Thursday, July 16, 2020
Monday, June 22, 2020
By Peg Ricco, PegPlant.com
This week, Celebrate National Pollinator Week
It's the perfect time to learn more about pollinators, identifying the best plants and trees for pollinators in your area, and incorporating best practices to protect, harbor, and feed pollinators.
It is amazing that something as small as a bee is vitally important to our food supply. As pollinators, bees transfer pollen thus ensuring that plants and crops develop fruit and seeds for us to consume. But bees are not the only keystone species that we depend on, we also need other pollinators such as butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, and birds, including hummingbirds.
About 80 percent of the world’s flowering plants depend on pollinators (the others are wind pollinated). According to Cornell University, pollinators are responsible for every third bite of food we eat. Unfortunately, pollinator populations have declined due to pesticides, habitat loss, and disease. Gardeners who are aware of this problem have deliberately planted flowering perennials and annuals to provide pollen (protein) and nectar (carbs). Because of their dramatic 90 percent decline in population over the past 20 years, monarch butterflies have received quite a lot of support. Many gardeners are planting milkweed – the one and only plant for monarchs — or trying to produce more butterflies with home kits. Bees too have received national attention. Nurseries promote bee friendly flowers and gardeners have planted bee magnets such as Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium), goldenrod (Solidago), and gayfeather (Liatris).
Persimmon fruit, thanks to pollinators
These efforts have helped the pollinators and certainly gardeners have come to appreciate the importance of pollinators. However, an overlooked source of food and protection for pollinators are trees. Trees provide more flowers, plenty of foliage for larva (caterpillars), and a large infrastructure to hold hives and nests. Because of the number of flowers a canopy provides, trees can provide more pollen and nectar compared to annuals and perennials. Plus, as homeowners move from house to house, the herbaceous landscape may change but usually the trees and all of their tiny inhabitants remain.
Plant Small Native Trees for Homes “Trees are a permanent fixture,” said Steve Nagy, an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Board-Certified Master Arborist and Assistant District Manager at the northern Virginia office of the Davey Tree Expert Company. Based in Ohio, the company was founded in 1880 and has offices across North America. For attracting pollinators in the Washington DC metro area, Steve recommends native trees that thrive in our particular climate (cold winters and hot, humid summers). “We recommend native trees because the chances of them growing well is higher that non-natives,” he explained. For typical suburban lots where space is a premium, Steve recommends swamp white oak (Quercis bicolor), willow oak (Quercis phellos), post oak (Quercis stellata), cucumber magnolia (Magnolia acuminata), sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), little leaf linden (Tilia cordata), persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), and serviceberry (Amelanchier). “Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) is a great tree, too,” said Steve, “It is a typically overlooked native with good fall color.”
|The crape myrtle branches bend down|
Plant Trees that Flower at Various Times with summer-blooming flowers. While a tree can provide many flowers, usually it only flowers for a few weeks. Because different pollinators are active at various times of the year, Steve recommends planting trees with various bloom times. Instead of planting the well-known spring bloomers such as flowering cherry trees, flowering plums, star magnolias, saucer magnolias, and redbuds, homeowners can plant summer blooming trees such as little leaf linden, persimmon, cucumber magnolia, southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), and crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia).
Plant Trees that Support Specific Pollinators.
Another reason to plant trees is that certain pollinators require specific tree species or genera. Similar to the monarch butterfly’s relationship with milkweed, the spicebush swallowtail caterpillar only feeds on spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and sassafras (Sassafras albidum). The zebra swallowtail caterpillar only feeds on young paw paw leaves (Asimina spp.) and the pink-striped oak worm moth gets its name from its preference for oaks (Quercus spp.).
Paw paw trees are vital to the zebra swallowtail butterfly
Posted by Cherie at 11:38 AM
Monday, April 27, 2020
Baptisia, also called false indigo, is a shrub-like plant that does well in our hot and humid summers. Recent breeding efforts have expanded the range of flower colors creating a new look for an old favorite. I myself have been taken by two top performers according to Mt. Cuba Center’s 15-page report, Baptisia for the Mid-Atlantic Region. The Mt. Cuba Center’s Trial Garden, managed by George Coombs, research horticulturist, evaluates native plants and their related cultivars. From 2012 to 2015, staff evaluated 46 selections of Baptisia including representatives from 11 different species to determine which performs best in the mid-Atlantic region. Over 60 percent of the plants tested receive 4 or 5 stars. Among those, 10 superior cultivars outperformed the rest. Fortunately for me my two Baptisia cultivars are included in the ten.
I have two Lemon Meringue and two Dutch Chocolate plants. I purchase them several years ago as small plants. Now in April, they are tall and just about to bloom. In the summer, they will be loaded with yellow or chocolate brown flowers. Although they look like shrubs, these plants are herbaceous perennials. I cut them back in the winter and in March, new growth emerges from the base. By summer, the plants grow to their mature height of about 3 feet high and wide, each year. The plants have pea-like flowers on tall spikes, similar to lupines, which emerge in April and are in full flower in May. In the fall, the dark brown pods can be left on the plant or used for dried flower arrangements. Baptisia plants are deer resistant, heat and humidity tolerant, and drought tolerant once established.
Posted by Cherie at 6:34 AM
Wednesday, April 15, 2020
Saturday, March 21, 2020
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
NCA's blogspot editor Peg Riccio, Pegplant.com
February 19th is National Chocolate Mint Day and for gardeners that translates into the chocolate mint herb (Mentha x piperita forma citrata ‘Chocolate’). Mints are herbaceous perennials. They are extremely hardy but must be grown in containers. All mints will take over your garden if you plant them in the ground.
Chocolate mint has textured leaves and dark brown to purple stems. The leaves are green but the new growth is darker, with veins that are brown to purple. The leaves really do taste like chocolate mint, which kids love. In my family, we make a syrup out of the leaves and pour it on fresh strawberries (see recipe below). We also put minced leaves in a store-bought brownie mix, chocolate cake, and chocolate chip cookie dough to add the mint flavor. The leaves are great for garnishing fruit salads, desserts, cakes, and cupcakes. They can be used fresh or dried for making tea, or adding to coffee or hot chocolate.
This is a great plant to have in order to make gifts. The stems root very easily in water so you can either pot up the rooted stems or just give cuttings to friends. We have given away pots of chocolate mint with a recipe card attached. Because the cost is minimal, pots of chocolate mint make a great gift for your children’s teachers.
Mints can tolerate shade and prefer moist soil. They can be grown in dappled shade or morning sun and afternoon shade. If there is a dry period in the summer, make sure the container is receiving enough water. They grow to a few feet tall and flower in the summer. The small flowers are edible and can be used as a garnish. They also attract beneficial insects, bees, and butterflies. Deer leave the plant alone. Chocolate mint also can be used as the “spiller” in a container with summer flowers.
Syrup Put one cup of water and one cup of sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. When the sugar dissolves, turn off the heat, and add a large handful of chocolate mint leaves. Bruise with a wooden spoon by smashing leaves against the side of the pot. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes. When cool, strain leaves out and pour syrup in glass jar. Store in fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Posted by Cherie at 10:31 AM