8/19/16: In the garden this week


Verbena stricta has been blooming since late June and shows no sign of letting up. At its feet is purple lovegrass and daisy fleabane. This is a new garden created by mulching part of the front lawn last fall. Both species of grasses you see here–purple lovegrass and little bluestem–were transplanted in very early spring and are blooming nicely.

I’ve been away for a few days, but the garden looks dry and there was no water in my rain gauge, so it looks like the scattered thunderstorms we were hearing about missed this area. But at least the heat has moderated a bit. So get out there and consider these seasonal garden chores:

water new plantings:  in any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, water all woody plants installed this spring or last fall. Perennials planted last spring should be well-established, but those planted last fall or this spring need supplemental watering during dry spells. How do you know when we’ve received an inch of rain? I use a highly sophisticated rain gauge–an old yogurt container placed on the ground among the plants. A tunafish or catfood can works equally well. Sunday is my watering day, and I’m going to water my new trees and shrubs.

practice good horticulture with warm-season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, beans, corn, and cucumbers: Monitor for insect eggs and larvae and remove them before infestations become serious. Throw out badly infested or diseased plants to prevent the spread of disease (do not compost diseased or infested plant material). Cucumber vines are showing signs of wilt: remove them immediately to prevent the spread of this fungal disease.

— as tomatoes ripen their fruit, cut back on watering to avoid split fruits: provide no more than an inch of water per week. (If it rains, don’t water.) Keep removing suckers. Look at this post, this one, and this one for basic information about growing tomatoes.

extend a garden bed or start a new one (it’s always a great idea to eliminate some lawn): spread a 3-4” layer of cedar or hemlock bark mulch over the area to kill the grass. In the fall or next spring, you’ll be able to plant right through the dying grass and mulch.

collect seeds. Coreopsis seed ripens nearly every day. So does seed of daisy fleabane, a lovely native annual. It pops up in different parts of my garden each year. Some seed of purple lovegrass is beginning to ripen, as are seeds of nodding prairie onion and monarda..

— it’s a good time to prune woody plants, but don’t  put it off much longer. Once growth, flowering, and fruiting are done, the plants are relatively dormant, giving you a window of time to prune before they get ready for their next critical task: leaf abscission (shutting down for the winter). I do most of my pruning in winter, but I also prune back shrubs as needed after they have ripened their fruit.

— pick fruit! Aronia berries are almost ripe, native plums are ripening; elderberries and nonedible fruits such as grey dogwood berries are almost gone–both are bird favorites. The second crop of everbearing raspberries is ripening—yum! The most plentiful crop in my garden is aronia, and I made a batch of aronia/plum jam.

— follow a sustainable lawn care regimen: if you feel you must fertilize your lawn, best practice is to give it no more than two applications of slow-release organic fertilizer each season, around Memorial Day and Labor Day. It’s too hot now to reseed bare areas: wait until early fall. Better still, if you have a place where grass won’t grow, plan to plant something that will, like shade-loving native perennials. Let the grass grow at least 3″ tall for maximum photosynthesis. Lawns do not need water now (or ever), but if you do water, do it infrequently and deeply to encourage deep root growth. One inch of water once a week is much better than a few minutes each day. But remember: the more you water, the more you’ll have to mow!

Enjoy the garden this week! Don’t you feel like we’re starting to transition to fall?


As sweet joe pye weed finishes blooming, great blue lobelia takes over and asters are still to come in this shade garden.



Aphids and mealybugs and scale, oh my


Eupatorium purpureum (sweet joe-pye weed): Notice the insects and egg masses on the stem in front, and the healthy stems, on the same plant, in back.

Probably because of the mild winter, I’m seeing unusually large numbers of critters of all sorts in the garden, from aphids to chipmunks to four-lined plant bugs to rabbits to these mealybugs (I think they’re mealybugs, but I’m not absolutely sure). If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you already know what I’m going to do about these pests. And if you haven’t and you don’t, take a look at this post if you can’t figure it out.

Addendum July 25: Those insects were completely gone within a week. The stalk is insect free and quite healthy.

A bright winter day

Last week, on a lovely but warm winter day, we took a lot of pictures of the garden in winter, and I thought they cheer you up on this very dark, wet day.


Last summer Eupatorium purpureum, or sweet joe pye weed, grew 8 feet tall in my garden–scroll down through this post to see it in bloom. This winter the seedheads tower over the perennial border.


The native perennials are brimming with seeds for birds, some that remain on the plants and some that fill to the ground. All winter, we watch the mixed-species foraging flocks come to feed.


Little bluestem is beautiful in all seasons. In winter, it’s silver and gold. In summer, it really is blue.


Hazelnut catkins–the male flowers that will bloom in very early spring–hand from the slender stems like decorations.


Spicebush will be the first native shrub to bloom (I hope it holds off until spring). All winter long you can see the round green buds.

Winter bounty


My garden is as lively with birds in winter as in summer, and this is why: I leave lots of leaf litter, and I leave the perennials and grasses in place until spring. Ground-feeding birds sift through the litter for seeds and insects, and perching birds feed from the standing stalks. It’s the perfect habitat for the mixed foraging flocks of chickadees, nuthatches, sparrows, and juncos that come through almost daily and for the cardinals, jays, and mourning doves that live here year round. Look closely at the picture above, and you’ll see seeds of native grasses, asters, monarda, boltonia, and several other plants. Every time I look out the winter I see birds.

Planted near the sidewalk is a low-growing border that’s exuberant with spring-blooming natives, most of which went dormant months ago. Now it too is loaded with seed of shade-loving asters; ferns and other groundcover plants (Heuchera and Tiarella) hold the leaf mulch in place. I “mulch” my gardens by simply allowing the leaves to remain where they fall. They insulate and enrich the soil, shelter overwintering moth and butterfly larvae, and help feed the birds.


In a part of the garden that I allow to look a bit more wild, htere are tall seed stalks of sweet joe pye weed, white snakeroot, an unknown volunteer goldenrod, and many other plants against a backdrop of hemlocks. This joe pye weed grew 8 feet tall this year and will feed the birds all winter.


Where are the butterflies?


This morning my husband took this picture of a tiger swallowtail nectaring on sweet joe pye weed (see the previous post for info about this lovely plant). I expect to see lots of tiger swallowtails in my garden; they especially love the bright-purple ironweed (Vernonia fascilutata), which is in bloom now. This year I’ve seen only very few–perhaps two or three the whole season.

The same goes for great spangled fritillaries, painted skippers, sulphurs, red admirals, hairstreaks–maybe one or two the whole season so far, whereas I usually see them throughout the season. Many years I see abundant red admirals nectaring on the blooming ninebark. Their larval food, nettles, grows in several waste places nearby. Not this year.

red admiral DSCN0726

In the spring, I expect to see clouds of Peck’s skippers and spring azures. Both breed in my garden, the skippers on the abundant grasses, and the blues on the flowering parts of many native shrubs. This year, again, there were just a few of each. Both these species go through two or three generations per season, however, and I’m now seeing many skippers, almost as many as usual, nectaring on the flowering perennials. Here’s a picture of a Peck’s skipper on a New England aster, taken last September.


Now the populations seem to be recovering, after an almost butterflyless spring. So here’s what I think is happening: The very cold winter killed off many eggs and overwintering adults, and the late spring gave the few that remained an even later start. Now that the plants have bounced back, the butterfly populations are rebounding as well, so we are seeing almost normal numbers in the summer generations (many butterflies go through two or three generations per season). My guess is that this is happening to all our nonmigrating local butterflies.

So a lovely summer with lots of foliage and flowers is great for our resident butterflies. But it will not help the monarchs. Right now eggs should be hatching on the abundant milkweed in my garden. But I haven’t seen a single monarch–egg, larvae, pupae, or adult–this year.

Two new stars

This post is about two native plants, one that I planted for the first time this spring and one that’s been in my garden for many years.


This is Verbena stricta, or hoary vervain. It’s about 3′ tall, prefers full sun and dry soil, and is coming into bloom now. I planted it for the first time this year to provide some contrast to the incessant yellow (Rudbeckias and sunflowers) of mid- to late summer. I put it in several different places, and it’s doing well in all of them. It’s supposed to be a butterfly magnet, but there are few butterflies in my garden this year (that’s an upcoming post). I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship. 


This towering plant is Eupatorium purpureum (sweet joe pye weed). It’s the shade-loving, dry-soil-tolerating joe pye weed, and it’s supposed to be 4′ tall. It’s been in this shade garden, which gets a few hours of morning sun, for at least 10 years, and most years it doesn’t even bloom because the deer repeatedly lop it down. This year it’s spread across my entire shade garden and is over 8′ tall. I’m not complaining. Another beautiful relationship.