Wild fruits


Look closely under the leaves: those aren’t strawberries. They’re fruits of trillium, probably nodding trillium, T. cernuum.

We hike a short stretch of the Appalachian Trail at exactly the same time each year as part of a citizen-science project. It’s a shady upland (in other words, relatively dry) section with great variety of habitats: some areas are primarily sugar maple, some are mostly ash; there are areas where less common trees, such as hackberry and hophornbeam, predominate. The understory is extremely varied and primarily native. In the past few years it’s been quite sparse because of drought. This year, with normal rainfall, it  was lush and incredibly varied. I saw fruits I’ve never or only very rarely seen before, such as this trillium. Here’s a detail of that fascinating looking fruit.


Notice that the fruits of many native shade plants hang down beneath the plant. Why do you suppose this is? What creatures will eat these fruits?

And here are a few more unusual fruits from the same area. For an interesting exercise, look these plants up online and see how lovely their flowers are in spring. And think how great they would look in your garden if you have an area with deep shade where “nothing will grow.”


Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum. The fruit is ripe; the leaves have just about gone dormant. This is a great garden plant for deep shade, and it’s commercially available. It gradually forms a large colony.


Doll’s eyes, or white baneberry, Actea pachypoda. Also easily available commercially.


Blue cohosh, Caulophyllum thalictroides. Notice the Christmas fern ((Polystichum acrostichoides) on the right.

Take a look at this post for more native plants that grow well in deep shade.


In the garden today

Here are some new pictures you might enjoy:


Berries of cranberrybush viburnum, V. trilobum, look almost too beautiful to be real. Soon they’ll be bright red, but despite that attractive color, birds don’t eat them until winter.


A detail of the flower of nodding pink onion, Allium cernuum.


And a view of several flower heads. This is a great front-of-the-border plant, only about 18″ tall.


As orange butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) finishes blooming, the Rudbeckias take over for the rest of the summer. This is R. subtomentosa, an indomitable plant if there ever was one.


Wild petunia, Ruellia humilis, is another great front-of-the-border plant. It’s perennial and well-adapted to poor, dry soil.


And let’s not forget about shade plants for summer color. Great blue lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica, blooms throughout the month of August and into September.

Lying about lime


If your garden is too shady for lawn grass, lime won’t help. Plant some lovely shade-loving perennials instead. Shown here are Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) and native Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum).

Do you add lime to your lawn each year? If so, why? I’ve asked this question of many homeowners and landscapers who swear by liming, and I get a variety of answers:

Lime kills the moss so the grass can grow. No, sorry. This is quite incorrect. Moss grows in the shade. Lawn grasses need sun. If you have a part of your garden where moss grows, either enjoy the moss (which is quite lovely), or plant shade-loving perennials and ferns.

Lime makes everything grow better. Wrong again. In some conditions,, lime might possibly make some plants grow better (see below), but in general it’s quite unnecessary in our area.

Lime corrects the pH of the soil. This response actually has some relationship with the truth. But let’s back up a bit. pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a substance: on a scale of 0 to 14, low numbers indicate acidity, high numbers indicate alkalinity, and 7 is neutral. Most garden plants, including lawn grasses, grow best when the soil is mildly acidic, with a pH of approximately 6.5 to 6.8. Lime, which is alkaline, raises the pH of soil. However, in our area, the pH of most soil is around 6.5 to 6.8. So unless a soil test tells you that your soil is extremely acidic, there’s no need to add lime.

Not adding lime is one way you can cut down on the cost and time involved in maintaining a lawn (getting rid of lawn by planting shrubs and perennials is another). You’ll find more about fall lawn care in this post from last year.




Blossoms of native plum (Prunus americana) continue to unfold despite the late frost.

I’m happy to report that all my tough native plants are doing just fine despite two nights when temperatures dipped down into the 20s. Even the plants that I had just divided look good. The photo above was taken in 2014, but the plum blossoms look just like that today.

This is a good year for Dutchman’s breeches (meaning that the rabbits didn’t eat the one measly flower stalk that comes up every year). If you have shade and rich soil, by all means try this lovely, early blooming native and its cousin, native bleeding heart (Dicentra cucullaria and D. eximia), as well as other spring-blooming denizens of rich, most soil such as blood root and Virginia bluebells.


Dutchman’s breeches (D. culcullaria) in a very shady spot in my front garden. I divided the tiny corms two years ago and three small clumps came up this year, but only one is in bloom.

7/31/15: In the garden this week


Little bluestem, one of the toughest native grasses and, to my eyes, one of the most beautiful, is putting out its seed stalks now and will soon flower.

We’re having a heat wave; this weather shows the benefit of planting natives. Tough prairie plants stand up to heat and drought and just go on blooming. The sunny border is at its most colorful and exuberant right now.

Yesterday’s rain was abundant in some places, but according to my plastic rain gauge, we got less than half an inch, so the vegetable garden and newly planted shrubs and perennials need supplemental watering this week. Other than that, there is little to do in the garden:

water new plantings: newly installed plants and annuals, like vegetables, need watering. Any week in which we receive less than an inch of rain, water all woody plants installed this spring or last season. Perennials planted last spring should be well-established, but those planted last fall and this spring need supplemental watering during dry spells. How do you know when we’ve received an inch of rain? An old yogurt container placed on the ground among the plants makes a great rain gauge. A tunafish or catfood can works equally well.

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. Pick frequently: smaller vegetables taste better.

— As tomatoes ripen their fruit, cut back on watering to avoid split fruits. Keep removing suckers all summer long. Look at this post, this one, and this one for basic information about growing tomatoes.

Plan the fall vegetable garden: second crops of cool-season plants like peas, lettuce, and spinach can seeded directly in the garden in August.

— it’s not too late to extend a garden bed or start a new one, and it’s always a great idea to eliminate some lawn: spread a 3-4 inch layer of cedar or hemlock bark mulch over the area to kill the grass. In the fall, you’ll be able to plant right through the dying grass and mulch. I mulched an area of lawn about a month ago and am scattering perennials seeds there as they ripen.

— it will soon be a good time to prune woody plants. Once all growth, flowering, and fruiting are done, the plants are relatively, but not completely, 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.

— 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 late now to reseed bare areas: wait until early fall. (Better still, if you have a place where grass won’t grow, 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 (watering every day is likely to cause fungal diseases). But remember: the more you water, the more you’ll have to mow! If you hold off on watering entirely, your lawn will go dormant until the next rain, but it will not die.

Stay cool! I wish everyone a shady patio and a glass of lemonade this weekend.


Sometimes Rudbeckias are almost too exuberant. You can find them in any size to suit your garden. This is R. subtomentosa, which grows up to 5′ tall. I give away plants every spring.