Neighborly Garden News
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Things are looking up! Give these elegant and easy annual vines a try!
Back in another era before air conditioning, homeowners would create cool and shady outdoor sitting spots by cultivating vines to grow onto trellises and posts and block out the sun. Luxuriant flowering vines were trained to clamber up sunny front porches, turning the porch into a leafy retreat. What better way to enjoy the textured foliage and colorful flowers than up close and growing around you?
The one thing all vines have in common is the need for support. Consider the morphology of the plant itself; does it twine like a morning glory, or does it cling via tendrils like a pea? Vines with tendrils prefer finer textured support, like netting, to cling onto. The netting can then be attached to the post or trellis. Twining vines are more adaptable, and generally just need vertical support to twirl around.
Another element to consider is the mature height of the plant. Some annual vines can produce 20 ft of growth in a season, like the ‘Cup and Saucer’ vine (Cobaea scandens) others will be more modest in the 6-12 ft range, like the ‘Black-eyed Susan’ vine (Thunbergia alata). The shorter growing vines are a good choice for vertical appeal in window boxes and planters. If you insert a bamboo cane every 4 inches around the circumference of the pot, then wire them together at the top, this will create a sturdy support for the vine. You can also bury the potted vine into a larger container, and plant something that drapes along the edge for a striking container garden.
If you like to create edible gardens, there are good vining specimens too! The ‘Mexican Sour Gherkin’ (Melothria scabra) is also called the ‘Mouse Melon’. An easy-to-grow vigorous vine for trellises with 1″ long baby fruits that peek out among the light green Maple-like foliage. The baby sized melons are marbled with dark green striping, and their flavor is delightfully sweet with a touch of citrus. ‘Malabar Spinach’ (Basella rubra) is an ornamental edible that loves the warmer night temperatures of early summer. Unlike most greens we enjoy, it thrives in high heat and quickly twines up trellises in heat that would wilt most gardeners. As the days get shorter in later summer, it produces flowers, which marks the end of the edible stage. However, the plant grows into a handsome decorative vine dripping with pink flowers and purple pearl-like berries.
Truly the queen of flowering vines are the fragrant sweet peas. Like edible peas, sweet peas prefer cool growing conditions, and lately we seem to flow from cool spring to hot summer without much in-between. The solution to this weather issue is to start them indoors about 6 weeks before a late April outdoor transplant date. They require extra deep small pots or plug tray cells to promote good root development. Allow them to mature onto 8-10 ft stakes and provide netting or twiggy brush for them to grab onto. The ‘Spencer’ type of sweet peas are noted for being excellent for cutting and fragrance.
If you want to attract hummingbirds non-stop, plant the charming ‘Cypress’ vine, or it’s cousin the ‘Cardinal Climber’. The fringy palm-like foliage is the perfect backdrop for the brilliant red, trumpet shaped flowers. These delicate looking vines would also work well if allowed to climb though a stout shrub or rose bush, that is they will find their own support if allowed to.
Source for seeds:
February’s to-do list
Since our last newsletter we have finally received an even blanket of snow, that has covered up a lot of what I refer to as the ‘winter nasties’. It’s been so long since we’ve had consistent snow, my southern relatives are writing to ask whether we are ‘snowed in’ (this seems to happen every year). I must reassure them that this kind of weather is our winter norm, and last year, without any snow, was the anomaly. Now that there has been prolonged cold and a solid covering of snow, ticks should be dormant until we get a thaw, and I couldn’t be more relieved about that.
I’m about ready for a burst of greenery and flowers, to lift my spirits and chase away the winter doldrums!
Saturday, February 10 – Sunday, March 17, 2024 Patterns in Bloom at the New England Botanic Garden @ Tower Hill https://nebg.org/patterns-in-bloom/ Looks to be a beautiful show, highlighting their extensive orchid collection.
February 22-25, 2024 The Connecticut Flower Show returns with a fun schedule of events and inspiring floral displays. https://ctflowershow.com/
The Amherst Orchid Society will hold their annual show on February 24 and 25 at the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton, MA. https://amherstorchidsociety.org/club-events/our-show-sale/
Minimize winter burn damage by using an anti-desiccant spray. Winter burn of susceptible evergreens is most likely to occur during February, more than any other month. The 3-way punch of strong winds, frozen soil, and bright late winter sun, sets up conditions that can lead to leaf burn or browning. Choose a spray period when the temperatures will stay above freezing for 24 hours and follow the label instructions for your product.
Have you noticed; we are moving back into the light? As of February 1st, we will be experiencing almost 10 hours of daylight; by the end of the month, we will be receiving over 11 hours of light. The increased light will initiate bud development, and you may begin to see ornamental Witch Hazels begin to bloom. In my experience these are the very first shrubs to bloom in the garden, and worth planting a few for the extra early flowers.
Next month I will start planting my veggie and flower starts; do you have your seed starting equipment and planting essentials ready for spring? Since I reuse my plastic plant pots, I make sure to give them a thorough cleaning before planting time. I make a 10% bleach/water solution to sterilize my pots prior to use. I am also investing extra time into selecting disease resistant varieties, because 2023 presented us with unprecedented rainfall, disease pressure was very high, it is logical to expect a bit more of the same this year.
What have the deer been up to? Has your yard become a deer gathering spot? It’s never too late to begin thinking of strategies to protect your landscape investment. If you are truly fed up with deer browsing, it may be time to upgrade your deer protection, and replace or move plants.
Continue to scout for egg masses of the invasive Spotted Lantern Fly. The more eggs we can identify and kill, the more effective the campaign to manage and limit their movement will be. Learn to identify and report them here:https://massnrc.org/pests/pestFAQsheets/spottedlanternfly.html
Need a hand with winter chores? Please contact our office to schedule winter services: (413) 458-5586, firstname.lastname@example.org
Grow your own Birdseed Plants this season!
Growing your own flowers is so rewarding! Discovering flowers that do double duty, well that’s just like icing on the cake, right? If we allow our (birdseed) flowers to produce seed, instead of deadheading them, our feathered visitors will thank you!
Members of the diverse Aster family are a good place to start. Sunflowers, Cosmos, Black-eyed Susan’s, Coreopsis, Purple Coneflower, all will produce seeds that attract many species of our native songbirds. Did you know that just one nest of Chickadee chicks may eat up to 9,000 caterpillars before they fledge? Additionally, most of our native land birds feed insects to their young, so it’s a win-win to have them nesting near your yard. Other native flowers to try; Blazing Star will attract flocks of Goldfinches. Watch as they deftly cling to the purple flower spikes and peck at the nutritious seeds. Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) grows into very tall zinnia-like plants sporting brilliant orange flowers; a magnet for hummingbirds, and later for seed eating birds.
Other seed producing plants to consider: Safflower (Cathamus tinctorius) and ornamental millet (Pennisetum glaucum). ‘Purple Majesty’ millet is a dark purple variety of non-native ornamental grass. This tall specimen will grow 4-5 feet tall; the bloom spike will grow an additional 12”. Safflowers grow 18-24” tall and have unique thistle-like flowers in bright orange and yellow. Their flower petals are edible and can be used as a substitute for saffron. Even a small bed of safflower can produce enough seed to keep your flock of birds interested through fall and winter. Poppies will also produce thousands of energy-filled seeds; if the pods are left to ripen and dry after blooming. Triple bonus: Poppies will readily self-seed and come back every year!
Check out the National Audubon Society’s Native Plants Database for more information.
It’s not too early to think about Arbor Day, April 26, 2024. This is a day of observance in which individuals and groups are encouraged to plant trees. It’s also a day set aside for education about the importance of trees in our environment. Have you been considering planting a new tree this year? Here are a few ideas for trees and shrubs that benefit our native wildlife.
Cornus florida: Flowering Dogwood, is the princess of the New England woods. No less than 28 species of birds eat the Dogwood fruit. This native tree requires consistently moist soil, and dappled shade to do its best. Flowers are available in shades of white, pink or red. Develops good fall leaf coloration. Can grow to 35’ tall x 20’ wide, but more typical is 20-25’ tall x 15’ wide.
Malus spp: The apple family, most bear some kind of fruit that will attract many kinds of birds and mammals through the winter. Malus will also provide rich nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds. There is a specimen for every sized garden; mature sizes can range from 6’ tall x 8’ wide for dwarf specimens, to 25’ tall x 15’ wide for standard sized trees. Best grown in full sun.
Cataegus phaenopyrum, and Cataegus viridis: Washington and Green Hawthorns provide food and nesting sites for many native songbirds. Small mammals will eat the Hawthorn fruit too. It is also considered an outstanding small stature tree for May blooms and summer/fall fruit. Develops good fall leaf coloration. Washington and Green Hawthorns can grow to 25-30’ tall x 20’ wide. Likes full sun to partial shade, native. Their thorns can be 1-3” long, so plant away from high traffic areas.
Cataegus viridis-Green Hawthorne
Lindera benzoin: Spicebush earns its name from its fragrant sap; crush a leaf to release the pungent odor. Lindera is very attractive to migrating birds for the high fat content fruit it develops. The Spicebush is the host plant for the native Spicebush butterfly, which lay their eggs on the leaves. Attractive greenish-yellow flowers are borne in April. The fall leaf color is brilliant neon yellow. These slow growing shrubs can reach 6-12’ tall by 6-12’ wide. Likes full sun to part shade, native.
Lindera benzoin in flower
Symphoricarpos orbiculatus: Native Coralberry or Buckbrush will develop into a spreading and arching shrub. Pale yellow flowers later develop into purplish-red hanging fruit, which will persist into winter. Symphoricarpos will tolerate poor soil and shade. Coralberry will provide shelter, food, and nesting sites for both songbirds and game birds. Grows 2-5’ tall x 4-8’ wide.
Symphoricarpos orbiculatus-Coral Berry