Neighborly Garden News Issue 131
Dear readers; please visit our website: www.countrysidelandscape.net for the safety measures we have in place during this pandemic. Plant a Bee Lawn to support our native pollinators!
A few Bee lawn facts: Bee lawns have flowers mixed in with turf grasses such as fine fescues and Kentucky bluegrass. The flowers of a bee lawn provide food (nectar and pollen) for pollinators. Bee lawns are environmentally friendly because they are managed using low-input methods that generally use less fertilizer and pesticides. Bee lawns can still be used recreationally by your household like a regular lawn. A bee lawn can attract over 50 species of native bees.
Are you interested in doing more to help our native pollinators? You can make your lawn do double duty! A bee lawn can not only provide a recreational space for you, your family and your pets, it can also provide much-needed food resources for bees and other beneficial pollinators. While turf grasses can provide some environmental benefits, they don’t provide much food for pollinators. One way to provide resources for pollinators while keeping the function of a lawn is to incorporate other plants such as Dutch white clover, self-heal and creeping thyme. These plants have the right type of flowers for bees. Once established, bee lawns take a similar (or even less) amount of work to maintain as a traditional lawn, making them an accessible addition to almost any home landscape.
There are lots of plants that bees like, but few are adapted to lawn conditions. Not many plants besides turf grass can tolerate being mowed short and stepped on. Here are the traits needed for bee lawn flowers:
Low-growing and adapted to being mowed.
Flower at low heights.
Tolerant of foot traffic.
Provide good food (nectar and pollen) for pollinators.
Moderately competitive, meaning they can hold their own with the turf grasses without taking over.
Have a perennial life cycle (they live for more than one year) so they are maintained in the landscape with the perennial turf.
Dutch white clover (Trifolium repens), often just called white clover, was once commonly included in lawn seed mixes. It is a non-native species (as are all the cool season turf grasses) and somewhere along the line it became considered a weed. You have probably seen white clover many times and may already have white clover in your lawn. White clover has many positive traits that make it ideal for a bee lawn. It is tolerant to some shade, though it may bloom sparsely without enough sun, and is adaptable to different soil types. White clover has one particular trait that the other two bee lawn flowers don’t have. As a legume, it can fix its own nitrogen. This means that white clover doesn’t need to be fertilized with nitrogen, making it a good part of a low-input lawn. The forage quality of the flowers for bees is excellent. Its pollen has the high protein content that pollinators need, and the nectar has a high sugar content, which is good for those pollinators that depend on nectar. The flowers can be fragrant and are reminiscent of honey. White clover has a long bloom time, usually from the end of May to October.
Bee on White Clover
Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris ssp. lanceolata) is another plant that has been found to work well in bee lawns. One thing different about this plant, as opposed to the other two common bee lawn flowers, is that this one is native to our region. Self-heal, being a native plant, is especially good at attracting native bees. They found that 95% of the flower visitors to self-heal were native bees. Self-heal is adaptable to many different home lawn conditions. It can grow in sun to part shade, and in different soil types except for sandy soil. The purple flowers produce mostly nectar along with some pollen for pollinators.
Prunella vulgaris or Self Heal
Creeping thyme (Thymus praecox ssp. arcticus; formerly Thymus serpyllum) is a close relative of culinary thymes such as French thyme or lemon thyme. Like its relatives’, creeping thyme has foliage with a nice fragrance. Thymes are known for being tolerant of some foot traffic and have a low-growing habit, traits that are good for bee lawns. Creeping thyme is a non-native plant that blooms from July to September, a somewhat shorter period than white clover. It does best in full sun and in sandy or loamy soil. It has small pink flowers that provide pollinators with mostly nectar and some pollen.
Bee on Creeping thyme
There are other less common options, including other native species, that could work, but they may be more of a challenge depending on your site. Ground Plum (Astragalus crassicarpus) Lanceleaf Tickweed (Coreopsis lanceolata) Calico American Aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum) If you’re a person who doesn’t use herbicides, your lawn might already have some flowers of the weedy kind. You may already have a bee lawn! Some common weeds are helpful to pollinators. Common violets (Viola sororia) are native lawn weeds that can have some benefits for pollinators. There are some fritillary butterflies whose larvae use these violets as a host plant and a few bees that forage on violet flowers. Common violets do have some shade tolerance and, of course, seem to do well in lawns where they are often considered a weed. Be aware that the bloom season is short, and violets can take over under the right conditions. Dandelion is a non-native plant, and its eye-catching yellow flowers have pollen that can attract a few pollinators. One good quality of dandelions is that they bloom early in the season when most other bee lawn flowers aren’t blooming. It is likely that if you have a bee lawn or a low-input lawn, there will be some dandelions unless you hand weed them out.
March’s to-do list
Today was only the third plowable snowfall we’ve received in Deerfield this winter. After experiencing the warmest January on record in Massachusetts, the 10-day weather forecast looks to be bringing more snow for the first weeks of March than we’ve received all winter. On the bright side, I hope everyone has been able to take advantage of our moderate weather and spend time outside. It has been much more pleasant to do the necessary yearly pruning in above freezing temperatures. There is still time to do dormant season pruning, but don’t wait too long, the spring or vernal equinox is on March 20th. On this day the sun will rise exactly in the east, and set exactly in the west; the length of night and day approximately equal.
When I was a student in my Plant Pathology classes, we learned that in the Northeast many plant pests were minimized and constrained due to our cold winters. Without sufficient cold weather, eggs and spores of pathogens can remain viable through winter. Dormant oil spraying is a low impact method to reduce populations of pest insects. The ultra-fine grade horticultural oil smothers insect eggs so they can’t hatch out. Long considered to be safe and ecologically sound, horticultural oil is non-toxic to people and pets.
Before this morning’s snowfall I had begun to see shoots from spring bulbs, always a welcome sight after weeks of waiting for signs of spring. When you see your bulbs start to emerge, scratch in some bulb fertilizer, to boost their reserves. The more food they can store during the growing season, the better their display in following years. If, despite your best efforts to feed and nurture your bulbs, they aren’t blooming well, it is probably time to divide the clumps. When you dig them up you will find many undersized bulblets, too small to produce flowers. But each of these has the potential to gain size and flower in a season or two. It’s worth the effort to replant them around your garden for many more spring flowers.
I’ve already received my veggie garden seeds, and I’m anticipating another delicious garden year. I will begin to sow my seeds from early March onward. Seed packets will inform you approximately how long it takes from sowing to get a garden ready plant. You only need to count backwards from your last frost-free date to estimate when to sow them. Some plants, such as Basil, only require 4 weeks, so I won’t sow these seeds until early May, for planting around Memorial Day.
Prepare for the start of another tick season. Ticks that cause Lyme disease will become active when temperatures are above freezing, and the ground has thawed. Ticks will aggressively seek out a host upon awaking and lurk in areas most likely for us to encounter them in our yard and garden activities. Our tick specialist, Scott Higley, can advise you on the various methods we have at our disposal for managing this dangerous pest. firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have stored any bulbs from last summer, such as: Dahlias, tuberous Begonias, Cannas, or Calla lilies bring them out of storage and check on their viability. Begin potting them up now and set in the light., or under artificial lights.
Need a hand with spring cleanup and garden chores? Give our office a call. (413) 458-5586 or email: email@example.com
Fast plants for those who just can’t wait to get growing!
It has been said about gardening; it’s a slow pastime. You need to have patience while plants settle and grow in your garden. Fortunately for gardeners not every plant is a slowpoke. There are edible and ornamental plants that will sprout and grow at (almost) lightening speed (for plants anyway).
Craving a fresh summer salad? Radish plants can be ready for harvest in as little as 30 days from direct seeding into your garden. They are very easy to grow, and the seeds are big enough to be easy for kids to sow them too. Radishes are tolerant of cooler temperatures, 55-75F being their ‘comfort zone’. Many different varieties are available and grow into varying colors of white through red and purple. You can also roast them, for a different take on warm salad items.
Another mainstay for fresh salad veggies is Arugula or Rocket. I really crave the fresh peppery flavor of Arugula, in cold salads, sandwiches and sautés. Young greens can be ready in as soon as 30 days from seed. You are not limited to only growing them in a bed, you can get good results sowing your seeds in a container too. Just clip the amount you need with scissors, and the Arugula plant will continue to grow for additional harvests. As the plant matures, the flavor will become more pronounced and sharper during warmer weather. It is so cold hardy; I frequently find self-sown plants popping up where they were grown the previous year in early April.
Chives are both an herb and a flowering plant. This member of the Allium family can be ready from 30 days as a transplant, or 60 days from seed. Their grass-like foliage has a mild onion flavor; easy to incorporate into a variety of foods. Again, you are not limited to grow them in a bed or even outdoors. They can be readily grown in a container, outside, or even on a sunny indoor window. Harvest the leaves by snipping off as needed, as long as it’s not more than a third of the entire plant. An additional benefit: planting chives adjacent to your tomatoes, carrots and cabbage can help repel aphids, and cabbage worms.
Schreber’s Wood Aster (Eurybia schreberi) is a hardy native perennial that blooms in the fall. It will rapidly form dense stands of basal foliage via spreading rhizomes and seed. It is a great plant for bridging the gap between summer and fall seasonal blooms and can mature in 3-4 months. It puts forth a multitude of delicate white flowers with prominent yellow stamens. Very attractive to pollinators looking for a late summer snack. This particular Aster is well adapted to grow in shady or sunny sites, and is not at all fussy about soil type.
Schreber’s Wood Aster
The woodland native, the Hay-Scented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) is utilized for its capacity to spread and fill in areas rapidly. Despite its vigor, the Hay-Scented Fern has delicate feathery fronds that lend it a lacey texture. Dennstaedtia punctilobula will grow 30” tall X 36” wide and can be depended on to brighten up even the shadiest woodland.
A problem that comes up frequently is a tree that has outgrown its place in the garden. That sweet little tree you fell in love with at the garden center is now blocking your view and creating too much shade. You can choose to keep pruning it back to a manageable size or start over with a more space friendly specimen. Here are a few ideas for compact trees:
Cornus alternifolia-Pagoda Dogwood is one of the underused native trees that grow wild in our area. Dogwoods are one of the top ten species for attracting pollinators and wildlife. The Pagoda dogwood is noted for its graceful, tiered branching habit. It is very attractive in all seasons. Clusters of upright white flowers during May-June are followed by blue fruit carried on red stalks in August. Pagoda Dogwood prefers a shady area, with consistently moist soil enriched with organic matter, to do its best. Grows up to 15-20 feet tall.
Cotinus obovatus ‘Grace’, American Smoke tree has leaves which emerge a rich wine-red, and then turn near purple black by mid-summer. Autumn brings a final color change as the leaves turn brilliant orange and red. ‘Grace’ has a compact form, grows 12-15 feet tall x 12-15 feet wide. Blooms in early summer.
Cotinus obovatus ‘Grace’ American Smoke tree
Amelanchier canadensis-Serviceberry is one of my favorite trees. It has enchanting white to pinkish flowers that give it an airy appearance, while in bloom. The Serviceberry can be found in nurseries as a multi-stemmed or single stemmed tree. The multi-stemmed trees are very useful for screening or filling in a gap in your planting design. They are considered very adaptable to various growing conditions, including damp soils, or full to partly sunny sites. The juicy purple fruit is edible and sought out by many bird species. Grow to 15-20 feet tall.
Gingko biloba ‘Jade Butterflies’ is a new dwarf variety of the Maidenhair tree. Its mature form will be an upright vase-shaped tree. ‘Jade Butterflies’ has fluttery lime-green leaves that turn a rich gold in fall. Maidenhair trees are naturally deer resistant, and tolerant of pollution, making them great urban trees. Requires full sun, will grow 15-20 feet tall x 8-10 feet wide.
Gingko biloba ‘Jade Butterflies’
Viburnum prunifolium-Smooth Blackhaw develops into a large shrub or small tree. Lustrous dark green leaves are crowned with very show clusters of white flowers in June. It will adapt to sun or part shade conditions, and is not fussy about soil type. This tough New England native will grow 12-15 feet tall x 12-15 feet wide. Birds love their black fruit as it ripens in late summer.
Viburnum prunifolium-Smooth Blackhaw flowers