In spite of our insufferable summer, many plants bounced back and decided to put on a show for us. The herbicide attack on my plants earlier this summer is still showing residual effects, but the majority of them have come back to perform their blooming and feeding duties. The hummingbird population has exploded around my house over the past couple of years and I would have been disturbed if they had been disappointed with the “buffet”.
My garden beds are layered according to bloom time so I always have beautiful color and food for the hungry creatures. At the top of my list of favorite plants is the Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus). This plant has so many fabulous attributes: very fast growth rate, lengthy bloom time, non-invasive, hummingbird and butterfly magnet, low maintenance and it can be shaped or hedged or used as a screen. The single flowering varieties will drop quite a few seeds, but if you apply pre-emergent around the plant, this can be kept to a minimum. My favorite varieties are those sporting double blooms which produce very few seeds, but are still prolific bloomers. Recognized as the Chiffon™ series, the double, carnation-like blooms are simply irresistible to
hummingbirds. Hibiscus syriacus
will need to be trimmed each fall after the plant has finished blooming or early spring (just as the plant begins to leaf out). I usually remove about 1/4 to 1/3 of the plant at this time. If you trim at any other time, you will not have blooms (or the quantity will be greatly reduced). The recent drought interrupted the blooming session on my shrubs, but as soon as it was over they were simply covered with blooms! They are just winding down now.
This was a very tough year on Buddleja (Butterfly Bushes), the foliage suffered greatly and the panicle size was also reduced. Having said that, they were covered in these smaller than usual blooms. My favorites include ‘Pink Delight’, ‘Ellen’s Blue’ (very fragrant), and the new ‘Blue Chip’ dwarf. Butterflies seem to be drawn to the lighter colors and if I could acquire a reliable yellow variety, they will simply smother it. I grew ‘Honeycomb’ one year which reached 4 feet wide and high by the time the Monarchs came passing through. I couldn’t believe the number of butterflies on this single plant. It was as if I had no other Buddleja in my yard. But, of course, not being reliably winter hardy, the ‘Honeycomb’ did not return the following year. My ‘Golden Globe’ which I installed in spring of 2010 survived the first winter and drought/heat. It is blooming next to ‘Royal Red’ which provides striking contrast. Considering it has not been growing in a sheltered location, I am hopeful that it will return next year, as well. Caring for these plants is relatively simple. As they begin to emerge in the spring, I trim the old growth back to about a foot or 18 inches. As the new growth becomes even with the old growth, I pinch the terminal bud at the end of each stem. This will cause multiple branching to occur along that single stem. I usually pinch again when the plant is approximately 2-3 feet high, stopping by mid-June. The plants will need to be ready to bloom around mid July when the butterflies will be scouting for food sources.
The next shrub definitely worth mentioning which has technically already bloomed, is Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana). This fantastic shrub requires virtually no maintenance (possibly trimming off a rogue vertical stem) and while the bloom is rather insignificant, the berry clusters produced along the stems are fantastic. Left to perform the natural growth habit, this shrub’s stems cascade in a horizontal fashion. Each stem is lined with these beautiful clusters of berries which become a welcome treat for birds. In our zone, this shrub may die back to the ground in the winter (similar to the Buddleja) and should be groomed as it is first emerging, removing dead stems as necessary. It is definitely a conversation piece and will provide beauty until the first hard freeze.
A couple of honorable mentions go to Roses because they just refuse to quit until a freeze sneaks up on them and Weigela for putting on a second show of blooms.
A few of my favorite perennials which are all blooming in unison are: Salvia (all varieties), Veronica, Russian Sage, Dianthus, Verbena bonariensis, Sedum, Heliopsis (false sunflower), Ratibida (Mexican Hats), Toad Lilies and Ornamental Grasses.
The cooler weather has encouraged me to do a bit of “porch sitting” while watching the butterflies float through the air and the hummingbirds fight over the Rose of Sharon nectar. I have found sunrise and sunset to be their most active feeding times. I certainly hope you are enjoying your garden beds as much as I am and don’t forget: