anne’s Lace on steroids. Instead of a flat umbel profile, the flower is dome-shaped, with beautiful frilly fern-like foliage. This plant also can seed in, but that’s quite all right. I can deal with it. I see this as a great filler and valuable addition in cut flower arrangements.
3. Celosia argentea ‘Sylphid’
What can I say about green flowers? I am a sucker for them every time. And when I spotted this Sylphid Plume Celosia, it was love at first sight. Graceful greenish-yellow feathery plumes sit on tall straight stems. The perfect color to set off vibrant colors in your garden or bouquet.
4. Flashpoint Lily
Flashpoint is a Orienpet Lily (cross between an Oriental and Trumpet) which is an explosion of color, red and cream outfacing blooms. I didn’t see these at Longwood, but love this combination so much, I am going to duplicate it in my garden. Similar to a ‘Stargazer’ lily but with a lot more substance and staying power. Fragrant too!
5. Dahlia ‘Pam Howden’
Dahlias are definitely my weakness. Big, blowsy, colorful blooms that arrange beautifully and draw pollinators. What’s not to like? Pam Howden, a ‘waterlily’ type, is one I spotted and will be planting next year. Loaded with blooms, I admired another dahlia, pictured below, Starfire.
6. Hibiscus ‘Fifth Dimension’
Hibiscus was definitely not on my radar when I went to Longwood, but this one practically jumped up and hit me – Fifth Dimension. Looking the flower up on-line, I discovered that when the bloom first starts to open, it is orange with a silvery contrasting center. As the day progresses, the orange changes to yellow. I caught this bloom in the yellow stage. Go to Longwood Gardens Blog to see a time-lapse video of the transformation, like a psychedelic experience!
7. Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’
I admit I have grown this one before and loved it. But after spotting it in the Longwood beds, I need to add this to my permanent list of annuals for yearly planting. Flowering all season long with straw textured globes, the ends of the petals are topped with yellow stars. I grow these from seed as I have never seen the transplants available in the spring.
8. Lisianthus or Eustoma
Commonly known as Prairie Gentian, Lisianthus plants are herbaceous annuals which have bluish-green, slightly succulent leaves and a large rose-like flowers growing on the long straight stems. Frequently seen as cut flowers at the florist, you can grow these in your garden if you can find the transplants in the spring as the seeds are very difficult and slow to germinate. Preferring cooler temperatures would limit this flower for me, but I would like to give it a try. Great as a long-lasting cut flower and I know this will be hard to find.
Do you want to have a pollinator garden but just don’t have the space for one? Plant a container instead, one that you could move around to sunny spots on your balcony or patio- like a movable feast!
Plant It and They Will Come
We all know how important it is to plant nectar rich plants to create pollinators pockets to provide stopping points for all our native bees and honeybees(non-natives), and other visiting pollinators. Go to Monarch Way Station to see how to set up a complete area if you have the room for a raised bed or garden space. If not, try potting up a variety of perennials and annuals which are known butterfly magnets. For lists of plants specific to your region, I find the best resource is Xerces at The Xerces Society.
For the first pictured container, I used:
Oregano ‘Kent Beauty’ -2
Anise Hyssop ‘Blue Fortune’-2
Anise Hyssop ‘Tango’-1
Yarrow ‘Red Velvet’-1
Butterfly bush ‘Miss Molly’-2
To pot up a container efficiently, simply set in your largest plants first, the tall Verbenas and Anise Hyssops, towards the back of the pot, and fill in with the small and medium ones. My spiller was the Oregano and the Trailing Zinnia which will cascade in a couple of weeks. Planting in a 15 inch container ensured that I could move it around without straining my back and I stuffed 21 plants into it.
To make this possible, I had to shake some of the root ball soil off to make it easier to shoehorn all those plants together. Don’t be afraid to shake the excess soil and even remove some of the roots from the root ball as the plant will quickly make new roots.
To see more plants to plant for pollinators, go to Plant These For the Bees and check out the best methods for planting, such as blocking.
Everywhere you look in suburbia, there is at least some space devoted to the ubiquitous lawn. The main focus of U.S. gardening is the lawn which ironically was inspired by British landscape gardening. Still, mown grass dominates public and private spaces but is a water hog, is laden with chemicals, and pollutes the air with engine driven lawn mowers and weed eaters.
To add to this love affair with lawns, many localities still have “lawn ordinances”, which effectively make any other form of front garden illegal, and prosecution for growing anything else is common.
Progressive gardeners often wage a war against lawns and the public perception that lawn is the only way to go is slowly changing. There is even a campaign website: lawnreform.org. On this website are great pictures of a variety of sedges that are suitable for lawns.
“Kerb-appeal” – a desire to appeal to future buyers or to show off the home is an American way of life and we are creatures of habit when it comes to our landscapes. Americans want “low maintenance and evergreen” which translates to boring, cookie cutter landscapes with no connection to the architecture of the house.
On the other end of the spectrum, English gardeners express themselves through gardening and if you travel through an English neighborhood, each landscape is different. The pictures below came from a tiny village called Blockley in the Cotswolds where each house had their own personally unique gardens, with very little or no lawn.
More and more people are ripping out parts, or their entire lawn and replacing with plants that require less water and care, most notably less cutting. In more arid parts of the country, there are incentives to replace lawns with alternatives like gravel or water sipping plantings.
With our constant rain this summer in the mid-Atlantic region, we are cutting our lawn at least every 4-5 days which requires a lot of time and produces a copious amounts of dirty exhaust and burns fossil fuel. Not to mention that a lawn is a sterile “desert” with poor underlying soil with little to no biological action of microbial life and earth worms that make a soil healthy.
But there are alternatives like creeping thyme for sunny locations and moss for shady moist locations. If you really want grass, you can plant a sedge that hardly ever needs cutting. Pennsylvania Sedge or Carex pensylvanica doesn’t look as neat and tidy as a fescue but it rarely needs cutting. It does need sun to grow in thick like the above picture.
Moss wouldn’t work in low moisture climates but is an alternative in shady locations. Designers and designers who are looking for sustainable, shade loving options, either as a lawn replacement or a sculptural backdrop as accents, have discovered moss.
To start your own moss garden you need to first remove any existing plants, especially grass and weeds. Apply a pre-emergent like Preen to discourage germination of any existing seeds. Smooth out the soil, which can be loam or clay, but not too sandy. Any dips or undulations in the soil will be visible once the moss starts growing. Sandy soils won’t hold the moisture needed for good moss growth. Moss is a great soil stabilizer but must be mature to channel water for runoff.
Bulbs and primroses growing up through moss
Preparing really smooth soil speeds up rhizome (underground stems) attachment and encourages faster branching so be sure to remove any debris, sticks stones, and leaves.
I was always under the impression that moss grows in only acidic soil, in ranges below 7 which is neutral on the Ph scale. But doing my research on moss culture, they aren’t really particular about Ph because the rhizomes do not feed on the soil. Plant any companion plants before you introduce the moss, smoothing the soil after planting.
You can scrape up patches of moss from the woods or other parts of your property and place them on top of your smooth soil. Scratch the surface very slightly before laying the patches down so that they will adhere and press the patches firmly into the soil, preferably by stepping on them. Contact is crucial between the bottom of the patch and the top of the soil for the moss to start growing. The transplanted mosses need some time for the moss to acclimate and become established while the moss adjusts to new sunlight, water, and substrate.
Water, Water, Water
Mist the moss thoroughly every day, making sure to saturate until the moss starts to grow. This might be 6 weeks or more. You can taper off slightly as the moss starts to fill in but your moss will go dormant when it dries out. The higher the temperature, the more water required to keep the moss verdant. If you remove leaves by raking or blowing, it is a good idea to pin the moss down with soil staples, or fern pins, or use a netting to keep the moss in place.
Established moss is naturally weed resistant but juvenile moss may have patches of soil and still be thin. Controlling weeds with hand removal is important until the moss is spongy and thick. A daily misting helps greatly in getting your moss established.