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.
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 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.
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′ tall
- Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ – Beautiful clump forming cultivar that gets 3 to 4′ wide
- 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.
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
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.
Plant by Design LLC
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. It 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. This 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 soil
- Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Milkweed) – Orange blooms, medium to dry soil
- Asclepias purpurascens (Purple Milkweed) – Purple blooms, medium to dry soil
COMMON TYPES OF JOE PYE WEED:
- Eutrochium maculatum – (Joe Pye Weed) Medium to wet soil – Cultivar: ‘Gateway’
- Eutrochium dubium (Dwarf Joe Pye) – Medium to wet soil – Cultivar: ‘Baby Joe’
Plant by Design LLC
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.
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. 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.
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
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! They 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 array 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.
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
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.
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.
The 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!
Each year around this time we have clients E-mail us with pictures of certain plants in their landscapes that seem to of gone from lush and green to brown and crispy over night. The problem is some of the most commonly planted shrubs in Richmond would really prefer to be further south. With this post we would like to address a few common plants that we would recommend not planting without taking certain precautions.
Who doesn’t love the smell of gardenias? Unfortunately they can be a very tricky plant to have success with in our climate. They need to stay cool with partial shade in the summer but also need to stay warm in the winter. Unless you live in a micro-climate such as the FAN you will probably have a difficult time getting them established. If you are able to get one established it will likely die back hard in the winter but should begin to send up new growth at the base once the temperatures warm up for spring. For wonderful fragrance we recommend planting Clethra instead. It smells amazing and is also native to our region.
Also called Chinese Fringe Tree, the Loropetalum is another commonly planted shrub that struggles with our winters. Once established it will likely do okay with minimal die back but getting it established can be tricky. The reason this plant is desired is for the burgundy red evergreen foliage. For a native plant with some red evergreen foliage try different varieties of Leucothoe Axilaris. Also consider planting deciduous shrubs that have gorgeous red fall color. Among the best are Itea Virginica and Red Choke Berry. For an ornamental grass check out Shenandoah Switch Grass for beautiful red foliage many months out of the year.
While more cold tolerant than Star Jasmine, Madison Jasmine still has a hard time making it through our winters. Once established it will likely experience die back and then flush back out in Spring. So if you have jasmine in your yard that has recently turned brown don’t panic yet! Give it some time and it will likely show signs of life within the next month. For great native vines, try Clematis Virginiana, Passion Flower, Native honey suckle (Lonicera Sempervirens), and Virginia Creeper (I know this one is often thought of as a weed but you just can’t beat the fall color of this great vine!) While all native vines tend to be deciduous, they flush back out and grow extremely fast in spring.
The final plant we would like to bring awareness to is the wonderful fig tree. Its fruits are cherished and its branch structure is considered a work of art. Over these past couple winters we have witnessed many 20+ year old fig trees totally die back to the ground. Most of them did recover once warm weather returned but they were dramatically reduced in size. If your fig tree did not appear to make it this winter give it some time and it may come back.
One thing these four plants have in common is they are all non-natives. This presents one more great reason to begin switching over to native plants in your yard. While the plants listed above are not detrimental to our environment they just don’t do very well here. A lot of time and money can be saved by planting perennials, shrubs, and trees that are intended to be in our area. So this coming spring keep it native and plant by design!