Pesky Critter Season

It’s that time of year, again!  The weather will get colder, food will become scarce and the critters begin moving in on your prized plants…aak!  Rabbits and Deer can be horribly destructive to annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees.  During the winter, it becomes extremely important to protect your young trees from hungry critters, as well as, sun scald which can cause irreparable damage.

There are several methods you can use to protect your new trees, some are better
than others for serving a dual purpose.  There are tree wraps, screens, paint and fences.  It is suggested to choose a method which suits your fancy and then check frequently for damage to the tree.  The best time to install your wrap is after a few lengthy nighttime freezes.  The majority of the insects will be gone and no longer post a threat to the tree for the season.  Tree wraps come in varying forms, are readily available (check the tree care section of our garden pharmacy), and extremely easy to install on the tree.  The brief video provided is an excellent tutorial on the process.

The tree wrap is only designed to be

applied to the point where branching begins on the tree.  Granted, deer may cause damage to the branches of the tree, but this will not usually be a fatal attack.

And then there is the well known saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”… if you grow plants which are undesirable to critters, you will have much less damage (in a normal year).  There seems to be very few “immune” plants to munching, however if there are enough alternatives in neighboring properties, they should ignore these plantings.

Deer tend to do more fatal harm to trees and shrubs, so this list is primarily focused on those categories.  As stated before, they avoid these plants….this doesn’t guarantee they will remain chomp-free.

The majority of the plants found on the rabbit list are those which both tend to avoid.  In addition to these plant lists, most spring and fall bulbs are safe from being grazed or browsed, soooo plant away!  

If you reside in what feels like a heavily “infested” area, consider making a switch to some of these beautiful plants which naturally ward off critter attacks.  Keep us posted!

The Garden that is Finished is Dead

True Survivors

As the Summer season comes to a close (thank goodness!), it is time to take “inventory” of the plants who sailed through the heat and drought with relatively little damage. The drought was bad enough, but MANY plants can survive being deprived of water for an extended period of time. The heat is what caused many of the plants to “give up”.

Hostas took the combination of torment particularly hard, leaving many to wonder if they will re-emerge from the soil this year. While several types of plants seemed to either die or go completely dormant, let’s focus on which plants were tough enough to make it through.


In my yard,

Caryopteris ‘Summer Sorbet’ was a clear winner. This specific variety is variegated green/gold foliage accented with misty blue blooms. Other fantastic varieties include ‘Sunshine Blue’ and ‘Li’l Miss Sunshine’ (at left) which have a very similar appearance. Only requiring 2 supplemental soakings, this lovely creature even bloomed during our hottest days.

Many ornamental grasses performed “well”, but I did notice that they bloomed extremely early as if they were preparing for winter. In a normal season, most of varieties of Miscanthus will send up bloom stalks in August which persist through winter. My ‘Adagio’ Dwarf Maiden Grass only received a couple of drinks with the garden hose and has been blooming since mid-June.

Coming in at a very close third would be Weigela (well established plants). This plant did not bloom well, but other than that, it rarely sulked and received very little supplemental water. Now would be a great time to plant this shrub, it will have quite awhile before the ground freezes to become settled in.

I have said it before, but I will say it again: Amsonia is a FANTASTIC plant! Although it “pouted” a little and sagged under the extreme heat, it never got crispy and perked right up after the first relief of rain. Try this plant when you get a chance, doesn’t look like much in the pot, but give it a year and it will start showing off!

Annuals also became divided into two categories: wimps and survivors. I believe I will begin to fill my pots with tough creatures in future years. There were quite a few plants which excelled for me (with regular watering) and a few which can be brought in for the winter months.

One of my absolute favorite annuals grown primarily for foliage is the Purple Heart Plant (Setcreasea pallida). Tough as nails and fantastically vivid purple foliage, this plant is a definite winner under any circumstance. Bring it in for the winter, too…it may sulk a bit without enough light but will quickly bounce back once returned to its spring hangout.

Another great filler plant is Plectranthus. While that is quite a mouthful to say, it is more than a mouthful of a plant!! Thriving in the heat, keep it watered and it will outperform most other plants. If it gets too crazy, just give it a pinch. Similar to Coleus (also a great heat performer), it responds very well to a bit of grooming. There are quite a few different varieties to look for…give it a try!

Last but not least, which annuals were happy enough to continue providing us much needed color? Low flower count is a sign of stress with any plant, and many annuals displayed discomfort. Not surprisingly, Lantana barely even noticed the change in the weather…continuously providing beautiful color, as well as, food for the occasional butterfly.

But, I would have to say that one of my absolute favorite blooming annuals is Angelonia. It simply doesn’t know the meaning of the word “quit”. Every week the plant is a little bigger and the stems are lined with beautiful flowers. Even though it seems to be on the delicate side, don’t let appearances fool you! This is one tough plant!

Other honorable mentions should go to Succulents and Pachypodiums (great fillers or centerpieces in annual pots), Zinnias and Shrimp Plant.

Next Spring (2013) will be the time to survey how well our trees fared.  I will be sure to update you with results.

I would love to know which plants performed well for you this year, so feel free to email me!

And PLEASE don’t forget about the birds this winter. Blooming and setting seed sank very low on the priority list of most plants and these feathered friends may need our help more than ever during the upcoming season of snow and ice.

Hope to see you at our upcoming Pumpkin Patch Festivities!  Come on out, it will be fun!

The Garden that is Finished is Dead

The Good Guys

I know, I know….one of the creepiest feelings is witnessing a spider race across your bedroom floor.  Personally, I can’t stand spiders inside my house.  It is simply no fun to be awakened by a brown recluse dancing on your leg…eek!  Outside it is a completely different story.  While fully recognizing their importance,  I also understand that, generally speaking, they are entirely harmless.  I love to watch them design their webs, using trial and error when finding their anchor points.  The Wolf Spider is amazing the way she protects her egg sac and then carries her young on her back until they are able to fend for themselves.  They are avid hunters and will even catch and eat other spiders.  For this reason, I try to respect their space and leave them completely alone.

My absolute favorite spider in the garden has been sorely missed this year.  Normally I would find numerous guardians protecting my beds from the

annual grasshopper onslaught.  This year, however, I have not seen even one!  The wonderful spider I am speaking of is the Argiope (an orb weaver or writing spider).  When not positioned in the web, this spider is a bit of a awkward creature, requiring slow and deliberate movements. 
They are non-aggressive and very goal oriented (eat, breed, reproduce).  The female will die as cold weather moves in, so she must insure her egg sac is placed in a viable position to be safe until the spring.  The color of the egg sac can vary from milky white to a dark brown (as seen in the picture), resembling a speed bag (used in boxing) and she will most likely situate it against a structure (if available) or under some type of shelter.  If she chooses the spot wisely, the entire brood will hatch in the fall, hibernate within the sac and then emerge the following spring.  The egg sac contains approximately 500 young but very few will survive to adulthood.

Speaking of creepy creatures, this next “good guy” is commonly victim of mistaken identity.  As you watch this video, understand that this is the larvae of one our favorite insects.  Impossible as it seems, this is a young Ladybug feasting on a meal of aphids.  We know how beneficial they are for cleaning aphids off of our beloved plants and the larvae have an equally insatiable appetite.  As the Ladybug is transforming into the adult, be careful not to destroy the pupa which is equally as unattractive as the larvae!  An interesting fact is that the majority of the Ladybugs we see are not native to this country, they are native to Japan.  In the 1980’s, the USDA performed a “successful” introduction of this insect into North America.  It is now considered a “pest” in some areas because this species prefers to hibernate inside our homes.  They will seek a nice warm place on a south or west wall or ceiling to rest for winter.  Unfortunately, there is usually not enough humidity to maintain their moisture needs and many will perish.  If you find them in your house, they will not bother anything and, provided they survive, will leave on their own.

One final good guy I feel the need to mention is the Praying Mantis.  Probably the most animated insect I can think of, the movements and personality of this creature warrant our undivided attention.   Known for their cannibalistic behavior, the young mantis quickly places distance between themselves and their birth place.  They immediately begin seeking their own territory as they understand that two mantises can not reside on one prime piece of real estate.  The size of these creatures can vary greatly.  I have seen a few that measured a full 4 inches long, while the majority were quite a bit smaller.  They are quite proficient hunters and will even use their “hands” as spears to impale and pluck their pray out of the air.  Grasshoppers, flies, moths and crickets are their favorite foods, but every once in a while, they will score a butterfly, hummingbird or another mantis.

As I wander though my gardens collecting seed or pulling weeds, I am always on the lookout for fascinating creatures.  In a normal year, I find many beneficial friends and usually discover something “new”, as well.  My son (who just turned two) is beginning to notice very subtle differences and details and will be ready to “hunt” with me next year.  I can’t wait!!

As always:

The Garden that is Finished is Dead

Bloomin’ in My Garden

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:


 The Garden that is Finished is Dead

No More Monarchs?!?!

MonarchClipBelieve it or not, this may soon be a reality.  Why?  Various reasons, actually, but one major reason is the destruction of habitat in their breeding grounds (here in North America).  These fine creatures have a fascinating life cycle and what is even more fascinating is their yearly 2500 milemigration from Canada and the United States south to Mexico where they hibernate in the Oyamel fir trees during the inhospitable months.  Their heart rate slows dramatically and they literally cover the trees with no room to spare.

The Monarch Butterfly is the ONLY insect able to

fly 2500 miles and their species is dependent on the ritual.  Over the past 10 years, there has been a remarkable decrease in the numbers of Monarchs which have reached their destination points.  This is alarming and has spawned many scientists to begin finding the causes and attempting to find a remedy as quickly as possible.  Their breeding grounds here in the United States are dwindling quickly…the main culprit is the herbicide that farmers use to clear their land.  This combined with the illegal logging of their chosen winter home (along with a few other influences) is greatly interrupting the migration/breeding cycles of this marvelous creature.  The non-selective herbicide is wiping out the only plant which the Monarch larvae will feed on, Milkweed. Most members of the Asclepia family will satisfy the hungry caterpillar, but some are favored over others. We are all being urged to plant these desirable host plants and food sources.  Asclepias curassavica (an annual in our area), Asclepias incarnata, and Asclepias tuberosa are the preferred food sources.  Another is Asclepias syriaca, but give this one some room away from your current plantings, it spreads via underground rhizomes.  You could try others, as well.  It is also important to offer the adults some food, one of the best and easiest is Buddleia (Butterfly Bush) planted in groups to accommodate many hungry mouths.  Don’t forget to pinch them as they are getting started in the spring.  Pinching the tips off in the beginning insures many more blooms in the summer.  Both the Asclepias and the Buddleia can be planted in early fall to allow a head start on spring.  Other perennial flowers which are great food sources for the adult Monarch include:

  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
  • Bachelor’s Button (Centaurea montana)
  • Turtle Head (Chelone glabra)
  • Coreopsis (Coreopsis sp.)
  • Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro)
  • Coneflower (Echinacea sp.)
  • Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium sp)
  • Blanket Flower (Gaillardia sp.)
  • False Sunflower (Heliopsis sp.)
  • Gayfeather (Liatris sp.)
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia sp.)
  • Goldenrod (Solidago sp.)
  • Aster (Aster sp.)
  • Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
  • Bee Balm (Monarda sp.)
  • Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)
  • Hollyhock (Mallow sp.)
  • Salvia (Salvia sp.)
  • Upright Sedum (Sedum spectabile)
  • Button Bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Annual flowers can also be satisfactory food sources (don’t forget to water them or they will not produce flowers well).

  • Salvia (many annual varieties to choose from)
  • Lantana (great for many different butterflies)
  • Candytuft
  • Verbena
  • Scabiosa (great one!)
  • Zinnias

My advice is to try as many different plants as possible the first year…get to know what does well in your garden and which plants were more frequently visited by the Monarchs.  Once you know what their favorites are, you can plant multiples of those plants to create a virtual oasis for your little winged visitors.  Something else to watch for is the Monarch impersonator, the Viceroy.  While the Viceroy is a lovely butterfly, it simply doesn’t match up to the regal qualities of Monarch.  It can be difficult to distinguish between the two from a distance, but up close, it is rather easy.  The Viceroy is smaller and less graceful in its flight.  There are also distinctive pattern differences, as well.  The picture on the left clearly shows the black line which runs across the hind wings of the Viceroy.  The Monarch does not have this obvious marking.  While it is nice to have Viceroy visit your flowers, it is difficult to get an accurate gauge on the number of Monarchs which are visiting unless you can tell the difference between the two.

I had never even considered the thought that there might be a day when my son is unable to experience this wondrous and crucial part of nature.  I remember, as a child, studying the metamorphosis process and everyone wanted to see the beautiful gold lined chrysalis which encased the beautiful Monarch waiting to emerge at exactly the right time.  I certainly want my son (and your children/grandchildren) to be able to experience it too.  If you can find some room in your yard for some vital plants for the Monarch, I know they will be greatly appreciated!

UPDATE 2015: The Monarch Butterfly has now been added to the Endangered Species List. The time is NOW to plant food for them and keep it safe from pesticides.

Have fun!  Enjoy your new friends and as always……


 The Garden that is Finished is Dead