Using Native Plants, Part 2

I remembered what the plant was that I mentioned in the last issue: Monarda punctata (Spotted Mint or Horsemint). They grow about 18" - 2' tall. When they bloom, they form colorful rosy-lavender bracts surrounding pale yellow flowers; the flowers are speckled with dark brown dots. It's quite a nice plant. It looks like it can stay compact. It can be planted in a garden with pastel flowers, like Coreopsis 'Moonbeam' (a commonly-available cultivar of the native plant Coreopsis verticillata) and Liatrix (two species, L. graminifolia (Grass-leaf Blazing Star) and L. spicata (Gayfeather, Blazing Star) are native to Maryland). My Spotted Mint has started to bloom, showing its rosy bracts. If you're curious about what it looks like, it's in the front bed of my house near the ash stump. You'll recognize it, because it's something that is not usually seen in nurseries and garden centers.

July Plants of the Month

Helenium nudiflorum (Purple Sneezeweed). Neither purple, nor the cause of sneezing (that's Ragweed, Ambrosia artemisifolia), it's a plant that looks a lot like a Black-eyed Susan, but it has a brown pompom shaped center high above the "petals". It's kind of cute. The stems are winged and hairy, giving them a silvery cast. It can grow to 3' tall.

Clitoria mariana (Butterfly Pea). This plant blooms in the summer and can grow as a groundcover or can be allowed to climb trellises. Butterfly Pea has large pale-blue flowers and trifoliate leaves. Like other Leguminous plants, it can add nitrogen to the soil.

Lilium superbum (Turk's Cap Lily). This is a nice tall plant for the part-shade garden. Flowers are orange-red with black spots, and hang downward. They look like the non-native tiger lilies, but the petals are more recurved, and the leaves are arranged not alternately but whorled. Turk's Cap Lily likes a moist area, and can grow 4 - 7' tall.

Black-Eyed Peas

I planted some black-eyed peas this summer, and they are doing really well now. Unlike other peas, the black-eyed peas are heat tolerant, and will grow throughout the summer. They need a trellis or pole to climb up. A trellis against your garden's wall or fence or an obelisk frame in the center of a bed will add vertical interest to your garden. The flowers are canary yellow and are not spectacular. However, black-eyed peas, like other Leguminous plants, fix nitrogen from the air and add it to the soil. This makes it a nice plant to mix into the garden with other plants, and a very lazy way to add "fertilizer" to the garden, while reaping a harvest.

Managing Pests in the Garden

There are two insect pests that peeve me to no end: the Japanese Beetle and aphids. Both are nasty little critters - for plants, that is. They don't really bother you, except when you look at the damage they do to your plants.

Japanese Beetles

Fortunately for me, most of my plants aren't bothered by Japanese Beetles in their adult chew-'em-to-pieces stage. The only plant that acts as a lodestone for the critters is my rose bush. If I were to try to manage them by physically removing them, I would need to monitor 24/7. This is not practical. Another possibility would be to cover the buds with something, like a light-colored fiberglass cloth. This is ugly. Many pesticides won't work well on them, because of their size, and because the setae (hairs) on their bodies will repel them, and, because most pesticides have been used against them at some point and I'm sure they are resistant. I won't use pesticides in a townhome community, because of liability concerns. What I don't plan to do is to use pheromone traps to invite all the beetles within sniffing range to my garden. Yes, most will go into the trap, but not necessarily before munching in the garden. However, the strategy of growing plants they mostly don't like works fine; as I said, the only plant in my garden that they feed on is the one rose bush.

Aphids

I haven't seen many aphids. Usually, they become a problem when plants are already starting to die back for their winter rest; then I see tons of greenish-black aphids on the tall sedums (like 'Autumn Joy'). However, this year, on the black-eyed peas out front (not in the back, mind you) I see parts of the plants, such as new seed pods and the flowers and the stems supporting them, covered with black aphids. Aphids are nearly impossible to eradicate by mechanical means, or even by "safe" chemical means. If you miss removing one, she'll simply clone herself over and over again, and her clones will clone themselves, and so on and on. (This could be the subject of a good sci-fi horror movie). There are some pesticides that can be used: Safer's soap, and horticultural oils. They work to coat the breathing pores of the insect and effectively smother it. This means they only work on aphids that are already there. What you don't want to do is to use a systemic pesticide, like those that contain Imidacloprid (which can work on aphids that arrive on the plant after the plant is sprayed), on your vegetables, because that will remain in the plant, and you don't want to eat the systemic pesticide, right? The squish-'em method of removal works fine, too, but it's a little disgusting for most people.

Sawflies

There is one more pest that has been peeving me this year. It's easy to manage, but you have to monitor for them. That pest is a sawfly that likes to feed on rose leaves. Sawflies look like caterpillars, but unlike caterpillars, which are larvae of butterflies, sawfly larvae are the young of insects related to the bees. They differ anatomically from caterpillars in that they have six or more pairs of prolegs, including the rear pair; caterpillars have a maximum of five pairs of prolegs, and these have hooks called "crochets" in them, while sawfly prolegs do not. (In case you did not know what prolegs are, look at a caterpillar or sawfly, and see that both have three pairs of hard sharp legs below the head, and varying numbers of pairs of round grippers following; these grippers - the prolegs - are not true legs, and disappear when the insect reaches the adult stage). The sawfly larvae chew holes and leave filmy areas in leaves. You can find them by looking under leaves that show signs of feeding damage. They are almost invisible, being nearly the same color of the underside of the leaf, but if you look closely, you'll find them. The easiest way to remove them, if you have just a few plants, is to take them off and squish them somewhere. Horticultural oils are recommended if one needs to spray. I decided to let some black-eyed peas grow around the bottom of the rose bush to cover up the damage.

Fall Bulbs

Now is the time to start looking for Fall bulbs, that is, bulbs you can buy in the Fall to have Spring-blooming flowers. It's best to shop early because the best buys and most interesting varieties tend to sell fast. The bulbs don't have to be planted this early; most can be planted through October to mid-November, as long as the ground hasn't frozen. Many bulbs need a winter chilling period before starting to grow. Florists take advantage of this to force bulbs to bloom at different times of the year.

Read the labels on the packages. They usually state whether the bulbs are early, mid-, or late bloomers. If you want a longer display of flowers, get a mixture of bulbs with different bloom periods.

Most tulip bulbs are not perennial. Some are. Again, read the labels. The ones that are not perennial have been force-fed and pampered to produce fat bulbs that are harvested for shipping. After one season, they usually do not come back; if they do, they produce small straggly plants. The tulips that are perennial include the botanical species, which are the shorter dwarf ones, growing to 6" tall. They can be very nice at the edge of a border or in a rock garden. There are some "normal-sized" tulips that are perennial, but they are harder to find. You're more likely to find them at the larger garden centers, such as Behnke's or Homestead Gardens, as opposed to Home Depot or Lowe's, although you can find some botanicals at the latter two places.

Daffodils tend to come back annually, although, after a few years, they might not be as showy. The bulbs tend to split into several smaller pieces, and these may not produce a flower until they get bigger. I have heard that daffodils are less likely to be eaten by burrowing critters, like moles, while tulips are a great delicacy.

Most bulbs like a well-drained area, so if you have chronically soggy ground, it's not a good idea to plant bulbs there. It's also a good idea to check carefully for signs of damage to the bulbs, and particularly, fungal problems, before buying them. The bulbs should be fat and feel firm and heavy (with moisture, as opposed to being dried-out).

My experience with planting bulbs is that, if you plant those of good size, they tend to produce good flowers without a whole lot of fussing and fertilizing. Just read the directions to make sure you have planted them to the proper depth.


© Iris H. Mars, 2004.