Monarch Success! & Plant of the Month: Goldenrod

Last month we explained the important relationship between Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) and late summer blooming plants such as Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium/Eupatorium spp.).  Just to reinforce the importance of correct plant pairings we would like to share the results of an area we planted this year for the Monarchs.

Monarch caterpillar on Asclepias incarnataMonarch caterpillar & Echinacea 'White Swan'

For this test we used the two most common types of Milkweed found at garden centers (Asclepias tuberosa & incarnata).  During the month of August over 50 Monarch caterpillars were counted!  Multiple chrysalis were found and many mature butterflies were spotted Monarch butterfly on Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed)collecting pollen.  Out of the two varieties of Asclepias used, Swamp Milkweed (Asc. incarnata) was by far the favorite.  In fact we never once saw a monarch caterpillar on the tuberosa species.  For nectar sources we planted many Eutrochium and Eupatorium species as well as other summer and fall blooming perennials.  As is apparent in nature, diversity is the key!  More variation in bloom times, positively correlates to more Monarchs having the necessary energy needed to survive the long trip back to Mexico.

Monarch Chrysalis

It is now early September and I am still finding Monarch caterpillars on the Swamp Milkweed.  As the Joe Pye weed and other mid to late summer perennials wind down, what can be planted to still provide these late bloomers the energy needed to make the trip?  Two perennials immediately come to mind.  Asters and Goldenrod!  For Septembers plant of the month we will focus on Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)

Solidago is a late summer/fall blooming perennial in the aster family (Asteraceae).  The hundreds of species and cultivars range in size from less than a foot to over 6 feet tall.  They sport small vivid yellow blooms that mass together to create a beautiful show.  All pollinators benefit from golden rod during early fall due to the decline in other flowering plants.  While being so important they are not commonly planted in residential settings.  Two misconceptions that likely have led to this lack of use is that Goldenrod causes Hay Fever (which it doesn’t) and that they are just too weedy to have a place in a maintained garden (which it isn’t).  In cultivation, Solidago spp. are excellent additions to any garden.  Here are a few varieties that you can try:

  • Solidago ‘Little Lemon’ – Dwarf variety that only gets about 1′ tallSolidago-Little-Lemon-004
  • Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ – Beautiful clump forming cultivar that gets 3 to 4′ widesolidagob
  • Solidago speciosa – We’ve started growing this variety in our nursery and it hasn’t dissapointed.  It is also called Showy Goldenrod because of its stunning blooms.  It reaches about 5′ tall and tends to bloom later than other species of Solidago.solidago-speciosa-showy-goldenrod_with-indian-grass_467x705

So give Goldenrod a try this fall and let us know if you like it as much as we do.

Thanks for reading!

Plant by Design LLC
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Richmond, VA Nature Photography

Here at Plant by Design we are pleased to announce that we now have an RVA nature photography section on our website.  The photos will showcase the different flora and fauna of our city.  In order to accurately identify the different species of insects we will be working closely with Dr. Doug Tallamy, an author and professor of entymology at  University of Deleware, who wrote the groundbreaking book “Bringing Nature Home”.  Give it a read and I promise you will never look at your landscape the same again.

http://www.plantbydesign.com/nature-photography

Eastern Bumble bee on Monarda didyma

 

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Attract Monarchs!: Plant Milk Weed & Joe Pye Weed

This month we chose to feature two plants because they have a special relationship when it comes to Monarch Butterflies.  Monarchs are the most well known butterfly as a result of all the work that has been done to combat their population decline.  Thanks to these efforts most people know that Monarchs need milkweed (Asclepias var.) in order to survive.  sn-migrationR2It is their host plant and must be present for the adult butterflies to lay eggs.  Due to herbicides being used in the crop industry, as well as land clearing, milkweed is not as abundant as it use to be.  Because of this it is very important for everybody to plant a patch or two of milkweed in their yards (Plant at least two different varieties).

Planting milkweed is well and good but it’s not enough.  What many don’t think about is that the adult Monarchs need a nectar source to build up the energy to lay eggs as well as to migrate later in the season.  If the only flowering native plants you have in your yard are milkweed than there is a good chance you won’t end up with monarch caterpillars.  Adults will be looking for a combination of nectar sources as well as varieties of asclepias.  So what’s the best perennial to serve this purpose?  Joe Pye Weed!

Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium var.) just might be our favorite perennial here at Plant by Design.  In early spring the leaves emerge and slowly grow until the summer heat hits.  Once this happens the purple stems explode to a height of 5 to 8′ tall!  Their purpleish pink clusters of flowers will often reach over a foot wide.  It would be hard to find a plant during the months of July and August that pollinators like more.  From dawn to dusk it is covered in different species of bees butterflies and moths. Eutrochium Joe pye Weed, Bumble bee, MothThis is why it’s so important to plant it alongside milkweed.  The Monarchs flock to the Joepye weed and then lay their eggs on nearby milkweed.  After the caterpillar forms its chrysalis and emerges it will have an immediate high quality source of nectar available.  This allows them to build up the energy needed to migrate back to Mexico and start the process all over.

COMMON TYPES OF MILKWEED:

  • Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) – Pink blooms, medium to wet soilAsclepias incarnata
  • Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Milkweed) – Orange blooms, medium to dry soilAsclepias tuberosa and Monarch Butterfly
  • Asclepias purpurascens (Purple Milkweed) – Purple blooms, medium to dry soilpurpurascens

COMMON TYPES OF JOE PYE WEED: 

  • Eutrochium maculatum – (Joe Pye Weed) Medium to wet soil – Cultivar: ‘Gateway’eutroch mac
  • Eutrochium dubium (Dwarf Joe Pye) – Medium to wet soil – Cultivar: ‘Baby Joe’eutroch dub

 

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Bee Balm – July’s Plant of the Month

Bee Balm (Monarda), which is a member of the mint family, is possibly the best perennial available when it comes to pollinators.  The flowers are quite showy and come in shades of pinks, reds, and purples.  The most common Bee Balm seen in gardens are cultivars of the species Monarda didyma.  I know we normally preach selecting straight natives when possible, but Monarda didyma is one of the exceptions.  The straight species will become covered with powdery mildew in our climate.  Some great cultivars have been developed with a resistance to this disease.  A couple of our favorites are Jacob Cline & Rasberry Wine.

Jacob ClineJacob Cline

Rasberry Wine
rasberry wine

 

The great thing about these cultivars is that they appear to benefit our native insects just as much as the straight species.  I have a large section of it in a meadow area of my yard and it is covered in many species of bees, butterflies, moths, and humming birds.  I’ve also noticed quit a few gold finches hanging out on the flowers as well.

Another species of Monarda we love is Monarda punctata.Monarda_punctata  It has a much different look from its relative didyma.  The flowers almost appear to be silvery extensions of the leaves.  While the smell is similar to all Monarda I feel it has a bit more of a minty aroma.  This one is great in mass plantings where the silvery purple flowers can really show off.  Planting the straight species is fine with this one.Monarda_punctata_10684_500

One word of caution:  All species of Monarda tend to spread rapidly from year to year. Make sure you plant it in an area that can handle its self sowing nature.  Fortunately the plant is easy to pull up if it does begin to make a nuisance of itself.

Check out Sandy’s Plants if you are interested in purchasing some Bee Balm.  They have many varieties including the ones mentioned here.

Thanks for reading!

Plant  by Design LLC
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Native Hydrangeas – June’s Plant of the Month

More than likely when you think of hydrangeas an image of a large pink or blue puff ball comes to mind.  The ever so popular Endless Summer Hydrangea!  enldess summerThey do have their appeal.  They bloom for many months and provide excellent color even in the heat of the summer (as long as they are receiving afternoon shade).  However, the Endless Summer is not a native hydrangea.  Some of the prettiest hydrangeas are native and they often take a back seat to non-native varieties simply because of marketing.  Fortunately, the native varieties are readily available at most garden centers.

 

There are two main native hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia & Hydrangea arborescens) and both are fantastic.  For this post however, we are just going to focus on Hydrangea quericifolia also known as oakleaf hydrangea.  While this unique looking hydrangea can take a wide arrquercifoliaay of site conditions one of its best features is the ability to survive in dry shade.  It does really well in areas under trees where most plants suffer from lack of water and sun.  The leaves on this hydrangea look similar to an Oak leaf hence the name.  The flowers bloom in large conical masses and are most often a whitish color that fades to pink as the flower ages.  There are all types of cultivars that allow for planting of these great shrubs in just about any sized location.  Two of our favorites are ‘Snow Queen’ which gets about 4-5′ tall and wide and ‘Alice’ which can reach heights of 10′!  Dwarf varieties are also available though harder to come by.  A final draw to this plant is the incredible fall color.  Shades of oranges and deep reds will provide a truly breath taking site in your garden. quercifolia fall color

So we hope next time you are at your local garden center and thinking about purchasing some hydrangeas you will walk past the blue puff balls and instead give the underused oakleaf hydrangea a try.  We know you’ll love it as much as we do!

Thanks for reading!

Plant by Design LLC
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Native Azaleas – May’s Plant of the Month

Evergreen azaleas are the most common shrubs found throughout much of the East Coast.  You can’t walk down a street in Richmond, VA without seeing masses of azaleas in almost every yard.  They bloom profusely in spring and then fade to the background as just another green shrub that needs occasional pruning.  These azaleas are so commonly used that many people would be surprised to learn that they are in fact not native.  What may be more surprising is that there are gorgeous native azaleas that are rarely sold in nurseries.  Why is this?  The only answer I can think of is that non native azaleas are evergreen while native ones are mostly all deciduous.  I’m about to go on a bit of a rant and then I promise I will get to the point of this blog post which is describing native azaleas in all their glory.

Okay, so for some reason over the years the idea of having a deciduous shrub in a landscape has become a negative thing.  It’s as if plants that lose their leaves are inferior to evergreens.  While design wise it makes sense to have evergreen shrubs on the foundation of a house, it’s not necessary most other ares in the landscape.  I would like to propose the idea that evergreen shrubs are in fact inferior to deciduous shrubs from most design and aesthetic standpoints.  As I said, evergreens definitely have their place in design, but when looking for seasonal interest they just don’t compare.  The primary example of this is fall color.  Most deciduous plants have incredible fall color.  Many also have fruits/berries that cling to the stems of the shrubs after the leaves have fallen.  Some plants such as redtwig dogwood and itea have colorful architectural stems that give great winter interest and would be unnoticed if the leaves remained.  Finally, one of the best features is getting to see the new growth take form in early spring.  Some plants such as buckeyes, native azaleas, and sumacs really put on a show.  Deciduous shrubs make walking through your yard an exciting adventure each season of the year.

Now on to Native Azaleas!

Like their non-native relatives, native azaleas prefer to be an under-story plant.  This means they want some protection from hot afternoon sun.  They also need good drainage.  If you have clay soil consider planting them up a few inches out of the ground and mounding dirt around them to help keep their roots from sitting in water.

There are many different types of Native Azaleas but I would like to showcase just a few for this post:

Rhododendron Canescens (Piedmont Azalea):

This is a large growing Azalea that can reach heights of 15′.  It is great as a specimenCanescens or used in mass as a border or screen.  The lite pink flowers smell incredible and will bloom for 2 weeks to a month depending on weather conditions.  Their blooms typically open up in early to mid April.  This is a great option for a large shrub that will make all the neighbors jealous!

 

 

 

 

Rhododendron Calendulaceum (Flame Azalea):

ThiRhododendron calendulaceums Azalea gets its name from the vibrant orange/red flowers that cover it in early to mid spring (May-June).  It can reach heights of 12′ and is also perfect as a specimen or screen.  Unlike Canescens, Flame Azalea is not fragrant.  However, what it lacks in the olfactory department it more than makes up for in the visual!

 

 

 

Rhododendron Atlanticum (Coastal Azalea)

R_MarydelNeed a smaller growing azalea?  This is the one for you.  Most reach a height of 2-4′.  They have fragrant white to pink blooms and work great as a foundation plant intermixed with other evergreens.  One cultivar we like a lot is ‘Marydel’.  It has medium pink flowers and gets about 4′ tall.

 

 

 

Beautiful right?  Spring is the true highlight of native azaleas but fall isn’t far behind either.  On most species the leaves turn a vibrant orange/red before dropping and revealing a beautiful branch structure that provides great winter interest.

If you live in the Richmond, VA area and would like to purchase native azaleas we recommend Colesville Nursery in Ashland.  They are the only nursery around that carries a large amount of native azaleas.  They also have a great assortment of other native plants as well.
www.colesvillenursery.com

Thanks for reading!

Plant by Design LLC
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Columbine – April’s Plant of the Month

Native Columbine (Aguilegia canadensis) is a wonderful woodland perennial for early spring.  Gorgeous red blooms begin to appear as early as mid to late March but more commonly by April 1st.Aquilegia_canadensis_'nana'

We love Columbine because it is a low maintenance burst of color in shady areas.  It also spreads pretty easy by seed which makes it a good choice for a ground cover in areas you want to stay a little more natural.  The typical size is around 1 to 2′ tall by 1′ wide.  If Aguilegia receives too much sun or dries out it will likely go dormant in the summer and reemerge once the temperatures cool down again; therefor, it’s definitely a plant best suited for moist part to full shade locations.

close upThe unique blooms are a real show stopper.  They are a favorite of hummingbirds and will surely attract these fascinating birds to your garden.  Another great quality is that they are deer resistant.  Over population of deer is a huge problem here in Richmond, VA and it can be frustrating finding plants that they will not devour.  Columbine is one of them!

Just remember there are many varieties of columbine, most of which are not native.  When you go to your local nursery be sure to specifically request Aguilegia canadensis to make sure you get all the benefits of this great native plant.

If you have any questions or need help locating native columbine just let us know!

Thanks for reading!

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