Summer is here!
Perennial lupine plant has the strangest flower shape of almost any plant. "Why does it have this shape," I ask myself when it flowers. water beads up on the leaves like sparkling diamonds in the sunlight on a plant that likes good soil, full to part sun on a 15" plant. Lupine is a reliable perennial, coming back every year to delight.
Tree peonies differ from perennial peony plants in a few ways. Perennial peonies die to the ground in the fall, Tree peonies do not. Tree peonies have an above ground stem structure that persists all year long, with new growth in the spring popping out of these stems. Tree peonies also do not seem to get the blackish leaf fungus that perennial peonies get, with their soft green leaves making it through the summer unmolested. Mature tree peonies are a show stopper, and can be cherished by family members throughout the generations.
Trollius is one of my favorite perennials not just because of the unique flower color, but also because of the symbiosis it has with a fly that it evolved with in the steppes of Russia. Years ago, as I watched a bumblebee vibrate it's way up inside a foxglove flower, I realized that the bumble bee was uniquely suited for the foxglove flower. The bee fit snugly in the flower, and the hair on the bee's back aligned itself with the pollen structures inside the flower. In order for the bee to get the prize at the end of the flower, it had to pollinate the floret- effortlessly. I also realized that the flower's shape kinda prevented most other insects from entering, and I wondered why. I walked away, thinking about the thousands of other plants we had, all evolving through the millennia in symbiosis with insects so that everyone wins. When I looked at trollius (^), I understood the function of all of the flower parts except the vertical cage-like bars. They looked like jail cell bars. I looked it up online, and found a russian study that showed that these bars exclude all but one species of fly from entering the flower to pollinate. The jail cell bars allow this one fly inside the flower to pollinate and lay it's eggs on the seeds of the flower, with the larvae taking 40-60% of the seeds for the baby flies to eat. In return for this donation, the plant gets pollinated and gets 40-60% of the seeds to distribute. I still don't understand why the plant allows the fly to have any of the seeds, but there must be a reason that mother nature knows about and isn't sharing her secret.
So it is with a botanical and evolutionary interest as well as an aesthetic and low maintenance reasons that I adore Trollius, and I hope that you will too. We usually have them in the spring only, Full to part sun, seems deer proof, no insect or disease pests, Nice geranium-like leaves. Returns reliably every spring.
I've been selling this unique plant for decades. Daylily-like foliage on a 12' tall plant pushes up these strange flowers almost all summer long. See the tiny flower petals at the very bottom of the picture on the right? THAT'S the flower, pollinated by the smallest bees I have ever seen, about as big as a grain of sand. Until I saw these bees, I wasn't aware that there are thousands of bees that live in Connecticut, and most people are only aware of the two or three most well-known ones. Anyway... the deer-proof red hot poker plant is deer proof, fungus-free, disease-free for full sun and good soil. It will live for you for decades, toiling away for you effortlessly without any help at all. Not available in great quantity this year. Goes really well with violet blue colors.
A note about growing hydrangeas for you to consider before you buy them- Old fashioned hydrangeas flower on stems the fall prior. People like to cut them back because they don't like the brown stems all winter but what they do not know is that they are cutting off the flower buds for the following year, and when this happens, they have to wait 18 months for that plant to flower again. If that homeowner cuts back that hydrangea every year, that plant will never flower. Ever.
New hydrangea plants have been hybridized to flower on "new wood," so even if you mow the plant down in March, it will still flower that same summer. I tell people to NEVER prune hydrangea plants- there really is no need to. If the plant is too tall, move it. If you don't like the brown stems in the winter, choose another plant for that spot, or get used to it.
Hydrangeas push out flowers all summer if they are happy. Making them happy includes good soil, commercial grade fertilizer, adequate sunlight, and of course, water when its hot out. Flowering for a plant is like giving birth for a human- it takes a lot of energy from the parent, so plant hydrangeas in either full to part sun. I consider full sun to mean 5 hours a day of full sun, or three hours a day of full sun then filtered light all day. In full shade you might get good flowering if all other needs of the plant are met.
Hydrangeas are grown in really lightweight soil at the nursery, so you really need to pay close attention to the plants for the first year after you plant them to assure the plant grabs hold of it's new home asap.
If the plant gets dessicated, they usually rebound with closer attention with water, and an apology. When they begin to dry the first year, they "candycane," drooping their flexible stems downward, Almost as soon as you water them, they perk right back up. Spraying them with water from the hose cools them off and buys time for the roots to start to drink up the water you just offered them. Drape a light sheet over them to shade them if the wilting is severe. Best thing is not letting them dry out in the first place.
New varieties are shorter than the old ones, ranging in size from 2-3-4-5' tall which makes them great for foundation plantings, decks and patios. If you want them in an above ground container, plant it in the ground for winter because the roots will not survive the cold temps. Bringing the pot into an unheated garage solves the problem.
Some new varieties have foliar characteristics that extends their attractiveness way beyond the flowering weeks. Red foliage and stem color are two traits that are lush and unique. Some have red stems, some are black. Some of the new white ones have the very whitest flowers on the very darkest green leaves, the contrast between the two being a stunning attribute. Some of the newest cultivars have double or triple petals on each flower, or two-toned blossoms.
There's one thing that can be said about the horticultural industry- research and development is a continual focus, with new varieties coming into the marketplace yearly for discerning gardeners and people who just want something different in their yard.
Monarch Butterfly observations!
Freshly hatched adult monarch butterfly- third generation. Notice the fresh wings, pristine components. This poor fella was blown away from his chrysalis during a storm and we found him trying to stretch and get moving. We thought it was dead until I noticed how fresh and new he was. A stunningly and amazingly beautiful insect that needs to be put on the endangered species list.
Biggest monarch caterpillar I’ve ever seen. Big well-fed larvae turn into huge healthy aggressive adult butterflies. Last year I planted ONE asclepias incarnata by the roadside sign, and that one plant seeded hundreds more. Its sunny and wet there, exactly what that plant needs to thrive. People driving by must think we dont care about how our nursery looks from the road (it looks a little weedy). Little do they know how many monarchs live and breed in that somewhat weedy-looking patch!
Monarchs also chomp on the seed pod sheath. Dunno why, but there is probably a great scientific reason why, knowing the mysterious monarchs… full of surprises!
Just-emerged monarch resting after hatching. This wanderer will fly 4,000 miles to Mexico. How do he know???
I do not know what kills them. It’s like losing a child when they turn to mush. When I can, I try to identify why.
I know from experience that monarchs never do this. I cut this one open, did an autopsy, and found this:
… little maggots of trachid flies. I now pull the caterpillars off the stock plants and place them on far-flung Asclepias plants that have popped up around the nursery. When target insects are clustered together, it makes it too easy for the pathogen population to find them. It’s TOTAL WARFARE!!!
One chrysalis proudly displayed for all to see took too long to hatch- two weeks. It took on a dark green color. So I ……….. zoomed in really close.
…and saw yet another pathogen I haven’t identified yet that had eaten the helpless guy as he was pupating. As if monarchs don’t have enough problems!!!! I’m gonna figure out how to produce the maximum monarchs on my property at home and at the nursery. Gotta work fast! Why, you ask?
It’s so sad that last year (2020), in California, they counted 1200 monarch butterflies in the entire state. What did the trump administration do? They refused to give the monarch butterflies protection when asked to do so (with the endangered species act) because it would anger his agricultural donors like the Koch industry. Endangered species protection would protect monarch environments from being filled in by developers and farmers and put tight controls on chemical usage in those same areas. Profits vs. the environment is a war that is unwinnable for non-humans.
Come to the nursery, I’ll give you seeds of milkweed to help them survive (but it’s going to take our government to step in with legal protection).
Sometimes in life when things “got you down,” something comes along to offer hope, and such was the case when I saw this chrysalis on a pot that used to be next to the block of Asclepias. I hurriedly moved the giant amsonia over to the firewood pile where I hoped the trachid flies wouldn’t find him/her.
This morning I checked and voila!!! Right on schedule:
Despite all the obstacles to survival, species strive for continuation.
Two hours later, I witnessed this for the very first time:
I saw him/her with a very swollen abdomen, pooping some brown liquid, awkwardly unfurling it’s wings.
I moved the little critter to a hydrangea plant so it could feel at home, and it wasn’t long before it took its first flight!!! This one is flying 3,500 miles to the mountains in Mexico where it over winters with what’s left of the monarch population.
Post script: 10-12-21:
11pm last night a friend who I gave five caterpillars to sent me this video of a newly pupating fourth generation monarch who had JUST converted from a caterpillar to a new chrysalis. This is a very rare seldom seen phenomenon:
Unsplit firewood for sale
July 27th, 2021
Having trouble with the leaves on your plants?
cutting back tired perennials
Sometimes in the course of human events (and gardening), things go downhill fast. Such is the case with perennials. They pop up all nice and fresh every spring, flower, then get attacked by powdery mildew, assorted fungi, nutrient deficiencies, insect holes, spots, lesions, etc.
At the nursery, said plants become totally unsaleable and make us look like we just started the nursery business recently.
It wasn't until a few years ago that I came up with a drastic solution to the "crappy-looking summer perennial" problem.
To address the issue, you must make sure you cut the plant down properly. To do so, be sure to use a pair of scissors or hedge clippers to cut the plant either down to the ground if it is planted, or down to the pot if it is potted. This will ensure that the plant is not continuously putting energy towards it's damages and dead parts, rather towards new growth. This also allows the plant to release growth hormones that were stored towards the bottom of it's foliage. This process can be seen in the following photos.
For reference, this is what it looks like when the plant is not cut enough.
As always, consistent watering and feeding can help prevent this problem but cutting back is a normal process that we do each year, especially approaching the winter. Make sure to keep your perennials fed and hydrated after this process so it can be healthy through the summer months.